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Bushmills was once known as Portcaman, the modern name developed with the water powered industries of the 1600's when the village became one of the main centre's for corn, flax, spade and whiskey production, at one time seven mills where powered along its stretch through the village. One of the first mills in County Antrim was built here.
The Diamond is typical of many traditional Ulster towns and villages where the corners are gathering places for the exchange of news and banter, a way of life that passes silently from one generation to another. The War Memorial is a tribute to the young men who left these same corners and rural fields never to return. Their story and bravery reflected by the few who returned, like Robert Quigg V.C. from the townland of Ardihannon at the Giant's Causeway.
The village has a unique North Antrim quality and an authentic local dialect or tongue commonly known as Ulster Scots or Scots Irish. It is marked by the Alphabet Angel the first bronze sculpture in the world to physical celebrate this unique tongue. A walk along the Main Street and a visit to the odd shop or pub will reveal places which can only be described as living heritage. As well as being the gateway to the Giant's Causeway the village is also home to the Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery.
The village owes a lot of its development and character to the Macnaghten family. They built many of the prominent buildings in the village including The Market Square, Clock Tower, the Courthouse and Old National School. The family home of 'Dundarave House' is set amongst woodlands overlooking the village and was designed by the architect Charles Lanyon and built in 1847. Regular weekly markets used to take place in the square, a linen market also opened here in 1833, It was also the location for men, women and children to find employment at the twice yearly Hiring Fair. They would line up on the street in front of the clock tower and wait to be selected by a local landowner. The settlement originally consisted of a few dwellings beside a shallow crossing point on the river, the main centre was at Dunluce where a thriving merchant village had developed around the castle. This was destroyed by fire during the 1641 rebellion and the combination of this destruction and the emerging water power industries on the river Bush led to the migration of the population to Portcaman, the mills gave Bushmills its new name.
The village benefited from the influx of visitors coming to see the Giant's Causeway. Local hotels and inns became popular and businesses flourished. The opening of the world's first hydro-electric tramway in 1883 between Portrush to Bushmills led to a further boost for the village. The tram was powered by water turbines at the Walkmill Falls and pioneered by Colonel William Trail and his brother Anthony of Ballyclough. The village produced nails and farming implements including award winning spades which where exhibited in England and Europe. Bicycles were also made, the Dunluce was designed and built here and sold all over the province. The world renown Gwynne pumps began in Bushmills, John Gwynne arrived here in 1823 as a spade maker, he married the daughter of the owner Agnes Anderson. This marriage would lead to the Gwynne Engineering Company being started.
The river features in ancient Ulster legends and writings. It was referred to as one of the ten rivers of Ireland that were encountered by the first settlers and known as 'Inbiur Buosse bruchtait srotha' (River Bush of the bursting torrents). In another it is referred to for a 'great abundance of nuts which were found on the banks of the Boyne and the Buais (Bush)'.
The 'Book of Leinster' tells of a master smithy called Echen who lived near the Bush, he had a son named Amergin who had been dumb since birth. At the age of fourteen Amergin found his voice and was said to have had great wisdom, he eventually become the chief poet to the high king of Ulster and was known as 'the good poet from the Buis (Bush) in the north'. A description of his clothes reads: 'he wore a blue, fine bordered shirt next to the skin, with carved and interlaced clasps of white bronze, with real buttons of burnished red gold in its opening and breast. He wore above it a cloak mottled with the splendor of all the most beautiful colours'.
Bushmills has some wonderful examples of period architecture along its streets, it is also fortunate in having an example of work by the famous architect Clough Williams-Ellis who designed the Old Grammar School in the village and also the Causeway School. A walking trail has recently been created to guide people around this designated conservation village. The river though, will always be a focal point to the village and a reminder of its past heritage.
Today, two mills have been renovated back to their original condition with a meticulous eye to detail. Palmer's Mill on the town side of the river, looks exactly the same today as it would have done one hundred years ago when horses and carts brought grain here from the surrounding farms. The renovation stand as a credit to its owner Sam Huey, an excellent example of how heritage and modern needs can work together within a conservation area.
On the opposite bank Curry's Mill has been restored to its former glory, the modern name plaque 'Bonner Mill' is not the traditional local name but a recent addition. Behind the town's listed frontages lie many of the 'still to be preserved' and perhaps some of the most 'important' example of the villages heritage - stables, tailor lofts, coach yards, walled gardens, archways and even a Georgian farmyard. Another well known attraction of the village is the salmon, each year these ocean travellers navigate their way across the Atlantic back to the Bush. How they find their way still remains a natural mystery but if you enjoy watching salmon jumping over rushing torrents of water then a visit to the Walkmill Falls is well worth taking. Here the salmon encounter the biggest obstacle on their long journey home. Years ago the salmon would have been caught by net between the two bridges and local people recall the banks being lined 'silver with fish', nowadays the runs are not so abundant, the stocks are physically under threat from netting and over fishing in the north Atlantic while biologically they are threatened by the introduction and escape of farmed salmon. You can still see the old boat slip beside the Riverside car park.