September 13th, 1973

Thu, Sep 13, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:Electricity came to two of the three Aran Islands in 1973, as recorded by George Burrows in this front-page report under the headline “Home-spun white power is taking over in two Aran Islands”. – JOE JOYCE

TWO OF the three Aran Islands are leaving the candle and paraffin age. In a few weeks, Inisheer, smallest of the three, will be “switched on” and next year Inishmore will follow.

Inishmaan apparently wants to live in the old way, at least the inhabitants, so far, have not done anything about amps and kilowatts.

The men and women of Inisheer, and the children, too, 150 in all, are excited at the prospect of flicking a switch so that there may be light in physical darkness and a different sort of culture coming through television sets.

It was the co-operative society which decided that candles, oil and bottled gas should no longer provide all light and cooking facilities. The members arranged with the Electricity Supply Board to instal [sic] two generators and wire up the homes, as well as the places of public assembly (High Street?) and use. The ESB is doing the job on contract, sympathetic to this cheaper alternative of laying a cable across the sea from Rossaveale [sic] or some other point.

The generators are of different sizes, one fairly big, one small. The big one will work in the daytime, when industrious Inisheer men and women will be working at top speed and the small one will work at night, keeping vigil for light sleepers and nightwalkers on the island.

One islandman, who was out fishing in Galway Bay at the weekend, told me that the delivery of the two generators to the island caused “as much excitement as a wedding”.

The fuel tanks will be going across the sea to Inisheer in a few days and, after that the oil to turn the generators. An ESB official said yesterday there would be 60 consumers on Inisheer and the job of “electrifying” them will be between £15,000 and £20,000.

That is not a lot of money on Inisheer, now doing well out of fish, lobsters and tourists, in that order.

When I contemplated Inisheer with blazing public lighting, a beacon in the far west, I wondered how Irish Lights would react – would the lighthouse there take the co-operative current. No! The lamp there will go on burning paraffin – though that will end in what might be called a development plan, linked in with helicopters and landing pads.

No indeed, the Irish Lights, responsible for shipping safely, is not behind the times in Inisheer, for it has had there, for some time, its own generator for domestic purposes – but the light is paraffin produced.

Will electricity in Inisheer dispel the glamour that impels the islands, so visitors think, to talk in romantic, idyllic terms? I asked one woman. The answer was frank, straight and hard as the stones we stood on.

“No, there have been times here when we women couldn’t see to thread a needle! We’re late but we’re catching up,” she said.

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