Thursday, September 28, 2000

Rural Electrification Scheme Kilmead

Do you remember the Rural Electrification Scheme of the 1940’s? It was before my time but
I recall reading an excellent account of it some years ago written by a retired ESB Engineer, Michael Shiel. He called his book “The Quiet Revolution” and indeed the title succinctly described the social and economic revolution which came about when electricity was brought to the homes of rural Ireland.

I was reminded of the events of over forty years ago when I met Alo Brady, a retired ESB executive who spent some time in Athy in 1954 while working on the Rural Electrification Scheme in the Kilmead area. Alo played inter-county football for Offaly during 1949/’50 and for Sligo for the following two years but as he says himself he was not a patch on his brother Michael who starred for Offaly and Leinster during his playing days.

The Rural Electrification Scheme followed on the extension of electricity to provincial towns in Ireland during the 1930’s. Sean Lemass when Minister for Industry and Commerce in 1942 encouraged the ESB to bring forward its plans to extend electricity into the rural areas. The Scheme started in 1946 at the end of the Second World War when once-scarce materials were again becoming available. The country Parishes were to be the focus for all activity in connection with the Rural Electrification Scheme. This ensured that the local clergy played an important role in the entire process as they were an essential part of the marketing team to persuade the local people of the benefits which would follow from linking up to the national electricity grid. When the scheme was planned for Kilmead early in 1954 a group of ESB officials moved into the area office which was specially set up for that purpose. In charge was Frank Kelleher as Area Engineer, with Frank White as Area Superviser, Paddy Fogarty as Area Organiser and the young Alo Brady as Area Clerk.

The Area Organiser had the difficult job of getting the locals signed up to take the electricity supply before the ESB crew arrived to put up the relevant poles and lines which would eventually traverse the entire country. The local Parish Priest spoke from the pulpit in favour of rural electrification, while the Area Organiser and his staff held local meetings and called on houses in the Kilmead area to get the all-important application forms signed. Eventually four hundred and eleven local households indicated their agreement to connect up to the electricity. One of the many frustrating problems facing the ESB at that time was what in organisational terms was referred to as “back sliders”. These were the people who signed the application forms to take the electricity supply but changed their minds when the ESB crew arrived to make the connection. Kilmead was no different than anywhere else in that regard and when the Scheme was completed in October 1954 three hundred and eighty one householders had availed of the service. A total of 30 “back sliders” resisted all attempts by the local Parish Priest and the ESB Area Organiser to get them to go ahead with their original commitment. One substantial farmer in the area who agreed to have electricity poles on his lands refused to take the electricity on a matter of some unexplained principle or other.

Construction work on the Kilmead Scheme which commenced on 27th March 1954 and finished on 2nd October of the same year afforded local men the opportunity for well-paid work. Indeed the ESB found that the wages paid in the local Asbestos, IVI and Wallboard factories made it difficult for them to get a full complement of labourers. Another problem was that posed by the creosote poles put up on farmlands which proved unusually attractive to calves. Apparently the calves licked the creosote, becoming sick in the process and resulted in three fatalities which were the subject of compensation claims against the Electricity Supply Board.

The total cost of the Kilmead Scheme was £44,181, a very substantial sum in those post-War days. The sale of ESB electrical equipment to private households netted £920, most of which was expended on water pumps and electric cookers. Two washing machines, one Bosch refrigerator, ten electric kettles and six electric irons were also purchased from the ESB by Kilmead householders. It is believed that electrical contractors in Athy sold a similar number of electrical appliances in the area.

The ESB officials while working on the Kilmead Scheme lodged in Athy. Alo Brady, originally from Edenderry, stayed in digs with Mr. and Mrs. Andy Cleary in Janeville, while the Area Engineer Frank Kelleher lodged with the Staffords of Emily Square. Another important member of the ESB team was Ned Ryan, a linesman who was subsequently to win two All-Ireland hurling medals with Tipperary in 1949 and 1950. Ned drove a model Y Ford car which was commissioned every morning and evening to transport his colleagues between the work site and the town of Athy.

The story of the Rural Electrification Scheme of 46 years ago in Kilmead results from my recent meeting with Alo Brady who is now retired and living in Dublin. I spent an enjoyable afternoon in his company as we both shared in the celebration of my eldest sibling’s 40th Wedding Anniversary in the Midlands.

Alo Brady who was a boarder in Knockbeg College when Carlow won its only Provincial football title at senior level in 1944 recalled for me the song composed to celebrate the Carlow mens victory over Dublin in the Leinster final which was played in Geraldine Park, Athy.
“In the year of ’44 towards the end of July
The Great Leinster Final was played at Athy
This game of fine football was listed between
The lads from the Liffey and the Carlow fifteen.

I’ll never forget ‘til the day that I die
The crowds that went tramping that day to Athy
They peddled and walked it, excitement was keen
And proud the supporters of the Carlow fifteen.”

The match played on 28th July saw Carlow defeat Dublin on the score of 2-6 to 1-5, but one month later the men from Kerry beat Carlow by 3-3 to 0-10. If any of my readers remember the Leinster Football Final of 1944 played in Athy I would like to hear your memories of that day.

Writing of Athy’s association with the Leinster Final of 1944 reminds me of another Athy connection which arose when I received a most interesting letter some weeks ago from London. With the letter was a photocopy of a book plate relating to “Athy School”. It was a handsome engraving showing Apollo awarding laurels to a worthy young fellow, with a temple surmounted by Fame in the background. I was able to identify it as the book plate of Rev. Nicholas Ashe’s school which he conducted in the town prior to 1798. Ashe who was licensed as a Church of England Curate for Fontstown in October 1794 served as Sovereign Borough during 1797/’98. He suffered greatly during the 1798 Rebellion at the hands of the Loyalists as a result of his supposed sympathy for the rebels. The book plate which bears Ashe’s signature will be included in a future book on the history of book plates. I wonder if any further examples of Ashe’s book plate can be found in this area.

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