by Hugh Halpin
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – January 2017)
Can you imagine life without electricity? We are so used to having electricity available at our fingertips 24/7 that it is hard to believe that a century ago few people had access to it. Hugh Halpin’s paper, Skerries Electricity Works, 1915 – 1940, was the first of the Skerries Historical Society’s 2017 talks. Hugh described the enterprise of Mr W H Flanagan, the innovator who brought electricity to Skerries. Flanagan helped develop it from a power source used only to light the streets of the town to something that has revolutionised the way we live our lives.
Mr Flanagan was a brave man and ahead of his time. In 1911, he had his fingers burned over a street lighting system which failed only two years after he installed it in Skerries. You might think that a prudent business man would then settle for a more traditional venture to invest his money in. But Mr Flanagan was convinced of the idea of electricity. He had the backing of the Balrothery Rural District Council who, despite his earlier failure, awarded him the new contract for the provision of electric street lighting.
Mr Flanagan was not without his detractors however. A lot of ratepayers were unhappy about paying 7d in the pound to have street lighting. As one member of the Town Tenants’ League pointed out, they didn’t need it – most people were in bed as soon as it got dark.
Some didn’t confine their opposition to mere words. In scenes surely reminiscent of the recent water meter controversies, one Skerries business man got his brother and two employees to help him prevent the erection of an electricity pole outside his shop. The contractor dug a hole six feet deep ready for the pole with the businessman objecting all the while. Perhaps things got heated because the police were called and in the end the unfortunate contractor had to fill the hole back in and take his pole away. And don’t forget all that digging and filling must have been done by hand!
Despite setbacks like these, the street lighting was installed. By the end of Flanagan’s enterprise as many as 400 Skerries families were using electricity in their homes not merely for lightning but also for cooking and heating. Local industry too had embraced the technology, though some were unhappy with the cost of the supply – and complained to the local press about it. Nonetheless Mr Flanagan’s business steadily grew until the ESB took over in 1940. The full text of the paper, a continuation of ‘The Foundation of Electricity in Skerries’ a paper published in Time and Tide 7., will be available from March for members to borrow if you missed the talk.
Report by Oona Roycroft