More power to the farmer: the RDS exhibitions

The Royal Dublin Society (RDS) was founded in 1731 to promote improvements in ‘Husbandry, Manufactures and other Useful Arts and Sciences’, and from 1831 became the leader in Ireland for agricultural showcases. The REO recognised the value of the RDS Spring Shows in spreading the message of rural electrification to the farming community. As Shiel notes,

the RDS in its turn, recognising the potential contribution of electrification to the improvement of Irish farming and farming life, enthusiastically welcomed REO and co-operated whole-heartedly in providing suitable exhibition space.

Dramatic exhibits

Since the first stand was erected in 1947 until well into the 1980s, the Rural Electrification Exhibit was a regular feature of the RDS Spring Show. The exhibits continually moved with the times, showcasing new inventions such as milking and grooming machines. The exhibits were often designed to be dramatic – for instance, men were often challenged to try to ‘beat’ the 1/4hp motor for a period of two minutes, using a specially adapted bicycle attached to a generator. Many men tried and failed – the only man who came close to winning was:

of herculean physique… exerting a tremendous effort, to the cheers and encouragement of the large audience, [he] actually succeeded in pushing the pointer up to slightly better than the motor before almost collapsing from exhaustion.

RDS_water on tap

Water display at the RDS, 7 May 1960

Such stubbornness aside, the audience were continually impressed to see ‘the little motor exceeding their best efforts and prepared to go on doing so indefinitely’. ESB also employed a number of gimmics, such as ‘the magic tap’ (from which water poured continuously with no apparent source) and ‘the mystic kettle’ (which boiled continuously with no apparent electrical supply) to wow their audience.


In 1957, the RDS opened its new Simmonscourt extension. Here ESB built a model farm, a ‘living exhibit’ of sorts, were cows were milked twice daily in front of a live audience. In 1969, this exhibit featured in the Irish Farmers Journal, and was also filmed as part of a documentary entitled ‘On the Land’, by RTÉ. In reaching out to the farming community, ESB was sure to develop close working relationships with the Department of Agriculture, An Foras Talúntais (the predecessor of Teagasc), and Macra na Feirme. In conjunction with the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA), ESB also built ‘The farmhouse of the 60s’ at Simmonscourt, a working show house with all the modern conveniences. The success of such exhibits was helped in no small part by Ireland’s joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, which necessitated adherence to a range of regulations and standards on the farm, that could only realistically be achieved by embracing the power of electricity.