was not a little surprised at night when I found
my surroundings lighted by electricity, bedrooms,
coffee room, corridors and the rest. The street too,
as well as the hotels and business houses, have the
electric light which points out Carlow as one of the
most up-to-date county towns in Ireland, Good for
— Edmund D. Whelan
in the Western Catholic News, Chicago, 10th
Workmen laying the half inch cable along the
streets of Carlow Town in 1891. Photo Carlow
On June 24th 1891, the large water wheel
at Mil ford Mills was set in motion once again, not
to grind corn, but to drive a dynamo to generate
electricity. The current was carried by cables on
poles along the bank of the river Barrow- to service
A precis of Carlow Town Commission discussions
leading up to the formation of Carlow Electric
Company has been compiled by William Ellis from the
files of The Nationalist & Leinster Times.
Electricity for the experimental lights
was generated at Kelly's Mill, Burrin Street, which was
situated beside Burrin Bridge. The demonstration lights
were switched on in November, 1890.
Carlow was surely in the forefront of the
electric age when we realise that the first practical
generators were operating in 1870, the first arc lamp in
1878 and the ordinary bulb developed commercially in
the project of lighting Carlow town by electricity was first
proposed to Carlow Town Commission, at their meeting of November
18th 1890, the members present were: Messrs. John
Hammon, J.P. (presiding), S. Johnson, T. Byrne, E. Morris, John
Clowry, W. Douglas, P. J. Conlan, J. O'Brien, B. Coleman, M.
Molloy, Thomas Murphy, M. Governey, L. McCaul and John Whelan.
During the course of the meeting the
following letter was read:
To the Chairman and Town
Commissioners of the Borough of Carlow.
Gentlemen—We beg to apply
for permission to supply electricity in your town.
If you accede to our request we
will undertake to light your streets with 12 arc lamps of
1,200 candle power each, and 40 incandescent lamps of 16
candle power each (equivalent to 15,040 candle power) during
the usual lighting season, and for the usual lighting hours
for the sum of £170 per annum, on condition of your giving
us a guarantee that you will not oppose but will as far as
possible assist in our application for the right of private
The sum of £170 per annum
includes all attendance, repairs, and renewals. We beg
further to apply for permission to erect and light specimen
lamps in your streets this week or next.
We have secured subject to your
consent to our application an offer of the lease of Milford
Mill, and are ready to commence work at once.
We propose to form a small
company to be called the Carlow Electric Light Company, and
will offer shares — ourselves subscribing for all not taken
We are, gentlemen, your
J. E. H. Gordon
After the reading of the letter, Mr.
Tomlinson was invited to address the meeting.
In reply to a question from the
Chairman, Mr. Tomlinson said he had gone over the whole lighting
area, and he noticed every lamp, numbering in all, he believed,
110, and the light they proposed supplying would cover the whole
of that area.
He would submit to the board a map of
twenty inches to the mile, showing the exact position of the arc
and incandescent lights. The arc lights would begin at the end
of Tullow-street, where the several roads met at the end of
Barrack-street, and would end at the police barrack in Graigue,
and it was intended that eight arc lights should extend along
that line, each of 1,200 candle power.
In Dublin-street, from the Courthouse
to the far side of Burrin Bridge, there would be three arc
lights, and the remaining arc light would be in College-st., at
the end of Browne-street.
Beyond the reach of these twelve arc
lights they proposed to replace the present oil lamps with
incandescent lamps, each of 16 candle power.
He took it that the present lights
were about 10 candle power, which would give a total lighting of
1,100 candle power, while the proposed electric lighting would
be 15,040 candle power.
In the experiments they proposed they
would show, if permitted, the actual lamps they promised to
Chairman—You ask for permission to
light specimen lamps. Of course that will be free of expense to
Mr. Tomlinson—Altogether free of
On Saturday, July 13th
1991, the 100th anniversary of the generating of
electricity at Milford Mills, Co. Carlow was
commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque (inset) and
also to mark the fact that electricity is again being
generated at the mill and fed into the national grid.
Pictured from left: Mrs.
Mary McDonald, Co. Council chairperson; John Browne, T.D.;
Sean Whelan, U.D.C. chairman; John Alexander, mill
owner; Ray Conlon, Carlow Chamber of Commerce president;
Dr. Laurence Ryan, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and
Old Carlow Society patron; Paddy Dowling, pioneer of
rural electrification; M. J. Nolan, T.D.; Michael Shell,
author of 'The Quiet Revolution' and Martin Nevin,
Old Carlow Society chairman.
Photo: Courtesy "The Nationalist
& Leinster Times."
After some considerable discussion
the board decided to give permission for the experimental lights
to be erected.
