Published Friday, 09 December 2011
An abundance of flax-growing land and a plentiful supply of willing labour were also factors they took into consideration when they set about establishing their state-of-the-art linen mill and a model village to accommodate the workers and their families. That was back in the 1830s.
Drive through Sion Mills today and the imprint of their Utopian vision is still clearly discernible - the rows of neat cottages, tree-lined streets and wide green areas for sport and recreation, and the magnificent palace of industry, the mill itself, designed by William Lynn, which at one stage employed over 1200 people.
Today the mill buildings are empty - awaiting the kind of development that requires the empowerment and participation of the local community. It also requires money.
Celia Ferguson is a descendent of the founders and it is her fervent wish that Sion Mills achieve the status of World Heritage Site.
That would enable funds to flow for conservation, tourism development and job creation. In short, it would create a future for this splendid relic of our industrial heritage and for the local population.
One of the offshoots of the Herdmans' philosophy was the development of Sion Mills as a centre of excellence for sport, notably cricket.
Ossie Colhoun was one of Ireland's greatest ever wicket-keepers and he's also a great story-teller.
He still talks proudly, but with self-effacing humour, of the day that Ireland shocked the cricketing world by trouncing the mighty West Indies at Sion Mills on the banks of the Mourne.
It's hard to imagine anybody more passionate about their place and its people than Georgina McClintock.
I spent a very entertaining afternoon with Georgina, her family and some friends at the community hall, preparing the Christmas lights for the village main street and listening to Georgina's reminiscences about growing up in Sion Mills where good-neighbourliness, friendship and mutual support were the order of the day.
If Georgina and others of similar mindset manage to keep their values alive, then Sion Mills will continue to be a great place in which to live.