An architecture graduate from Goleen has reimagined Skibbereen’s iconic mill building on Ilen Street and the various uses it could be put to by its current owners, Cork County Council
A GOLEEN student has proposed a radical plan for the redevelopment of the old Steam Mill building in Skibbereen.
The imposing stone edifice is a familiar sight for anyone passing along Ilen Street.
Originally built in the 1840s, the Steam Mill building is synonymous with the Great Famine and it was one of Ireland’s first large-scale purpose-built soup kitchens. More recently, it was used by Roycroft Cycles, until they vacated the building in 2017.
Now, thanks to the success of 23-year-old interior architecture graduate Lorna O’Callaghan, the property – which is currently owned by Cork County Council – may enjoy a new lease of life being put to use for purely positive reasons.
Lorna graduated from Munster Technological University (MTU) in 2022 with a BSc Honours Degree in Interior Architecture. In November, she represented MTU as a finalist in the Universal Design Grand Challenge Student Awards. The nationwide competition had narrowed it down to nine entries in all – just two others had made it with Lorna in the same category.
Her chosen project was one that was close to home and involved repurposing a building in one of West Cork’s principal towns for a use that would put it in a positive frame for the years to come.
‘The refurbishment of this building was designed to provide Skibbereen with a thriving community space,’ said Lorna, adding that the old Steam Mill would offer a café on the ground floor; hot-desking to use on the first floor, with a break-out space; an exhibition space for local art, heritage and other events to be held on the second floor; a library with books by local authors and poets on the second floor and open-plan multi-function space on the third floor which the community can use for their desired needs.
Cork County Council, the owners of the building since 2017, provided Lorna with the outline plan of the building.
‘For our final year of interior architecture in college, we had to choose a derelict building and repurpose it into a community multi-purpose space,’ says Lorna. Choosing what uses the building would be put to was dictated by the needs that would benefit the community the most.
One such area Lorna identified was involving the many local artists and authors.
‘We did some research on the background of the Skibbereen area and we have so many festivals, all of which are promoting the arts, making a strong area for the arts. So I thought that it would be important to incorporate into the design a place where local authors could showcase their work without having to pay for it.’
Meanwhile, divisional county manager Clodagh Henehan told a recent meeting that the director of economic development and tourism is working on having a future usage and preliminary business case report carried out on Steam Mill.
‘That is wonderful news for the people of Skibbereen and all of West Cork,’ said Cllr Carroll, ‘because people had feared that it would deteriorate further.’
She said the old Steam Mill – and an adjacent property – would form the footprint of a proposed future development but the local authority would first have to conclude legal matters pertaining to the adjoining building.
She said the director of economic development and tourism is already working on the proposal.
‘Following the completion of this process,’ she said, ‘the intention is to bring forward a proposal for the future use and redevelopment of this very historic and heritage site.
‘The report will be prepared by the economic development and tourism directorate in consultation with the municipal district. And work on the parameters of this report is to commence shortly.
‘The director’s team has,’ she added, ‘done some work but it is our intention to work with the municipal district on how it will be developed once we have full control of the property.’
She said a funding application was previously made in relation to the main property. It was submitted to Fáilte Ireland’s platforms for growth programme in 2019. The proposed application – the redevelopment of the heritage property as a famine-themed visitor experience – was not successful at that time.
‘We did have discussions with Fáilte Ireland at the time and they were very interested in what we were intending to do with the site.
‘They see a huge tie-in with the heritage of Skibbereen and the Wild Atlantic Way, so they are very supportive of our proposals.’
She said the property has been reserved for conservation.
‘It is a very historic building, but it is also a heritage site and it needs to be redeveloped in a conservation mode.
‘Subject to planning and funding, the works and its future use will be the subject of consultation with the municipal district once all of our legal issues are addressed,’ she added. Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) Cllr Karen Coakley (Ind) welcomed the update.