Members present at the December 9th
1890 meeting which took the decision in principle to have
electric street lighting were: Messrs. John Hammond (Chairman),
M. Governey, Stanley Johnson, John Clowry, B. Coleman, L. McCaul,
J. O'Brien, M. Molloy, T. Murphy, E. Morris, J. Bolger, John
To start the discussion the Clerk
read the proposal of Messrs. Gordon and Company to light the
streets of the borough by twelve arc and forty incandescent
electric lamps, for £170 a year, providing any extra arc lamps
that might be required at £15 each for the season, and
incandescent lamps at £2 each. They also gave the option to the
board to purchase the lighting after six months.
The cost of lighting at present was
£100 a year for 104 oil lamps, and that sum included repairs and
A very detailed discussion took
place, every member having their say. The Chairman speaking of
the experimental lights said:
"During the last fortnight they had
seen specimens of the electric lighting in Dublin-street and
Burrin-street, but as yet they did not know how it would look in
No doubt whatever that Dublin-street,
which might be regarded as the boulevard of the town (laughter),
looked to great advantage by means of the electric light.
He thought they were all, the
townspeople generally, as well as the commissioners, so pleased
with the spectacle presented that they would all like very much
that it should be the mode of public lighting for the future.
He had no hesitation in saying,
without wanting to influence their decision, that he was
delighted with the electric lighting, and with the spectacle
presented by the appearance of Carlow during the previous few
nights. It quite altered the look of the town, and he was sure
would add new lustre to their nice town of Carlow, which was
generally regarded as comparing most favourably with most other
towns in Ireland.
It was unanimously agreed that the
proposal of Messrs. Gordon and Co. to provide street lighting by
electricity be accepted, subject to agreement on both sides.
A draft agreement
was considered at the January 13th 1891 meeting, and
the company's (Messrs. Gordon & Co.) request that they have the
exclusive rights to supply electric light to the town for 42
years was considered to be too long. It was decided that 21
years should be the maximum time.
Mr. Bridie, who
represented Messrs. Gordon at the meeting said that it was just
a formal matter, and he would say, unofficially of course, that
the Co. would agree to the shorter time.
After some other
minor changes were made, the amended contract was ordered to be
sent to Messrs. Gordon & Co. and also to Mr. Malcomson,
solicitor to the Commission for approval.
next considered the question of the sites for the 12 arc lamps.
The following sites were approved without discussions: The
Market Cross; The Post Office, Core's Corner; Courthouse Square,
Willi's Corner; Pembroke, McDonald's Corner; Tullow St., corner
of Charlotte St.; Bolger's Corner, Tullow St.; Junction of
Barrack St., Tullow St., etc.; Coalmarket; Graigue Police
Barracks; Wellington Square; The Quay. After a long discussion,
the site of the 12th lamp was postponed until the others were
It was also
decided at this meeting to give permission for the erection of
poles to carry the wires.
informed the January 21st 1891 meeting that Mr.
Malcomson, solicitor thought it would be necessary to have
counsel's opinion on the contract. Commission were not disposed
to "waste" money on counsel, it was decided that two members,
Chairman J. Hammond, and J. Whelan meet with Mr. Malcomson.
A dispute arose between
the Commissioners and a Mr. Ogle over the erection of a
pole at the corner of Tullow St. and Burrin St. Mr. Ogle
said he intended to erect a one storey building on the
vacant corner site, and the pole would hinder the
A lease was produced which
was from Most Rev. Dr. Haly, Bishop of Kildare &
Leighlin to Mr. James Morris, made in 1854 and leasing
the houses known as Numbers 1 &2, Tullow St. and Burrin
"In the interest of
harmony", a change of site was agreed to by the
100 years on, sees the
erection of a lamp standard on the site in the present
ongoing 'Urban Renewal Programme'.
"Bid a long farewell to oil
It appears that
Mr. Malcomson's advice was heeded as it was decided at the
meeting of February 21st 1891 to submit the proposals
to counsel's opinion. One outcome of counsel's (Mr. J. Samuel
Edge) opinion was, that Messrs. Gordon's exclusive right to
supply electricity to Carlow should not be for more than 3
Mr. Edge's opinion at their April 4th 1891 meeting it
was decided to accept his advice.
A resolution was
finally passed at the Carlow Town Commission meeting of Tuesday,
April 28th 1891 authorising John Hammond (chairman),
James Bolger and Michael Governey to sign the agreement with
Messrs. G. H. Gordon & Co. to light Carlow town by electricity
for 3 years.*
At the May 5
meeting the Commission decided to discontinue lighting the
streets with oil lamps as from the following Friday night (22nd
May 1891). The chairman, Mr. John Hammond, J.P., observing that
they would bid a long farewell to oil lighting.
The chairman, Mr.
