Herdman's Mill was founded in 1835 and is a large complex of buildings, statutory
listed B+, the most prominent of which was built in
1853 by William Lynn of Lanyon Lynn and Lanyon, Belfast.
This is a very large and handsome five storey mill built
in Italianate style of grey ashlar stone quarried locally,
with yellow brick extensions added in 1884 to 1900 (referred
to as the "Main Mill" on the maps). There had been a
series of corn mills on the site, (the earliest recorded
in 1640), with the latest one rebuilt in 1828 which
the three Herdman brothers from Belfast, and their partners,
the Mulhollands, purchased from the Marquis of Abercorn,
and this became part of the 1835 tow mill next to the
river, now the three storey "Old Mill".
To read in more detail about the mill's history - click here .
The old Herdman's Mill in Sion Mills.
Photograph taken by Celia Ferguson.
The spectacular River Mourne was the reason the Herdmans chose this site, with its immense water-power which provided 1000 water horsepower. The water-power and its history are still very much a feature of the Mill with the modern turbines, the newly developed river walks and picnic areas overlooking the huge weir and the 35 ft wide mill lade which flows on to run between the two main buildings of the Mill. The complicated system of sluices, the suspension bridge ("the swinging bridge"), the island, the beach and above all the river itself which is one of the best salmon rivers in Europe, set amongst lovely mature trees, all combine to provide a fascinating and beautiful spectacle. This is where Mrs CF Alexander wrote her famous hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" when she lived in Camus-juxta-Mourne Rectory overlooking the weir, a Georgian house later owned by the Herdman family. The River Mourne is "the river running by" and "the purple headed mountain is Meenashesk", a hill to the east of the village.
Sion Mills village is situated in the North West of Ireland, only 2 miles from the Border with Co Donegal in the Republic of Ireland and equidistant from the City of Derry, Letterkenny in Co. Donegal and Omagh the County Town of Co.Tyrone, being 17 miles from each of them. It straddles the main road and bus route from Dublin (and Belfast) to Derry and Co. Donegal, which is also part of the "North West Passage" tourist route. Strabane, the seat of Strabane District Council and a very busy market town, is only 2 miles to the North.
Sion Mills is a residential area which has become very popular due in part to its attractiveness, but also due to its well-known reputation as a very friendly and completely non-sectarian village, which is upheld as an example to the rest of N. Ireland today. This atmosphere is due to the endeavours of the Herdman family who made it a policy not to discriminate between the denominations in any way, and provided work, housing and schooling for all. In 1888, Mr Emerson Tennent Herdman told Mr William Hurlbert from America, "I find it wise to give neither religion a preponderance, and to hold my people of both religions to a common standard of fidelity and efficiency".
Mr ET Herdman also started the sporting tradition of
the village when he founded the Cricket Club in 1864,
and later built the cricket field and the football pitches
as well as a Men's Institute and the Recreation Club.
The tennis courts and bowling green were added to celebrate
the Centenary in 1935.
Maria Duffy - June 08
Hello Celia - my mother was born in Sion Mills and worked in the mill around 1930-1940. Her name was Sarah Archibald. Her 4 sisters also worked there. My grandfather tended the gardens at the mill. I have pictures of the rose gardens around the time he worked there. I have lovely memories of childhood holidays in Sion Mills after my parents moved to England in the 1940's. The 'swinging bridge' is a legend in our family, we have pictures of us as children on it and playing around the rivers edge. lovely memories!
Fiona Palmer - Feb '08
Thanks for the wonderful photograph - my family worked
on the railways too. My great grandfather was Samuel
Palmer a stationmaster who worked mainly in Co Antrim
but we have connections I believe to Barrs and Maddens
who worked on the railways and were located elsewhere.
I obtained great information in PRONI Belfast in Ulster
Transport Authority files about the wages and dates of
transfer for my great grandfather. There are a lot of
railway people mentioned in the employee records. Not
sure if Strabane is there though. If your Barrs and Maddens
orginated in Antrim I would love to hear from you!
Hazel Kidd - Feb '08
Hello Celia, This is a wee note just to say hello and
hope you remember the times my sisters and I played
with your daughters. I will always remember and be
proud of the time and efford my Granny Kidd and your
mum and many other honourable people of the village
spend for the royal british legion. I hope you and
all your family are well.
Niall - Feb '08
I hadn't passed through Sion Mills for years. The
state of the main road's pretty awful, is no one responsible
for the great architecture on that road? It's falling
to pieces. Very sad.
