When ESB workers erected the first pole of the rural electrification scheme in north County Dublin on November 5th, 1946, it marked the beginning of an undertaking that would profoundly change the nation.

It was the State’s most significant infrastructural challenge since gaining independence from Britain in 1922.

One million poles were driven into the ground over three decades and thousands of miles of cable was strung along highways and byways until finally, in 1977, outposts like the Black Valley in Kerry linked up with the National Grid.

Yet electricity met with some resistance from an older generation who were convinced they'd be burnt to death in their beds.

Pitted against this fear were women working in the home who understood that electricity eliminated the daily grind of washing clothes in tubs, cooking and baking on open fires.

Ireland was driven by another power through those decades too and E.S.B officials relied on parish priests to persuade farmers to allow poles to be fixed on their land. 

With the power of the pulpit behind them their word was more often than not final.

But stories around the rural electrification scheme were not so black and white. The one million poles didn’t grow on trees… or at least not in Ireland. Many were soured from Finland. This brought a new cultural experience - like the installation of a sauna by a Finnish company in a Dublin home following complaints of naked bodies in an E.S.B official’s back garden.

And to get poles to the four corners of the country you first had to get them ashore and small fishing ports had to accommodate large ships along the west and north west coast. 

The stories of ship’s captains showing remarkable ingenuity to dock the poles in high seas are still celebrated. 

Within the story of Ireland’s Rural Electrification there are tales of fear and hope, love and loss as the nation illuminated. 

Then There Was Light flicks the switch on these first hand accounts and the making of modern Ireland; stories from a time when a quiet revolution banished the darkness from the land and replaced it with brightness and hope.

Narrated and produced by Joe Kearney with Robert Mulhern

Made with the support of E.S.B

First Broadcast Saturday 5th November 2016 at 2pm. Repeated Sunday 6th November 2016 at 7pm.

This documentary was a co-project of the book, Then There Was Light - available from all bookstores or for online purchase here

Phil Lynch's latest poetry collection from Salmon Poetry is available here
Danny Sullivan's CD 'Buail do phuc is Liuigh' available here

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries