The Rural Pioneers

Read about ESB’s innovators of Rural Electrification and the role they played in The Quiet Revolution.

Roe William. Ref: RE.PH.600

Ref: RE.PH.600

William Roe was appointed as Director in Charge of Rural Electrification on 19 January 1945. An employee of ESB since 1928 specialising in the conversion of existing town electricity networks, Roe then spent the following 15 years  as District Engineer, in Portlaoise, Waterford and finally in Cork City.

Roe soon found himself working closely with a contemporary Patrick Dowling who was responsible for building the new distribution networks in towns that had hitherto had electricity supply. This was the beginning of a close working relationship between the two.  Roe, a man of vision, quickly realised to ensure the success of the programme, engagement with the local community was paramount and he embarked on leading collaborations with voluntary organisations to ensure the success of Rural Electrification.

Dowling Patrick JPatrick J Dowling, Deputy Director of Rural Electrification, joined ESB in 1927 when there were only 11 employees. Initially, Dowling was involved in the Hydro Electric Scheme at Ardnacrusha and in 1939 under the leadership of Dr Thomas McLaughlin, Dowling along with Alphonsus J McManus presented a report to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Seán Lemass to bring electricity to rural areas in Ireland. Dowling succeeded Roe as Director of Rural Electrification.


Cornelius A. (Neil) O’Donoghue, Accountant for Rural Electrification was seconded by ESB’s Chief Accountant to lead the finances of  the programme. He had qualifications not only in accountancy but in electrical engineering, having achieved graduate membership of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and also membership of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries.

O’Donoghue became responsible for the chartering of shipping to transport poles from the Baltic to the Irish pole depots and to deliver materials by sea to rural areas around the west. He played an important part in getting the scheme off the ground in the critical years until his untimely death in August 1947.

Conroy Peter image ESB Journal 1963 - first pole delivered in LimerickPeter Conroy succeeded O’Donoghue as accountant.  Conroy was responsible for the shipment of the greater part of all poles used on rural electrification, over one million. He rapidly built up a first rate intelligence on the availability and going rate of the different ships in the pole trade and became recognised by ship-owners on the Baltic trade as a client who was difficult to hoodwink.

Anne JoyeAnne Joye joined ESB in November 1930 and was the fourth member of the Rural Electrification Office.  She acted as secretary to Roe.  As the organisation grew she led a team of REO typists, which she supervised until her departure thirteen years later to take up a promotional position in the personnel branch of the ESB.


    • Colum, have a look at our interactive map here. Look for the location in Connemara that you are interested in. Click on the pointer to get the key information. The boundary for each area can be viewed on the original map used for planning the rural scheme. You can view and enlarge a copy of the map for Galway district is here

  1. Why refer to Patrick J Dowling as “Dowling?” He was know as Paddy to his friends and family, but I think he deserves a little more respect than being referred to as Dowling….in your article

    • Hi Oriel. Thank you very much for your comments about Patrick Dowling. Referring to Patrick as Dowling is the style of copy that we use on our website for all of our stories and is not intended as any way disrespectful, he is after all one of our heroes in ESB Archives. We refer to all our innovators by their professional names rather than their personal names.

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