Celia Ferguson - Feb '08
If anyone reading this is interested in finding out
more about Sion Mills past and present, visit www.sionmills.org
(the very comprehensive website of Sion Mills Buildings
Danny Hunter- Feb '07
Hi Celia, My name is Daniel Hunter,and we have met in
regards to the local fishing in Sion Mills .
I just love telling tourists that visit here the story
of the old Mill and its village.
I wish you all the best in breathing new life into a
superb building that should never be forgot, It will
indeed serve as a great Tourist attraction,and will also
create local employment.
Celia Ferguson - Jan '07
To all my Suffern Herdman relations in the States/Canada I do have a copy of
Rex Herdman's family tree but it is difficult to copy it. We are about to launch
a new website which we could perhaps add it to. It should be online hopefully
in mid-March and will be www.sionmills.org
Carole Atkins Sherr - Nov '06
I am very interested in the comments of Robert Alec
Wilson. My paternal great great grandfather was a Robert
Wilson married to Jane? Their daughter, my great grandmother,
Rebecca Wilson, married John H. Thompson in the Ballinamallard
CI in 1861 prior to coming to Philadelphia the next
year. Because of the frequency of the Wilson surname
I am having difficulty sorting out the many families
in County Tyrone. I would appreciate hearing from Robert
Alec Wilson if he reads this and is interested in genealogy.
I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Robert Alec Wilson - Oct '06
I am a cousin to William Suffern Herdman 1V, my mother
was his father's sister. I am very interested in obtaining
a copy of the "Family Tree" done by Rex Herdman.
If you have information on who to contact I would greatly
J Hughes - Oct '06
Having visited Sion Mills to fish the river Mourne for
the first time in September 2006, I was most impressed
by the river in the area of the Herdman's factory. It
is certainly a beautiful site with the weir, the Gravenue
Pool and the public walks. However, unfortunately I
have to agree with R M - Aug '06, who points out the
mindless vandilism that has taken place in this lovely
area. Isn't it a pity that the young people of the district
can't admire and respect the beauty of their local surroundings.
Celia Ferguson - Sep '06
To Susan Arn
In answer to your query about the Sufferns, James Herdman
who founded Sion Mills married Elizabeth Suffern of
Belfast. She was my great-great-grandmother and I have
a huge portrait of her at home. She was the mother of
Dr William Suffern Herdman (who founded a dynasty of
Herdmans in America, starting in Seattle). Her mother
was the sister of Sir James Emerson-Tennent who was
godfather to my great-grandfather, Emerson Tennent Herdman
and the name has passed down through the family.
Max DeBeeson - Aug '06
Hello Celia, my name is Max DeBeeson. I'm working on
a family website that includes Herdman on my wife's
side. I came across your site and it is wonderful. I
have attempted to connect the dots from my wife back
through Sion Mills to John Herdman who fought for King
William. I've put a link in the text to the full article
you've done. Please check out what I've done and if
you don't want me to use what's there, I'll change it.
Thanks a lot.
Website address is: www.debeeson.com
My wife's email is sdebees @ telus.net
she would like to be in touch too.
Susan Arn - Aug '06
Hello: I noticed the name Suffern used as a middle name
for a William Herdman with a relationship to a mill
in Ireland? My own Suffern ancestors came from Ireland
(County Antrim and County Derry) and I wondered where
your William got the middle name Suffern?
R M - Aug '06
I read with great interest this article on Sion Mills
and the surrounding areas, namely Strabane. It almost
filled me with great pride to hail from this town. However,
the reality of life in Sion today couldn't be different
from that portrayed here.
A walk along the river today will reveal burnt out picnic
areas, burnt benches, glass everywhere, abusive teenagers
and an ineffectual police service which seems to ignore
the noise, underage drinking and the tearing up of the
local area by quads and scramblers. My family have a
long history in Sion Mills. My mother and her family
all earned a crust at the mill. Mr Herdman would turn
in his grave if he where to wander along the weir these
days. Whilst still a naturally beautiful location, it
has unfortunately not escaped the blight that has befallen
most towns in the north west and indeed the rest of
the UK. Lawless teens and thoughtless parents.
The romantic view laid out above would be a fine thing
given half a chance.
Celia Ferguson - May '06
From Celia Ferguson (nee Herdman) to William Suffern
Herdman IV I have your photograph here in Sion Mills
and William Suffern Herdman was my great-grandfather's
brother which makes you my 3rd cousin. Please do come
and visit us - my Aunt Iona is still alive and will
be 95 on 9th June. Rex died in 1981 and their brother,
my father Claud, died aged 90 in 1993. My email is smbpt
at btconnect dot com.
Diane Angel - May '06
My dad was born in Sion Mills, his name was Stuart McKelvey.
