Paddy Dowling of
1904 - 1999
A pioneer of rural electrification By
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
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,
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".
Tinryland Emigrant's Letter c1996
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- The information contained in these
pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others
researching their ancestors in Ireland.
- © 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects,
IGP TM By
Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved
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