To most, having electricity might seem like a given, but in the late 1930’s, Ireland was still very much in the dark.
The ESB was first set up, as part of the new Republic of Ireland, under the Electricity Supply Act of 1927. It was after this, that parts of Dublin got their first taste of electricity. It wasn’t until 1946, that electricity got rolled out to rural homes. Between 1946 and 1979, the ESB had connected over 420,000 new clients to the electrical circuits.
It was dubbed the “Quiet Revolution”, due to the significant economic changes it brought to Rural Ireland.
By 1954, over 100,000 homes had already received power in their homes. This enabled people to begin using electrical items throughout their homes and even on their farms. Before this, lamps were the only form of light in the evenings. But these lamps were soon left by the wayside, as light bulbs slowly became the norm.
This new form of artificial light enabled farmers to begin milking their cows in the evening, to provide heat lamps for their chicken coops, calf sheds and calving bays. Electric cookers began replacing people having to cook on an open fire.
Toilets, once very uncommon in rural Ireland, began being built as water began being pumped into homes throughout the countryside. In reality, the Rural Electrification scheme had a serious knock-on effect on life in Ireland. It steamrolled a number of significant changes across the country, with younger people deciding to stay in the country, due to increased employment numbers.
Living conditions began to slowly improve throughout Ireland, with the whole scheme costing an estimated £37 million. By 1965 over 80% of homes in rural Ireland were connected to the grid. By 2003 there were only two regions in the country yet to be connected to the national grid, which is surprising really. These were Inishturk and Inishturbot islands, off the Galway coast.
The change was welcomed by most, but was something new, different, and scary for some of the older generations. To put into words the changes electricity brought with it, I will recount a story told to me at an event recently.
Electricity was first installed into a man’s home in Co. Cavan in the 60’s and the man was aged in his late 80’s. Now as mentioned above, most houses were then lit in the evening, through oil lamps and candles in some cases. So when the ESB man came to hook this man’s house up to the national grid, to say he was confused was an understatement. The ESB worker, tried as best as he could, to explain what he thought was a simple process of switching on and off a light switch.
“He explained to the man, that every evening, when it gets dark that he has to switch on the light. He then told him, that unless he switches the light off every night, it will stay on all night”, I was told recently.
When the ESB worker finally thought he had got through to the man, he bid him goodbye and went on his way. He called back to the man’s house the following day, to check see if everything was alright. Upon his entry to the house, he asked the man how he got on.
“Terrible,” replied the man.
“I couldn’t get the thing to turn off. I up on the chair trying to blow it out and everything. I couldn’t get it off at all…So I hit it one belt with the floor brush and it wasn’t long going off,”, he continued.
To the vast majority, having electricity is like having constant access to internet. Let us just take a few minutes, to remember the simpler times, when rural Ireland got its first taste of artificial light.