ESB pulls back curtains on digital film archive

ESB Film Archive
Pat O’Doherty and Deirdre McParland, ESB Archives; and Dr Martina Byrne, PRII

Series of films charts history of electrification from 1920s to 1950s

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30 November 2018 | 0

ESB has launched a digital archive of previously unseen film footage commissioned by the organisation dating from the 1920s through to the 1980s.

ESB began making films with the First National Pathé Film Company to record the construction of Ireland’s first hydroelectric station on the River Shannon at Ardnacrusha in 1928. The film was shown in cinemas, school and colleges nationwide to educate the country on the importance of the development.

From the 1950s to 1980s, ESB employed Austrian filmmaker George Fleischmann who crash landed in Ireland while on a surveillance mission during World War II. Interned at the Curragh Camp, he produced 15 films for ESB.

The first of his documentaries – Power for Progress – detailed the infrastructural work carried out by ESB up to 1955, including the development of hydro, peat and coal stations. Domestic and social scenes from the 1950s are also captured including the focus on promoting the all-electric house.

The documentary More Power to the Farmer produced in 1957, 11 years into the Rural Electrification Scheme, featured the actor John Cowley who later starred in the television series, The Riordans. The documentary details the impactful story of rural electrification throughout this transformative time in Irish history, described as the greatest social revolution in Ireland since the land reforms of the 1880s.

The 1961 short film Modern Living Country Style, which was filmed at the RDS on the occasion of the Horse Show, features the journalist and the first female Lord Mayor of Limerick City, Francis Condell, demonstrating the most modern country home equipped with new electric appliances transforming the lives of Irish housewives through innovative design.

ESB employees were a regular feature in many of the documentaries, in particular the 1972 documentary on Turlough Hill, Co Wicklow, Peak Power, dedicated entirely to the workers. It had interviews with the employees who contributed to the largest pumped storage civil engineering project of its time.

One of the most recent films in the archive is Tomorrow’s House Today which depicted the planning and construction of six houses in Kilcock, Co Kildare.

Outlining the importance of this archive to recording Ireland’s history, Pat O’Doherty, chief executive, ESB, said: “The films, preserved in ESB Archives, illustrate ESB’s contribution in the evolution of a new and changing Ireland with many having cultural, educational, historical and social significance. The early documentaries were broadcast in cinemas or local screenings at a time before television arrived, opening Irish society to a brighter future through the electrification of the entire country.”

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