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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Paddy Dowling of Linkardstown

A pioneer of rural electrification

by Caroline Delaney


Paddy Dowling of Linkardstown

1904 - 1999

A pioneer of rural electrification By Caroline Delaney

Paddy Dowling was born in Linkardstown near Tinryland. Co. Carlow in the year 1904. He was one of seven children. His father died when he was 13, leaving his mother to raise the family on her own. From his simple beginning, Paddy Dowling helped change the whole face of rural Ireland - where there was darkness. He brought light. Coming from a rural background himself, he did more than perhaps any other man to ease the burden of rural life in Ireland. He spent his whole working life in the ESB and is now retired, and living in Dublin, at the age of 92 years.

He attended Tinryland National School where he was taught by Mr. Shine and Mr. Brophy. When he was about 13 he went to Clongowes Wood College in Kildare. Mr. Dowling went on to attend the College of Science in Dublin where his Uncle Patrick was registrar and professor of Science.

After obtaining his degree in Engineering, Paddy did a short project in the College of Science on electricity generators and then went to work for the ESB. He was one of the first eleven people to be employed by the ESB. His first years in the ESB were exciting for this young engineer. He, along with those first engineers. had the responsibility of connecting all the major towns in Ireland up to the ESB grid, which was supplied with electricity from the Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme at Ardnacrusha, which was the brainchild of Dr. Thomas McLoughlin. The ESB was set up under the Electricity (Supply) Act in 1927 with Dr. McLoughlin as Executive Director and member of the Board.

At that time, few towns in Ireland, outside of the major cities, had a local electricity supply. For example, Kilkenny had no electricity supply while others like Carlow had a local supply. The Carlow supply came from a dynamo in the old mill at Milford. It gave enough power to light the streets and also power for 1,500 incandescent bulbs for private use. If each house had five lamps, this would mean only 300 houses out of total population of 6,000 made use of the! new power. In 1894, three years after the supply was first switched on, the Carlow supply system was taken on by the Alexander family of Milford.

The engineer in charge was Mr. Hooper who later set up an electrical supplies shop in Dublin Street, when the town was connected to the main ESB grid in 1928. The towns were being looked after but nothing was happening about bringing electricity to the rural areas. Paddy Dowling, around 1937, was the person who put forward the idea of bringing electricity to the rural areas. He did this in typical Irish fashion. He asked his cousin, Jim Hughes, who was a Shadow Minister in the Fine Gael Government for advice on how to best push the idea.

Jim Hughes raised it in the Dail and, luckily, Sean Lemass who was then Minister for Industry and Commerce, took up the running. He had the vision to foresee the great need for rural electrification to improve the lot of the rural dweller and, typical of Lemass, when he saw a need, he did something about it. In May 1939, he asked the ESB to prepare plans for supplying rural areas with electricity. A detailed investigation was undertaken, directed by Dr. Thomas McLaughlin with two assistants, one Paddy Dowling and the other Alphonsus McManus, from Donegal, both of whom were qualified engineers.

With the outbreak of World War 2 in September of that year, the ESB thought that an end would be put to any immediate plans for rural electrification. During the Emergency, they had enough problems getting supplies to keep their existing network going without worrying about extending their supply lines into rural areas. They had reckoned without Lemass, and in the Autumn of 1942 he wrote to the ESB Board asking were their plans for rural electrification completed. You can imagine their surprise, with all their problems with the war and a severe electricity shortage threatening' And yet here was Lemass demanding that they continue with rural electrification. Paddy Dowling's memory of this is that he was on his holidays and got a telegram from McLoughlin to come back to Dublin. After much hard work, McLoughlin assisted by Paddy Dowling and McManus completed the report and delivered it to the Department of Industry and Commerce by December 22, 1942.

Rural electrification was approved by the Government in August 1943, and in October of the following year Paddy Dowling was given one month to come up with a report on how the scheme could be organised and implemented. He did this within the time limit and this report was used as the basis for the rural electrification scheme, which so changed people’s lives in rural Ireland. The report prepared by Paddy Dowling was widely acknowledged to be a model of its kind and, in later years, Paddy Dowling was a respected figure at electricity conferences throughout the world.

W. F Roe, a native of Kilkenny City, was appointed to run the scheme with the assistance of Paddy Dowling. Paddy later took over from Roe. The problems, which faced them, were immense. For example, they estimated that they would need over one million poles to carry the cables: this would need copper cable to cover the whole of Ireland and they would also need transformers for the substations They had to start travelling over the world seeking these in the midst of a war which was tearing the world to pieces. In operating the scheme. they decided to supply electricity initially to one district in each county.

These districts worked on the basis of a local canvasser signing up people in a local area. Enough people would have to sign up to make connection economically viable. Seamus Murphy of Pollerton Little was one of these local canvassers for Carlow. They also decided to use the parish as the unit with which they would work. By doing this, they were able to tap into the very strong parish organisation throughout Ireland. In talking about the scheme, one of Paddy Dowling's great words is "skull-duggery". It was very important from the very start to avoid any accusation of any underhand dealings in allocating areas, which would get a supply.

The one area which Paddy accepts might have been chosen for more than just economic reasons was Kilsallaghan, Co. Dublin, which was the first parish to get a supply in November 1946. As well as wanting to choose a district close to Dublin for publicity purposes, it also happened that Larry Kettle, the local councillor, was on the ESB Board. Not surprisingly, Tinryland parish, Paddy’s home parish, was one of the first rural areas to be linked up, in May 1947. Paddy was adamant that no ‘skull-duggery’ was involved in this decision. He agrees that it was helped by the fact that his brother, Brendan, had a large farm there and was willing to join in the experiment. Among the first to get a supply was Patrick Wall of Wall's Forge. Mr. Wall was a small farmer and had a blacksmith business.

Rural electrification was still news in 1955 when T. P. Kilfeather of the Sunday Independent did a tour of the farms of Carlow to look at the revolutionary changes brought about by rural electrification. He did a profile of farms from all over Co. Carlow including Brendan Dowling of Linkardstown; Patrick Wall of Walls Forge; Michael Esmonde of Graiguenaspidogue; James Cole of Ballybar and Reginald Maher of the Fighting Cocks, which was the last district in Carlow to be connected.

Among the very last places in Ireland connected was the Black Valley, Co. Kerry, in 1976. In the intervening years, the whole face of rural Ireland changed; electric milking machines were brought in; electric water pumps and group water schemes were introduced. It was even suggested in the Dail debates on the Rural Electrification Scheme in 1945 that the day would come, "when a girl gets a proposal from a farmer, she will enquire not so much about the number of cows but rather concerning the electrical appliances she will require". This is what Paddy Dowling, one of Tinryland's sons, helped bring about. It is a revolution he, and the people of Tinryland and Carlow, can be proud of. The Golden Jubilee commemorations are a timely opportunity to show our pride in him and his achievements.

Caroline Delaney is a student in St. Leo's College, Carlow. Her articles on Paddy Dowling and Jack Stratton were written and researched as part of a transition year project on "The Coming of Electricity to Carlow".

Source:  Tinryland Emigrant's Letter c1996


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