The Rural Electrification Scheme employed up to 40 separate units of 50-100 workers, spread across 26,000 square miles. Many of these units were stationed in remote localities, and daily face-to-face communication was impossible.
Such a widely dispersed workforce presented the Rural Electrification Office (REO) with a challenge – how could it ensure fast and efficient communication among its staff?
The first issue of REO News
William Roe, Engineer in Charge, quickly recognised the importance of good communication for the success of the scheme. As Michael Shiel observed:
If a high standard of performance was to be achieved, the staff needed not alone to be well briefed and motivated from the start, but to be constantly refreshed with information on the progress of the scheme, advised of developments in all aspects of the work, sustained when difficulties arose and motivated to give of their best at all times.
With this at the forefront of his mind in December 1947, Roe took the initiative, called in his typist, and dictated the first issue of REO news cover to cover:
Changing with the times
There were 168 issues of REO News published between December 1947 and November 1961, growing from 3 to over 20 pages. Initially, it was stencilled and typed in-house at the REO in Merrion Square, Dublin. In 1953, the magazine was given a glossy cover, and included a number of black and white photographs, and by 1959, REO News was published in a fully printed format. From 1948, REO News also printed a special December issue:
The voice of rural electrification
REO News edited by John Francis Bourke, Assistant Head of the Technical Division of REO, who was known for his ‘pungent editorials’ and ‘pithy snippets’. The publication was eagerly awaited by REO staff, and ultimately, was to play:
a most important management role in informing, educating and motivating the widely dispersed staff, in countering their sense of isolation and in building up a team spirit.
The magazine was structured to reflect the broad aspects of the scheme. It covered a variety of topics, including: personnel and transfers of staff; the delivery and distribution of materials; sales figures and league tables; area notes; engineer and progress reports; news items and articles of interest; as well as sports and social pages, letters to the editor, and photographs. As it progressed, cartoons were added, as well as illustrations to mark different sections of the magazine, such as ‘suggestion box’ and ‘personnel’. As Roe predicted, REO News’ focus on progress, staff league tables and sales figures all succeeded in instilling a sense of rivalry among the workers, inspiring them towards greater effort.
Click here to view a selection of the types of articles, stories and anecdotes from REO News.
Preserved for posterity
For 14 years, REO News documented the mammoth task of electrifying rural Ireland.
In the last issue in November 1961, PJ Dowling, Deputy Engineer in Charge, reflected that during its lifetime, 280,000 rural premises were connected, at a cost of over £30,000,000. He referred to an article published in The Irish Times at the end of 1947, which questioned:
how many of these things will be remembered in, say, 2047? … Somebody – I cannot remember who – switched on the lights in some village – I cannot remember where – and rural electrification took her bow. And if that does not mean more to the country than all the rest of the year’s events put together, I shall be very surprised indeed.
The REO News has ensured that the day-to-day workings of the rural electrification scheme are preserved in detail for posterity, and that the huge challenge undertaken by the REO staff in electrifying rural Ireland is appreciated as much today in 2016, as it was 70 years ago when the first pole was erected.
1. REO News, December 1947 – November 1961
2. Michael Shiel, The Quiet Revolution (O’Brien’s Press, 2003)