|WORKERS AT THE SHANNON SCHEME IN THE 1920's|
In 1925 the Irish Free State decided that its people had been kept in the dark for long enough. The time had come to shed some light on the situation.
German firm, Siemens, was brought in to oversee the construction of a massive Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme at Ardnacrusha, County Clare which, it was claimed, would generate electricity and supply power to the four corners of the country. The project became known as The Shannon Scheme.
It was a huge undertaking with an estimated cost of £5.2 million in old money. At its peak, it would require upwards of 3000 skilled and unskilled workers to complete the project.
The present National Broadband Plan would be only trotting after it!
The recruiting of a temporary labour force began immediately. Several Abbeyfeale men stepped up to answer the call and among them was my grandfather who had barely travelled beyond The Hill up to then.
Interviews were conducted locally. My grandfather was known to be a good worker and was one of those selected from the area. Off they headed for Clare and for one of the largest building projects in the world at the time.
It must have looked like the Klondyke Gold Rush to lads more used to the sedate surroundings of meadows and bogs, but they were a resilient bunch and settled in quickly. The work was hard and the pay small. They slept in wooden huts and ate in makeshift canteens. However, they were earning and saving the few bob which they could not do at home.
They managed to get back to Abbeyfeale for the odd weekend and neighbours would gather at night to hear stories of rocks being blasted, rivers diverted and locomotives pulling wagons of stones to build huge dams and fill concrete bunkers. Meanwhile, hundreds of men moved like ants across a barren landscape, digging with pick and shovel and drawing out gravel and dirt with horses and carts.
The grandfather boasted that he had been promoted and put in charge of a sophisticated transport vehicle and a new mechanical digger. It turned out to be a wheelbarrow and a spade!
After several months on the Shannon Scheme most of the casual labourers had finally completed the work for which they had been hired and began returning home. My grandfather received a glowing reference from Siemens stating that he had carried out his tasks in a satisfactory and diligent manner and recommending him to any prospective employer that might want to hire him. He took great pride in this and even presented it to his next-door neighbour, a big farmer, who had enquired if he’d be free to give a few days in the bog!
The grandfather eventually settled back to his everyday life of saving hay, cutting turf, tending to his handful of cattle and raising his young family while waiting for the promised electricity to arrive.
The Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme was officially opened with much fanfare by President William Cosgrave on the 29th July 1929 and the rural electrification of Ireland began. Soon ESB workers were seen sinking poles and clambering up ladders to attach transformers and connect copper cabling. Meanwhile, down below, electricians were busy wiring houses, installing sacred heart lamps and getting ready for the big switch-on.
Demand was huge but progress was slow. By 1931 there were 127 homes and businesses connected to the network in Abbeyfeale from a recorded population in the town of 1,056.
The roll-out of electricity in rural areas was even slower and it would take another twenty odd years before “the light” as it was called, would be available to most outlying areas of the parish, and even then, some isolated pockets remained in darkness due to their remoteness and the cost of running poles for several miles to cater for a handful of homes.
Unfortunately an area at the very top of Abbeyfeale Hill where my grandfather lived was included in this category.
And so the man who worked on the historic Shannon Scheme and who received such a glowing reference for his troubles, would have to wait a while longer before reaping the rewards of his labour.
Sadly, he never lived to see the switching on of the lights on Abbeyfeale Hill.
He died in April of 1974 just as the last poles were being connected and the wiring of the house completed. Two weeks after his death the lights were switched on and electric current finally flowed all the way from Ardnacrusha to the little house on The Hill.
It was as if one light had been extinguished and another had been switched on to take its place.