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Thursday 22 February 2018

Memories come flooding back as Ardnacrusha celebrates 85 years

Clockwise from main, a young Liam Cosgrave (on right) with his brother Michael and his parents, WT Cosgrave and his
wife Louisa, at the official opening of Ardnacrusha power station on July 22, 1929
Clockwise from main, a young Liam Cosgrave (on right) with his brother Michael and his parents, WT Cosgrave and his wife Louisa, at the official opening of Ardnacrusha power station on July 22, 1929
The power station being built; and nearing completion in 1929.
The power station being built; and nearing completion in 1929.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Brud Skehan (97), and former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave yesterday.
An aerial view of Ardnacrusha power station today

Barry Duggan

WHEN completed it was regarded as one of the finest feats of engineering the world had ever seen.

But former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave has revealed there were concerns that when the "switch was turned on"at the official ceremony, that the water wouldn't flow at Ardnacrusha.

Work on the world's largest hydroelectric power station along the River Shannon at Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, began in 1925.

The mammoth project cost more than £5m -- or one-fifth of total annual revenue of the three-year-old state. The equivalent proportion of revenue today would be more than €9bn.

Leader of the Free State WT Cosgrave performed the official opening on July 22, 1929 and was accompanied by his sons, Liam (9) and Michael (7).

And former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave (92) yesterday returned to Ardnacrusha and admitted his biggest concern as a young boy at the ceremony was keeping his new shoes spotless.

"I came in a car," he recalled.

"It was holiday time in July. The weather was bad, but it was a great occasion.

"My memories are it was a very wet day and I had a new pair of shoes and I didn't want to get them muddy so we walked on planks and we escaped the mud.

"The other thing was there was some query when the switch was turned on whether the water would flow. Of course that meant nothing to me as a young fella, but it came on immediately."

In a rare public appearance yesterday after he was invited to Ardnacrusha by the ESB to celebrate their 85th anniversary, Mr Cosgrave said the power station "revolutionised industry and agriculture".

With Taoiseach Enda Kenny, three cabinet ministers, Michael Noonan, Pat Rabbitte and Jan O'Sullivan, and several government TDs looking on, Mr Cosgrave reminded them of the vast work undertaken by the country's first government with limited resources. "It (the power station) was initiated at a time when there was no outside money by the then (Cumann na nGaedheal) government with immense courage, foresight, imagination and enterprise.

"There was no money from Marshall Aid and of course, no money from the European Union. They had to operate solely from Irish investment -- it was a gigantic undertaking," he said.

From proposal to completion, the Ardnacrusha power station took just four years as 1,000 German and 4,000 Irish worked alongside each other to complete the engineering works on time and within budget.

"It was undertaken at a crucial time in the State," Mr Cosgrave said.

"Remember they hadn't machinery such as JCBs or diggers -- it was a pick-and-shovel job.

His unscripted speech lasted 15 minutes and earned the former Taoiseach a standing ovation inside the machine hall yesterday.

Bashful

The former Taoiseach was accompanied by his daughter Mary and nieces Louise and Marita and he also spoke with local man Brud Skehan (97), whom he last met in 1929.

"I was only 14. I travelled here on an auld bike from Bridgetown," Mr Skehan said. "I was playing with young Liam and shook his hand. He was bashful about it.

"I remember standing on the platform where he (WT Cosgrave) was when he pressed the button. It was a very quiet opening for such a powerful thing.

"There was a very, very small crowd. There was a bit of hostility at the time towards the Cumann na nGaedheal government and only the real blues turned up. I suppose I was one of them. I won't change now," Mr Skehan laughed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there were similarities between Ireland of 1929 and 2012.

"It (Ardnacrusha) was a project that demanded courage, bravery and great vision and it's replicated in many ways today by the challenges that the Government faces now and the challenges we face as part of Europe," Mr Kenny said.

Irish Independent

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