Hammond said at the June 30 meeting, "that an event of great
importance, lighting the town by electricity, had taken place
during the week, which, he thought, it would be well to note on
the minute book of the corporation, which, no doubt, would be
kept for generations".
On Monday, July 13th
1891 a banquet was given in the Town Hall by Messrs. Gordon &
Co., for 70 guests to celebrate the lighting of Carlow town by
electricity. Earlier in the evening the visitors who had been
invited to the banquet, together with the Town Commissioners
were conveyed in three brakes and cars to Milford to inspect the
This is how The
Nationalist & Leinster Times described the setting for the
banquet in the Town Hall:
The public hall on
Monday evening presented a beautiful appearance. It was
transformed into a floral palace so profuse was the array of
were entrusted to Messrs. Morris & Co. (under the
superintendence of Mr. Dugan), and were carried out in a manner
which reflects credit on the firm.
were placed in the ceiling, and on the table, twenty lamps with
coloured globes gave an extremely pretty effect.
Covers were laid
for 70. Mr. J. H. Gordon presided, and on his right hand sat Mr.
Hammond, M.P., Chairman of the Town Commissioners and Mr. McGee,
Londonderry and on his left Major Everard and Mr. T. Murphy,
Kilkenny. Mr. Revington (Managing Director, Gordon & Co.)
occupied the vice-chair.
Amongst the guests
were the members of the Carlow Town Commissioners. Alderman
Johnson, Mr. Richards, Portadown; Mr. O'Connell, Kilkenny; C. J.
Kenealy, Kilkenny Journal; H. Power, do.; Dr. T. P.
O'Meara, P. A. Brown, solicitor; G. Langran, Sentinel; J.
R. Lawler, Irish Times; P. J. Conlan,
Mr. Mackay, Pall Mall Gazette.
*It was reported in The
Nationalist and Leinster Times (20th
August 1892) that the Town Commission had extended the
concession for lighting the town to Gordon & Co. to 42
years, to enable them to install auxiliary steam plant
to make them independent of any failure of water power
through floods or otherwise.
"It was a great waste of
Mr. Gordon in the
course of his address said: "... Carlow was the first inland
town in the whole of Great Britain and Ireland to be lighted
throughout with electricity (applause).
He himself had been in the electric light business ever since
there was such a business, and the difficulty of it was not in
an engineering way, because electric lighting engineering was
simple enough, but the difficulty really was with the people
they had to deal with.
They found that
local authorities had all sorts of ideas about electric
lighting, and consequently very often great difficulties were
thrown in the way.
had been different here, and consequently they had been able to
make considerable progress in the way of lighting Carlow. He
wished to say a few words on what he meant.
All over Ireland
he believed, ever since the Repeal of the Corn Laws milling
industries had declined, and the consequence was that they had
throughout the country large mills standing idle, and wasting
the use of a large amount of capital. At the same time they were
sending large sums of money to England to pay for coal to make
gas. If they only knew it this was a great waste of capital. .
Messrs. Gordon &
Co. also entertained their employees in the Town Hall on the
night following the banquet.
asked Messrs. Gordon to allow the electric plant in the hall to
remain until after the forthcoming bazaar which is being
organised by Colonel Vigors and others for the purpose of
restoring the old Cathedral at Leighlin. Like all new ventures
the Carlow Electric Light Co. had its teething problems, a
letter was read at the September 8, 1891 meeting of the Town
Commission from Messrs Gordon & Co. apologizing for not being in
a position to light the public lights for two nights. The river
being unusually high for time of year, they were unable to
complete the permanent plant.
"The price paid by Major
Alexander for the lighting installation, plant,
machinery, and good will of the Carlow Electric Co., is
The original cost of the
works was £20,000, so that the venture was the reverse
It is to be hoped however,
that the business will turn out a profitable one to its
present owner, as there is no doubt but that the
electric light is a great boon, not only for public
lighting, but as a means of inducing wholesome
competition for private supplies".
Leinster Times, 19th May 1894.
letter appeared in The Nationalist & Leinster Times,
October 10th 1891.
wish on behalf of my co-directors and myself to thank
the Town Commissioners for the kind expression of
satisfaction they have been good enough to authorise you
to send to us with regard to the electric lighting of
also given us great pleasure to note the opinion you
held as to the manner in which we have carried out our
assure you that we shall endeavour to the utmost to
retain this good opinion. I wish to take this
opportunity to express the pleasure it has given us to
have had dealings with the Carlow Town Commissioners,
and to thank them for the assistance they have always
readily rendered to us whenever it lay in their power.—
W. J. Revington,
Managing Director. John Hammon, Esq., M.P.,
- "Chairman, Carlow Town
Source: This article was
previously published in the Carloviana 1991/92 pages 24-27