He worked in the mill and we left in 1980. I'm thinking
about going back for a short break and taking my children
Caroline Roncone - May '06
I am reserching my family history and my maternal grandmother
was born at Sion Mills, 28/04/1895. My great grandparents
must have lived and worked there. Names- Mary Doherty,
James and Matilda nee Carlton. I have a copy of her
Stacey O' Meara - April '06
Hello! I am currently a year 13 A-level Art student
at Drumragh College, Omagh. I myself live in Sion Mills
and i am studying the buildings in Sion, such as The
Mill and The stables. I have done loads of drawings
and research! I new Sion had an interesting history
and i am pleased to have learned things i never knew
from this website, it also helped me alot for my pages
of the art exam.
Ellen Fraser - January '06
Dear Ms. Ferguson: (& Michael Murray ??)
Oh my. I have been searching & searching trying
to find the "mill" my mother heard about in
her family. Her grandmother was Eliza Sharkey from Tyrone.
Since I notice another Sharkey replying here - I feel
this could be it...but don't know. The family rumor
was that the mill had fallen on hard times or problems.
It was known as the Mill at o'Keppe (not sure of the
spelling) - and the sharkey's were involved in some
My great-grandmother Eliza Sharkey - and husband Michael
McGeeney emigrated in 1881 and located in Newton, Kansas.
I sure would love to know. The name might also be A'Keppe...??
Bits and pieces of heresay, that is all I have.
William Herdman, South Colby, WA -
I have just read some of your article and wanted to
drop you a line. My name is William Suffern Herdman
1V, my father spent some time at the mill in the early
1980's. He mostly enjoyed his visit with his (I believe
cousin) Iona and Rex who lived in a cottage on the river.
I know that they spoke often after that and prior to
her death and subsequently my fathers death in 1996.
I would love to come visit retracing my dads footsteps.
I would very much appreciate a response.
Celia Ferguson - November '05
I have just read the comments to date on my article
and would like to say thank you to all those who have
made such kind remarks. I have put together a book on
the Early Years of Sion Mills, with extracts from the
archives I have here at the Mill. If anyone wants to
contact me for more information about the Herdman family
(I am a Herdman myself), my email address is smbpt @
Elizabeth (McGeehan) Smith
- November '05
My grandmother Margaret (Mohan) McGeehan worked at Sion
Mills as a young lady. This would have been in the early
While visiting Strabane in 1984 it was awesome seeing
that huge building still standing.
Patricia Booth - Oct '05
Would love to find someone who has information on the
Herdman family. I'm descended from them and trying to
piece together some fragments of family history. Would
appreciate any information. I have a beautiful linen
bedspread, said to have come with the family to the
US, from the Herdman Mill.
Hilary Whitford - July'05
I have some large framed prints on linen by Herdmans
of the linen-making process. I inherited them 15 years
ago from my ex-husband's uncle (Bill Cant) who worked,
I believe, as a salesman for them. The prints are clearly
of a series and were produced for some anniversary;
I'm not sure I have the whole set, but I do have duplicates
of one of the prints, which I'm prepared to sell if
anyone is interested.
Lisa - June 05
Celia, this article on history of Sion Mills is amazing.
I myself do live in Sion Mills and find that it yes
does have a lot of history about the mill and the Herdman
family. Thanks for the enjoyable article that I read
and good luck in the future. thanks again
Michael A. Murray - December '04
Dear Celia Ferguson, great article on Sion Mills. It
is too small of world when I am a yarn broker, buying
and selling textile yarns around the world, receive
a random e-mail from someone needing to sell some obsolete
linen yarn. Linen yarn is not something I handle. Anyway,
I shrug off the e-mail. Two days later I get a call
from a regular customer asking me if I knew where to
find some linen yarn ...!!
I pull the e-mail about the linen yarn. I begin to
type an e-mail to the sender at SION MILLS. I said to
myself, S I O N M I L L S!!! I wonder if that is the
same SION MILLS my grandmother's family (Sharkey Family)
worked at over 100 years ago .. So, I go into the hallway
of my office to take a digital photo of the photo my
sister took of SION MILLS and send it to the supplier
of linen to learn if the SION MILLS I have a photo of
is the same SION MILLS my relatives worked in.
Indeed it is the same mill! So, now I have a new yarn
supplier and have reconnected with some aspects of my
Thanks for your web site and photos!
Hazel Kidd - Feb '08
Hello Celia, This is a wee note just to say hello and
hope you remember the times my sisters and i played
with your daughters. I will always remember and be proud
of the time and efford my Granny Kidd and your mum and
many other honourable people of the village spend for
the royal british legion. I hope you and all your family