by ehistoryadmin on June 16, 2016

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the commencement of the ESB’s Rural Electrification Scheme. We would like to gather as many first hand accounts of this project as we can. It was an enterprise that brought Ireland out of darkness and liberated a rural population from much of the drudgery that existed prior to its arrival
In November of 1946 the first pole in ESB’s Rural Electrification Scheme was erected in a field in Kilsallaghan, near Oldtown, County Dublin. It would take over two months before the connections were in place for throwing the first switch. That date was 15th January 1947, a cold, windy evening with patches of snow lying in the fields. The body of the small village hall was packed with local people, while up on the stage sat a group of leading citizens, the parish priest and senior ESB offcials. The occasion was the switching on for the first time of electricity under the new Rural Electrification Scheme. There was, however, a snag of which the audience was unaware. Severe winter storms had caused a last-minute fault in the supply line and even now, as the speeches commenced, a line crew was working frantically in the pitch darkness over a mile away to put things right. At the back of the stage was mounted a large switch, which, when operated,
should illuminate the hall and village with the new light. The hands of the clock now showed eight, the scheduled time for the “switch on”. As the Engineer-in-Charge, W.F. Roe, commenced his speech he kept one eye on a small table at the side. There sat a gramophone turntable, connected to the still inanimate supply line. Anxiety sharpened as talk time was running out. Suddenly and unobtrusively the turntable started to rotate; the pick-up dropped onto the record, and legend has it that a very relieved Bill Roe concluded his speech to the strains of “Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive – O!”
A blessing was invoked. The switch was thrown. The hall burst into light and Oldtown passed into the history books as the first village in Ireland to be electrified under the Rural Electrification Scheme. ‘Then there was light’ will be a unique collection of stories by people recalling their memories and experiences of the Rural Electrification scheme which was rolled out in the late 1940’s across Ireland.We want to gather as many first hand accounts of this revolutionary project as possible before it is too late. We plan to do so by appealing for memories of the time. All recollections will be recorded for future historical and social research at the ESB’s archives and a selection of them will be published in book form to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the event.The stories will provide a valuable snapshot of the time Ireland left the dark ages by allowing power and light into the midst of even the most remote communities.

The stories for the collection will provide a frank insight into the suspicions, worries and welcome the ESB’s light brigade faced as they began work on one of the most important undertakings in recent Irish history. The stories will encapsulate and preserve the approach of a previous generation as it came to terms with the prospect of a rapidly changing rural landscape.

The book collection will be edited by PJ Cunningham and Dr Joe Kearney.

We would love an opportunity to discuss our appeal for contributors via your societies and would be delighted to call and discuss the project if you would like.

Joe Kearney

087 2633041

PJ Cunningham

086 8217631

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