The Shannon Scheme was the biggest engineering project of its time in Europe, and workers flocked from all parts of Ireland and Scotland to seek employment.
In September 1925, an advertisement appeared in the national press for 3,000 unskilled workers for construction work at Ardnacrusha. Wages were initially set at thirty-two shillings a week for a fifty-hour week with free lodgings. The advertisement also stated that canteens were to be established and run by Irish contractors. Following negotiations with trade unions, wages were raised to a rate of fifty shillings a week.
Workers at the Shannon Scheme were divided into three main groups, and these determined their living conditions. German qualified engineers and technicians enjoyed good conditions and living quarters. Irish Engineering Management and Specialist Consulting Engineers from abroad lived in comfort close to work locations and were paid well. Irish General Workers were poorly paid and for the most part lived in unsatisfactory living quarters. Local lodgings cost from two shillings to £1 per week.
Much of the housing was provided by the Germans working on site and they built German style chalets and transformed them into dormitories, kitchens and shops. There were separate living quarters for married and unmarried men. Meals on site cost eleven shillings and eight pence per week, while a pint of porter cost six pence.
Read more about the living conditions of Ardnacrusha employees in the January 1927 construction report here.
Major Bill Stapleton was appointed Camp Commander on the site. His primary responsibility was to look after the welfare of the employees. Stapleton had a military background and was a member of the Irish Volunteers. While interned at various prisons during his military career, he was put in charge of the camp hospital where he gained extensive experience in administering first aid, hygiene, and sanitation. It was through this experience that Stapleton championed the welfare of the Shannon Scheme employees.
The workers were fed a minimum of 3,000 calories a day, such was the physicality of the job. Organised activities were very much part of the daily lives of the workers and various societies were established such as boxing, football, dramatics and gymnastics. An affiliation to pursue Gaelic Games was established with Clare County Board and a choral society was also established.
An extract from an interview with Major Bill Stapleton from the ESB/RTE Documentary can be viewed below.
Our featured image shows 32 Ardnacrusha workers photographed in the 3-ton lift at the power station, 4 November 1929.