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Priests, politicians and ESB unite to bring light to the darkness over the Bog of Allen

Leinster Leader 24 April 2008

Priests, politicians and ESB unite

to bring light to the darkness over the Bog of Allen



A life without electricity would be unthinkable in our modern era. From plugging in the kettle first thing in the morning to viewing television last thing at night every facet of daily life is dependent on the constant supply of electric power. But it was not always so and indeed well into the 1950s there were parts of the country which had not yet been connected to this life-changing source of power. Thus it is not surprising that the Leinster Leader of 19 April 1958 devoted two full columns under the heading of ‘Countryside Switch on From Edenderry Farmhouse’ which reported on the formalities centred around the switch on of some 250 farms and households along the Kildare-Offaly boundary from Esker (near Daingean) to Lullymore.  The article speaks volumes about the social influences which were central to Irish rural life for decades in the twentieth century. The leadership roles of the clergy and of Muintir na Tire – a community-based self-help group – were clearly motivating forces in conjunction with the ingenuity of the ESB in bringing the benefit of electricity to the most rural of localities such as those deep in the Bog of Allen.

The switch-on ceremony was performed by Monsignor Brenan, PP, who was president of the local Muintir Guild. Also present at the ceremony which took place in the farmhouse of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Evans, Ballinakill, Carbury were: Mr. P. J Dowling, ESB engineer in charge of rural electrification; Rev. M. May, Church of Ireland rector of Edenderry; Fr. Donohoe, CC Carbury; Fr. D. Byrne, St. Patrick’s College, Ballinasloe; Fr. P J McWey, Chairman, Edenderry Muintir na Tire; and Rev. T. Tuohy, vice-chairman.  As well as the line up of clergy present were two local TDs – Mr. Oliver Flanagan and Mr. Nicholas Egan. Other ESB officials in attendance were: Mr. T. Grieve, District Engineer; Mr. J. Barrett, Area Engineer; J. Miley, Area Supervisor; Leo Poole, Area Sales Representative; L. Horgan and J.Coughlan, local ESB representatives.  The Muintir na Tire volunteers in attendance included George Kane, A.G.Bowman, John Byrne, John Crosbie and P O’Connor, NT.

The report relates that Monsignor Brenan blessed the electricity apparatus and then proceeded to give an address in which he reminded members of the ‘younger generation’ (and bear in mind this was 1958) that when the Irish Free State was established in 1922 there was very little electricity in the country except in the cities and even that was dependent on imported fuel. He went on to say that thanks to the first Irish government which with great courage had tackled the Shannon scheme and to successive governments which had extended the system, the country was now being covered with a network of electrical power-stations generating from native resources (a reference, no doubt, to the turf-powered stations which since the early 1950s had towered over the Bog of Allen at nearby Rhode, Allenwood and Portarlington).

Monsignor Brenan stressed that the electrification project had been grounded on home-grown skill and talent. He said he took his hat off to the ESB for the progress it had made with Irish brains and Irish native resources. Striking a somewhat patriotic note he said it was necessary to pay a public tribute of that kind because the young people of the time were being subjected to a constant propaganda vilifying and belittling everything Irish as “ if this young State had nothing to be proud of’.

His Church of Ireland counterpart Rev. May also lauded the coming of electricity to the homes of west Kildare and east Offaly and his remarks were no doubt influenced by the international situation at the time (the Cold War tensions) when he drew a parallel between the light dispelling the dark of rural Ireland and the darkness and suspicion among the nations of the world and he hoped that some day this would be dispelled by the light in the hearts of the people.   Oliver Flanagan TD returned closer to home with his encomium on the arrival of the electricity to rural Ireland. He said it marked an end to drudgery and slavery on the farm. He advised farmers to take full advantage of the Government grants for installing a water supply to their homes and he hoped that every succeeding government would go ‘full steam ahead’ with rural electrification until every home in the country was electrified.

In the modern era when over-consumption of electricity and fuel is the burning issue of the day with calls to restrain usage of power it is hard to imagine that just five decades ago the lack of electricity was one of the biggest challenges faced by church, political and community leaders in the Ireland of the 1950s.  Series No. 64


Liam Kenny, on the arrival of electrification to rural areas along the Kildare/Offfaly border, from his regular feature in the Leinster Leader, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' of 24 April 2008.

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