Sion – “Sidhean” A Fairy Mound.
A pleasant tree-lined industrial village and designated conservation area, Sion Mills is particularly rich in architectural heritage. Significant features among others include the recently restored former stables of Sion House, the Church of the Good Shepherd (based on the design of a church at Pistoia, near Florence), the contemporary St. Theresa’s Church, the old flax mill and collectively the simple single and two storey cottages built originally to house the mill workers.
The village’s plentiful water resource which once sustained a still thriving linen industry now hosts an idyllic riverside haven as well as excellent angling facilities while equestrian and golfing opportunities both exist within a small distance from the village. Sion Mills also has a strong cricket tradition and was the venue for a celebrated moment in cricket history when the Irish team beat a West Indian touring team in July 1969.
Sion Mills – The “Rolls Royce” of the Linen industry.
Civil Surveys from the mid-17th century recorded that corn milling took place near the River Mourne at Shean, in Liggartown. However it was not until 1835 that industrial scale flax milling commenced in the Sion area, when the Herdman Bros- James, John and George – from Belfast and their partners Andrew and Sinclair Mullholland, along with Robert Lyons decided to lease the site of the earlier mill at Liggartown from the Marquis of Abercorn. As part of the lease the new flax mill`s partnership agreed not to build a grain mill on the site, and the Abercorn Estate in turn agreed not to build a flax mill. However during the Great Famine in the 1840s the mill partnership was given permission by the Estate to open a flour mill, in order to help feed the village`s growing population.
Among the economic factors that brought the mill to this part of Tyrone were – the existence of an old mill which could easily be adapted to the spinning process; a reliable supply of water throughout the year from the river Mourne; the proximity to large number of flax growers in North West Ulster; the port at Derry and a readily available pool of labour.
From its very beginning the mill at Sion was designed to be a social experiment. Its development was heavily influenced by the theories and work of the social reformer Robert Owen who in the early 1800s transformed the village of New Lanark into a model community providing a range of facilities for the welfare of its mill worker and their families.
Production started at Sion in November 1835 with 75 employees. In 1849 when the Herdman Bros had bought out all of their business partners, over 400 worked at the mill. By the 1870`s the mill employed over 1,000 people and at its peak Herdman`s mill had approximately 1,500 workers. As the mill expanded then correspondingly the model village grew to become a community of over 240 houses, by the close of the 19th century.
As part of the “experiment” the Herdman Bros who advocated temperance, banned Public Houses in the village. Sion Mills remained a “dry” village until 1896 when the Herdman family lost a Court Case on this issue and within a short time Sion Mills had gained its first Public House.
In 1977 this stylistically very “English” village, incongruously built in rural West Tyrone, was designated an Architectural Conservation Area, that now contains over 40 listed buildings and structures.