First phase: 1946-1965
The first phase of the Rural Electrification Scheme was implemented between 1946 and 1965.
Every county was divided into ‘rural areas’ of about 25 square miles, which were typically based on Parish boundaries, rather than geographic location. The 26 counties of rural Ireland were divided into a total of 792 rural areas, in ten districts.
Initially, one area in each county was chosen for connection, with priority given to those areas which yielded the highest revenue in relation to the capital cost of the supply network. Click here to view the original map used to plan the scheme.
The sheer scale of the rural electrification project can be gauged from early estimates of the materials needed for its completion, namely: 1 million poles; 100,000 transformers; and 75,000 miles of line.
Connecting rural Ireland
The first pole of rural electrification was erected at Kilsallaghan, North Co. Dublin, on 5 November 1946, and the first switch-on of a rural area took place the following January nearby in the village of Oldtown.
Once an area was selected for development, householders were canvassed to document the rate of acceptance and refusal of the electricity supply. Most were enthusiastic, but many were sceptical or fearful, as the old ways of life in Ireland were changing before their eyes.
The active support of voluntary organisations such as the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) and Muintir na Tíre, as well as the local clergy, was crucial in securing sufficient numbers to make each area economically viable for ESB.
As each area was canvassed, the line crews moved in – surveying and pegging out the routes for the main lines, erecting poles, stringing cables and installing transformers. At the same time, work was being carried out to wire local homes, farms and shops.
As the project developed and people in newly connected areas spread the news spread the news about the changes that electricity brought, most resistance to ‘getting the electric’ faded. The demand for connection grew, and the pace of connections increased to a peak in the late 1950s.
During a debate in the Senate on 7 March 1945, Minister for Industry and Commerce Seán Lemass remarked:
I hope to see the day when a girl gets a proposal from a farmer she will enquire not so much about the number of cows but… the electrical appliances she will require…
By 1965, the scheme had covered 23,425 square miles of rural Ireland, connecting almost 300,000 houses (81% of the total) to the supply system at a total cost of £36 million. The progress of the scheme between 1946 and 1965 is best illustrated by the table below:
The rapid economic developments of the 1960s created such a surge in demand for new connections in rural areas that by 1970, it had become evident the completion date for the Rural Scheme as a whole was a receding target.
The Board took the initiative in formulating new proposals aimed at completing the Scheme by 1975, and the post-development plan was extended. The designated date for the final closure of the overall Rural Electrification Programme was set at 31st March, 1975.
By this time, there were 382,420 consumers on the rural network representing 99% of rural households, and the total cost of the scheme totalled about £140 million. The last area to receive electricity was remote Blackvalley, Co. Kerry, in 1978.
Network Renewal Plan (NRP)
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, ESB rolled out its Network Renewal Plan (NRP), upgrading and extending the electricity supply to meet the demands of modern Ireland.
NRP built on the foundations laid by the Rural Electrification Scheme 50 years before, bringing the scheme into the twenty-first century.
My father, Jerry Corbett, was a foreman (I think) on one of the gangs during rural electrification. He turned out to be the longest serving employee of the ESB ever, from 1931 to 1983. When he worked on Rural electrification, he took photographs of the gangs and the poles going up and the trucks. I recently came across some of the negatives, and am willing to pass on copies of the photos if anyone is interested. The quality on some isn’t great, but they have a certain atmosphere.
All the best
That’s great Tony, thank you. We will contact you via email now.