Where the mountains of West Cork meet the flood plain of the River Lee, at the edge of County Cork's magnificent lake district, the old town of Macroom still seems to crouch in defense of an ancient and important river crossing, waiting for new invaders in this historically troubled land. Macroom, about 26 miles from Cork City, is located geographically almost at the centre of County Cork, on the long used primary route from Cork City to Killarney and beyond. It is the principle town in the mid-Cork region with an urban population of around 3,000.
The first documented reference to Macroom reaches back to about around 550 ce when it was known as Achad Dorbchon (this name probably represented an area rather larger than present day Macroom and certainly included the present parish of Macloneigh) and existed within the Kingdom of Muscraighe (Muskerry). There is some evidence that a ruined church in Macloneigh parish is the site of St. Finbar's first church and probably his childhood home before he became a hermit at Gougane Barra.
The town's name, in Irish Magh Chromtha, could mean the crooked plain although it may derive from the Celtic deity Crom.
A detached triple-gabled four-storey former corn mill, built 1797 by the Harding family, later used as saw mill, it is now in use as heritage centre. There is a steel breast-shot ring to the rear fed by a feeder from the River Laine.
This impressive, substantial former mill is a significant reminder of the area's industrial heritage. Its first years of business were busy meeting the increased grain demands which arose due to the Napoleonic wars. Corn and milling created prosperity in the area at the time, as farmers had a ready market for their crop, while the mills provided employment. In 1899 the power of the mill wheel was harnessed to provide electricity to the town, and it is thought that Macroom was one of the first towns in the country with electric street lighting. It retains much of its historic form and fabric intact.
During the reign of the Ui Fhloinn (O'Flynns) tribe in the twelfth century a castle was built at Achad Dorbchon. Evidence suggests that the O'Flynn family were one of the earliest and most influential families of the Muskery region. They had their headquarters near Macroom and established the first village site. The castle was the focal point for all subsequent development at Macroom. The present Macroom Castle is said to have been constructed in the reign of King John, 1199-1209, and possibly occupied by the Carew family. It is thought that the castle was built on the site of the earlier stronghold. Its story reflects the trials and tribulations of Irish society over the centuries, passing from the hands of the Carews to the McCarthy Clan, when they became overlords (practically kings) in the region.
In 1650 Bishop Boetius McEgan failed to hold it on behalf of the McCarthys against Cromwellian forces, and McEgan was taken prisoner and hanged at Carrigadrohid. The castle was given, as a reward, to William Penn (whose son founded the state of Pennsylvania) who lived there for some time, who then sold it to the Hollow Sword Blade Company. Similar to the East India Trading Company or the Hudson Bay Trading Company, they were a merchant company who made financial investments in colonial expansion. They eventually sold their interest in the castle to the Bernards of Castle Mahon in Bandon (future Earls of Bandon) who, in turn sold on to the Hedges family. In 1766 Jane Hedges Eyre married Simon White from Bantry House, and the strength of this alliance led to their son, Richard, becoming Earl of Bantry in 1816. By the end of the 19th century the castle was in the ownership of the glamorous Lady Ardilaun, sister of the last Earl of Bantry, and wife of Arthur Edward Guinness MP, heir of the brewing family. They moved in exciting circles, being friendly with Yeats, and the Laverys, the people that were responsible for developing the Anglo-Irish literary movement. When Macroom Castle was burnt (for the fourth time) during the War of Independence, 1916-22, Lady Ardilaun gave the remains of the house and demesne to the people of Macroom.
The structure dominated the skyline of Macroom until the 1960s when, in a dangerous condition, it had to be demolished. However, some parts of the castle are still to be seen in the grounds of the castle demesne. The Castle Arch with old stone, and guns provides an elegant centre for the town but was built in a much later, romantic era. The most impressive view of the almost intact west front of the keep is from the Sullane Bridge at the western end of town.
Milling is said to have been introduced in the late 16th century by the Gallowglass (from the Irish, gallóglaigh ( "foreign soldier")) Donal McSweeney. However, archaeologists consider the remains of the horizontal mill at Mashanaglass to be medieval. Creedon's (Walton's) Mill, over two hundred years old, is still operating as a going concern and is renowned for its Macroom Oatmeal and Macroom Flour.