Paddy Dowling (1904-1999)
Paddy Dowling was born in Linkardstown near Tinryland. Co. Carlow in the 1904. He was one of seven children and 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 lived in Dublin up until his death in December 1999.
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. These graduates were to be the architects of the rural electrification process which was to leave an indelible mark on Rural Ireland.
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 qualified engineers.
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. One 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, 1942.
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 Dow ling 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. he later took over from Roe. The problems, which faced them, were immense. For example. they estimated that they would need 0ver 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 was "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 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 agreed 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.
It was the pioneering work of men such as Paddy which helped ease the dramatic transformation which was to become known as the “Quiet Revolution” Paddy liased with local parishes and organisations to dispel the doubts surrounding rural electrification. An academic knowledge of the working of electricity together with his approachable, unassuming personality made him ideal for this role. The results were hugely impressive with over 99% of the population availing of electricity between 1947 and 1980.
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".
In December 1999, just 2 weeks before his death, Paddy received the Carlow Person of the Century award for his pioneering work on the rural electrification development throughout the country.
A man who had a quick wit and engaging personality as well as being a keen historian, Paddy will be remembered as a pioneer who left a huge mark on rural Ireland. It was electricity of all technological advances in the 20th century that enabled change and benefited progress in rural Ireland and it is this proud legacy which he leaves behind.