The Rural Electrification Scheme was the most revolutionary venture ever undertaken in Ireland. It didn’t just shine lights into the dark ages of an old Ireland, it transformed the country’s landscape forever, writes Dr. Joe Kearney.
When ESB workers erected the first pole in North County Dublin on the afternoon of Saturday, 5th November in 1946, it lifted the curtain on three decades of constant activity up the highways and down the byways of Ireland, ending only when the Black Valley in Kerry was finally attached to the national grid in 1977.
By the time the pioneering crews had finished their work, a massive 165,000 kilometres of cable – the equivalent of winding it four times around the equator – had been unfurled between the million poles that had been erected by the toil of men doing back-breaking work, mostly with no other accouterments than picks, shovels and their bare hands.
Hedgerow by hedgerow, district by district, ESB crews quenched the era of wax candles and Tilley Lamps and with the flick of a switch ushered in a new age of light and power.
Behind every pole was a tear, a fear, a love-story, a tragedy or more often than not a conflict in the recasting of the old Ireland with the spanking fresh dawn of a new sense of nationhood.
These myriad of tales are told for the first time in Then There Was Light, a new collection celebrating the stories surrounding the scheme, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of its beginning this year.
They are told and written down for the first time by people who remember the changes coming to their doorsteps in this seminal time. Many of those pioneering ESB gangs and officials who were part of the roll out of electricity also commit to print those memorable situations they encountered as part of their daily chores.