Ballycopeland Windmill and Visitor Centre, Millisle

The 18th century Ballycopeland Windmill, Millisle, has been expertly restored and preserved for future generations by a £1.7m development, delivered by Lowry Building & Civil Engineering.

The project includes the provision of a new café and striking heritage centre with interpretive works that helps tell the story of this unique agricultural building. 

Ballycopeland is the only hooper roller-reefing windmill left in the world, and it is even rarer as it still retains its original machinery inside along with its original ancillary buildings, elevating the site to international importance.

Designed by Captain Stephen Hooper, and built between the 1780s and 1790s, the windmill was used in the production of animal feed until 1915, before it was taken into state care in 1937. The site is managed by the Historic Environment Division (HED) at the Department for Communities.

Works to the site involved a new access road with car parking and refurbishment of the existing miller’s cottage, kiln and kilnman’s house. The visitor centre also includes a ‘Changing Places’ facility, which will be open to the general public, improving access for those with limited mobility not just to the site itself but to the wider Ards Peninsula.

The visitor centre has an exposed glulam timber frame, is clad in timber panelling and features a ‘green roof’. Large, floor-to-ceiling windows flood the café area with natural light, as well as providing visitors with a view of the windmill and its ancillary buildings.

The refurbished stone built miller’s cottage and the kilnman’s house contain a modern interpretive set, including furniture of that time, which tells and vividly illustrates the history of Ballycopeland Windmill. The barn also contains interpretive material showing how the windmill mechanism works and how the grain was processed.

The project involved extremely close collaborative work with the client, HED, explained Chris McIvor, Project Manager for Lowry’s. “Previously, we have worked on buildings of historic merit which have required the involvement of the HED overseeing the conservation aspect; but this is the first time we have worked directly with them as a client.

“It was a fantastic learning opportunity for our team. We met regularly with the HED team, who kept a close eye on the conservation process, particularly of the stonework and lime washing in the restored buildings. We met HED archaeologists and conservation architects, who generously shared knowledge in their fields of expertise, which will help inform our approach to future conservation projects.”

Ballycopeland Windmill is a typical Irish stone tower, with a moveable cap turned by means of an automatic fantail, ensuring that the sails always faced into the wind. When the wind blows directly onto the sails the blades – or vanes – of the fantail are not moved. However, if the wind veers, it catches the blades and the whole cap turns on an iron ring or ‘curb’, bringing the sails back into the wind.

As well as the ground floor the mill has three storeys – a ‘drive’ floor, ‘stone’ floor and ‘hopper’ floor, from the first to third level respectively. Commenting, Chris said, “This was an extremely satisfying project to be involved in. We are delighted to help put the focus back onto this unique building and provide for a sustainable future. The visitor centre and café will attract tourists and revenue, which will prevent the site from future degradation.  “HED sites aren’t normally open to the public, so this project is very special. It is great to see an historic monument operating and providing a glimpse of our historic, agricultural past.”

For the full feature on Ballycopeland Windmill, please see our online issue: