Rural memories: Jerry Corbett, Cork

Corbett_Feature imageJerry Corbett joined ESB at the age of 13 in 1932, meaning that he had 52 years of service at the time of his retirement in 1983 – one of the longest serving employees in ESB history.

Shortly after the launch of our new website, Jerry’s son Tony got in touch to generously share some of his father’s memories and photographs with us. To complement these, we have traced Jerry’s ESB career as much as possible from our internal publications REO News and the ESB Journal.

We hope you enjoy this snapshot of Jerry’s time with ESB, told through a series of wonderful images which provide further insight into the overall human story of the electrification of rural Ireland.

Be sure to also check out a second batch of photographs from Jerry’s collection, available here.

Jerry’s photographic collection

Click on any image to start slideshow

These photographs (c1946-56) come from Jerry’s personal collection, and offer some real insight into the daily life of the men who worked on the scheme. Thankfully, many of the photos feature Jerry himself, with what his son fondly describes as ‘enough Brylcreem in his hair to start a major fire’.

From rural gang to ‘Stevedore Extraordinaire’!

Jerry worked as foreman of a rural gang in the early days of the Rural Electrification Scheme. However, by 1953, we know that Jerry was working as a Stevedore, charged with overseeing the safe loading and unloading of electricity poles from ships as they were transported from Finland and delivered around Ireland. More information relating to the shipping of poles for the scheme is available here in PDF format.

Unloading the poles

Bringing electricity to the islands, early 1970s

On Tuesday 6 October 1953, just as the Angelus bells rang at 6pm, Jerry saw the MV Marwit safely out of Cork Harbour, before climbing into a Wolseley car for the long drive to Ramelton, Co Donegal. The Marwit, under the control of Captain Baarsheers of the Dutch company Messrs Gruno Shipping, docked on the evening of Thursday 8 October, where a large team made up of the ship’s crew, local dock workers and ESB employees successfully unloaded the ship in good time despite the language barrier:

The arrangement worked out most satisfactorily in spite of the mixture of the gutterals of the Dutch, the clipped Northern accents of the Donegal men, the unmistakeable Cork accent of our stevedore, Mr Corbett, and the universal language of signs. As the local Garda Sergeant expressed it — ‘There hasn’t been such excitement in Ramelton since the Civil War.’

Jerry acted as Stevedore on two subsequent occasions, organising the unloading of poles from the MV Whitsun, first at Arranmore Island, Co Donegal, in November 1956, and again at Bere Island, Co Cork, in 1957. Reports on these events were submitted to REO News, whose editor noted the important work done by Corbett and his colleagues:

We welcome these new consumers, our most recent group of islanders who have joined the Great Family of the Electrified.

The Corbetts at Cork Polefield

In 1959, ESB Journal records Jerry Corbett as an Assistant Supervisor at Cork Polefield. He is also noted as a member of the CYMS Boxing Club, and a judge with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. This photograph shows Jerry (middle back row), with a number of his colleagues:

J corbett_esb journal 1959

Front (from left): W Mahony; T McCarthy; P Murphy; C McAlister; G Collins. Back: J O’Connor; J Aherne; J Corbett; J Seymour; G Crowley. ESB Journal, April 1959.

This entry in ESB Journal also records Jerry’s brother Dan as a driver in Cork District Headquarters at that time. Dan is pictured below with a number of other rural staff:

D corbett_esb journal 1959

L-R: W Condon; N Lewis; J McCarthy; G Kelleher; C Cronin; D Murray; P O’Keefe; T Buckley; C Murphy; JV Long; P Pigott; W Gannon; D O’Rourke; G Kingston; M Quirke; D Goggin; J O’Mahony; D Collins; T O’Donovan; J Stout; M Breen; D Corbett; W Amberson; J Kennedy; D Jump; F Sheehan; D O’Neill.

Once a Stevedore, always a Stevedore

Tony tells us that Jerry took a young man named Paddy Moriarty under his wing when he first joined ESB in 1945. Moriarty was appointed Director of ESB Personnel in 1970 (and would later serve as ESB Chief Executive, 1981-1991), in which capacity he convinced Jerry to reprise his role as Stevedore to bring electricity to the last of Ireland’s islands in the early 1970s, even though he had been ‘office-bound’ for many years at this stage. The following photographs were taken by Jerry on this trip circa 1972, most likely to the Aran Islands, which began with a ride in what Tony has observed as ‘a very small plane’, which had to make two passes over the airstrip before landing to chase the donkeys off the runway:

Golden memories

Jerry celebrated his Golden Jubilee with the company in 1982, and retired in 1983.

Corbett_Retirement

On his retirement in July 1983 (L-R): Tony Corbett; Harry Corbett and his wife Finola; Kay Corbett; and Jerry Corbett.

Jerry Corbett passed away in 1993, just before his 75th birthday.

With sincere thanks to Tony Corbett for getting in touch with us, and to his father Jerry Corbett for taking such wonderful candid photographs of the scheme in progress.

If you would like to submit your or a relative’s memories of rural electrification for inclusion in our website, please get in touch at esbarchives@esb.ie.

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