NESTLED in the picturesque beauty of Southwest Fermanagh, Killesher Community Development Association’s (KCDA) Tully Mill Project is a constant hive of activity.

As the community group prepares to mark its 20th anniversary next year, the success of their onsite restaurant and self-catering cottages is a testament to the foresight of those behind the ambitious venture.

Its most significant achievement to date, the Tully Mill Project consists of the restoration of a derelict 18th century water-power cornmill into a licensed restaurant, the construction of Benaughlin Cottages and the creation of the Larganess Centre -- a neutral community venue -- all on the Tully Mill site.

Once part of the nearby Florencecourt Estate, a lease for the site was initially secured by Killesher Historical Society.

It was their vision to restore the old mill.

But when funding was unavailable, members made the decision to transfer the lease to KCDA.

Robert Thompson, a member of the Historical Society has memories of the old mill in its hay day.

“I can remember the mill working during the war,” he says, “My family brought grain to be ground here in the 1940s. Tully Mill was unique in that it had wooden gearing. There was no metal used in the drive mechanism for the wheel and it is an undershot wheel -- the water turns it from underneath rather than over the top. We tried to get it restored on the strength of it being historic but we couldn’t get any funding at that time.” When KCDA formed in 1994 their initial meetings were held in the two local primary schools.

But plans were soon in place to begin work on the Tully Mill site.

“At that time a lot of heritage centres and community projects were going on in different areas but were all struggling to exist,” says Desi Reid, the group’s secretary, “As a group we felt it was best to have both a social and economic aspect to our project here -- the social being the Larganess Centre, and the economic being the restaurant and the self catering cottages which would provide a source of income to help sustain the whole site.” The group secured funding through various organisations and Trusts along with support from the local community.

“There was a clear determination from the community for this project to succeed,” says Mr. Reid, “This site was always a hub for the area, from the years when the community would bring corn here to be ground. And so everyone was determined that it should continue to be used by the community. That commitment helped with securing funding too.” The Larganess Centre now provides a cross-community venue with a multi-purpose hall, a small meeting room, an office, kitchen and toilets. To date it has played host to a wide range of events and meetings including line-dancing, arts and crafts, beauty therapy, yoga classes and summer schemes.

Regular users of the centre are the Old Mill Club and the Historical Society.

A large quilt completed by members of the Old Mill Club takes pride of place in the Larganess Centre.

“We always look forward to our meetings every week,” says Muriel Scott, “Even if it is only for a bit of a chat and reminiscing.” The restaurant is located within the former corn mill. Restored by keeping the original external structure and changing the internal layout, it is managed by local chef, John Roche.

“The restaurant is getting busier all the time,” he is happy to report.

Indeed it received the seal of approval from none other than Hollywood star Colin Farrell while he shot the period movie ‘Miss Julie’ in Fermanagh earlier this year.

“We are also getting quite a lot of bookings for weddings now too,” John adds, “The restaurant seats 45 and we can also accommodate 170 people in a marquee outside. The area here offers the perfect backdrop for pictures and an intimate location for a bespoke wedding.

“We are now looking into offering packages for team building events where people could stay in the cottages, use the Larganess Centre for their meetings and eat here at the restaurant.” As a cross community group KCDA currently has an active membership of 12 people, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-80s.

One of its first projects was the restoration of the Killesher Old Graveyard, a historic and sacred burial ground used by both religious communities.

In another project, the group facilitated the Rural Housing Association in the development of much-needed social housing which helped ensure that local peple could continue to live with their local area.

For the past three years, KCDA has joined forces with Boho Women’s Group and Ballinaglera Development Company in Leitrum to take part in the Three Communities Advancing through Peace (3CAP) project.

Its overall aim has been to advance trust and understanding through engaging a broad cross section of all three communities in reconciliation and peace building activities and to work together to build a shared future for this cross-border area.

But their most recent initiative however, has been the acquisition of a defibrillator for the site thanks to recent fundraising efforts.

The Association is now in the midst of training committee members on how to use the life-saving equipment.

Despite all they have achieved, KCDA members are constantly looking ahead to the future.

Keen to encourage more younger members to get on board with the group, KCDA is now exploring how two old mill stones can be incorporated into the overall Tully Mill Project.

And looking ahead to their 20th anniversary next year, Mr Reid says the group is forever indebted to their funders.

Indeed an artpiece in the Larganess Centre pays tribute to their support.

“It was the funders who made the wheel turn here again,” he says, “Everyone is so proud of this place and we are so grateful for all the support we have received.”