300 year-old mill transformed into literary sanctuary

300 year-old mill transformed into literary sanctuary

11 April 2018

ONCE a hive of activity in the early days of the industrial revolution, the mill on the banks of the Ballyclander River now faces a more tranquil future.

The restored River Mill, tucked away in countryside between Ardglass and Downpatrick, is preparing to welcome writers and readers to a new landmark retreat for County Down.

Originally built in 1718 by the then Lord Bangor of Castle Ward, the mill contributed to the thriving linen industry. In 1847 the property with its two-feet thick stone walls doubled in size and was used as a grain mill. This continued until the end of World War II when the mill wheel stopped turning. During the next 50 years the building fell into disrepair until the ruin was bought by Aidan and Theresa McAteer in 2006. They restored the building to its former glory and added some modern design elements, such as geo-thermal underfloor heating.

The McAteers ran a successful B&B business at the mill until they sold it to Paul Maddern who, with careers in both hospitality and creative writing, recognised the mill’s potential as a literary retreat.

“I have been thinking about it for a little while,” said published poet Paul. “I was thinking about ways to stay involved in the literary community. I wanted something that would appeal to the literary side of my interests.

“It is such a beautiful part of the world. It’s about two miles from Ardglass and three-and-a-half miles from Downpatrick. One of the main priorities was the right location.

“When I saw these premises online I knew it was the one. It is full of character, in a remote location but still accessible to towns in the area and it had five en suite rooms. There is also a mezzanine area which will be a communal space for guests.

“The building has a great history and there is a large garden and a stream running through it.”

With much of the interior work done, Paul focussed his efforts on the surrounding gardens, which have been landscaped in the hope that visitors will be able to take their inspiration from outdoors as well as indoors.

While not trying to rival the well known Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig as a residential workplace for artists, Paul does hope it will help put Co Down on the map.

“I first went to Tyrone Guthrie in 2006 and went back twice,” he said. “I have no intention of trying to compete, I imagine this is somewhere more intimate, more boutique.

“I hope it will provide the right environment for people to generate ideas, start putting them into practice, and enjoy the company of a small group of like-minded people.”

Paul certainly brings a wide variety of experience to his new venture.

His mother was born in Bangor, Co Down, and she moved to London where she met Paul’s father. The family then moved to Bermuda.

“Mum moved back home in 1988 and I moved to London around the same time too,” he said. “Now I live in Carrowdore.”

In between times Paul obtained a degree in Film Studies from Queen’s University, Ontario, then lived in Denver, San Francisco and London before moving to Ireland.  

He spent time in the restaurant business and in London he held managerial positions at Branganza, the Limelight, the Groucho Club and 192 Kensington Park Road. When he moved to County Down in 2000 he worked at Fontana Restaurant, Holywood, before returning to higher education at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. There, he obtained a Creative Writing MA in Poetry and then a PhD in English. He has since taught Creative Writing at the Heaney Centre and the University of Leeds. 

He has three publications to date, all with Templar Poetry: Kelpdings (2009), The Beachcomber’s Report (2010), shortlisted for the Strong/Shine Award and Pilgrimage (2017). 

Paul officially opens the River Mill this month and there is already international interest.

“I have a woman coming from Germany, and quite a few people coming from the South in June,” he said. “I am hoping to appeal to the whole of the island.”

Paul is also working with festivals such as the John Hewitt International Summer Scheme to offer bursaries to writers, and hopes to house those in receipt of grants from bodies such as the Arts Council.

“I am well aware of the strong group of local writers and poets based in Down already,” he added. “There’s a good support system within certain groups of writers in Northern Ireland and there is a very exciting group of writers who have just graduated from the Seamus Heaney Centre and are having commercial success already.”

For more information on the River Mill visit: https://www.the-river-mill.co.uk.