THERE it stands. A giant, once-magnificent stone building, windows missing, open to the elements, a derelict shell of the historic mill that once employed 2,000 and resounded to the deafening roar of machines and workers.
It had a worldwide reputation for quality and for spinning yarns and threads.
Gilford Mill produced enough yarn each week – used in the linen trade – to have circumvented Planet Earth three times; enough in a month to have stretched to the Moon and beyond.
Now, it is silent; the spacious grounds around it overgrown with weeds.
But the life and times of Gilford Mill (1841-1987) have been brought back to life by local author Plunkett Campbell, a former primary school principal, with a meticulously-researched book, The Glory of Bygone Days, which chronicles the rise and fall of the mill.
The book is part of a project by the local Tullylish Historical Society, which will include a DVD of the local Bann Valley by photographer Michael Maguire, and a link between the village and faraway Greenwich, a small town in New York State.
Plunkett’s book records that hundreds of mill workers from Gilford emigrated to Greenwich in the late 19th century to set up a factory there, which lasted from 1879 to 1954.
Many descendants of those brave workers still live in Greenwich, and the project will reunite them with their roots and identify their ‘folks’ back in Co Down.
Much research is taking place on both sides of the ocean. In Gilford, school principals are four-square behind the plan – John Priestley (Moyallon Primary School), Doreen Armstrong (Craigavon Primary School), Catherine McCooe (St John’s PS) and John Monaghan (Laurencetown PS).
And in America civic leaders like William Ruddock, David Donnan (Mayor of Greenwich), Sarah Idleman and Mary Kinsella are in it heart-and-soul.
Plunkett’s mini-masterpiece was launched in Gilford on Thursday night by Joe Mahon of UTV’s Lesser Spotted Ulster and the rooms of Dunbarton Bowling Club were packed for the occasion.
Former mill workers were there to reminisce – there are about 50 still living in Gilford.
The tome tells the story of the founding of the operation in the village by Hugh Dunbar and John W McMaster, whose names the great mill bore until its sad demise in the latter part of the 20th century.
In that time, it produced countless miles of yarn and thread of every dimension, exported all over the world.
The global structure spread to 26 countries – including New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, all over Europe, Argentina, Thailand and Japan.
Gilford simply couldn’t supply the vast numbers of workers required. They travelled from Portadown, Banbridge, the entire surrounding area, and there were hostels created in the village for mill workers from the south, as far away as Cork.
The mill also manufactured the finished linen product for a short time – mainly clothing – in the 19th century, and just one of those garments is known to exist, a child’s dress.
It is in the National Museum in Dublin, having been discovered by a woman in Waterford. And it led to a ‘copyright’ court case in 1865 between the original mill owners and the Dickson brothers who took over.
The Dicksons built two castles in the area – Gilford Castle and Elmfield, both still occupied by local families.
By the time the mill closed, just 167 workers remained and they joined the dole queues in Easter 1987.
In recent years, there have been two attempts to refurbish Gilford Mill, one as a retail outlet and the other as a luxury hotel, allied to Gilford Castle and its estate as a championship golf resort, but both failed.
The Glory of Bygone Days was financed by Awards for All via the Lottery Fund and is available locally in Gilford – or by phoning 028 4062 4236.