WATCH - Portarlington power plant features in a treasure trove of nostalgic ESB films

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

A dramatised film about a fictional young local farmer fascinated by the new peat electricity generation station in Portarlington features in a new archive of ESB films.

The film features exterior and interior footage of the station on the Laois Offaly border including the cooling tower, turbine halls and control panel. Local farmers are featured loading wagons with peat by hand ready for transportation to the station.

Keen to discover more about the station in Derryounce, the young farmer hops on a peat wagon and makes his way to the station where he discovers more about the functions of the station.

This includes scenes of wagons of peat transported by train to the station, wagons are hoisted up high and tipped down into the station's bunkers where they are then burnt in the furnaces.

Meanwhile, the young farmer’s father, living opposite the station is sceptical about the station and the benefits of electricity. Film notes the landowner was fairly compensated.

The young farmer is delighted when he is offered a labourers position at the station and scenes show him on the night shift as an Ashman and working on the family farm by day.

To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the establishment of ESB’s Public Relations Department, ESB has launched this and other previously unseen film footage commissioned by the organisation dating back to the 1920s.

ESB says the film archive offers a unique insight into the social, cultural and economic development of Ireland at this time and up to the 1980s. The archive was launched yesterday at the 65th annual PRII conference in Dublin.

ESB first dipped its toes into the film world when they entered an agreement in April 1928 with the First National Pathé Film Company to record the construction of Ireland’s first hydroelectric station on the River Shannon at Ardnacrusha in Co Clare. The film was subsequently shown in cinemas, school and colleges nationwide to educate the country on the importance of the development.

From the 1950s to 1980s, ESB employed the services of acclaimed Austrian filmmaker George Fleischmann who incidentally 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’ – details 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.

Pat O’Doherty, Chief Executive of ESB, said the films were important to recording Ireland’s history, 

“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.  We are delighted to release the films online for everyone to enjoy from all corners of the world,” he said.

The documentary ‘More Power to the Farmer’ produced in 1957, 11 years into the Rural Electrification Scheme featured the Irish 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’ 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 features 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 depicts the planning and construction of six houses in Kilcock, Co Kildare, each fitted with various different electrical and insulation systems. The results were monitored and analysed by ESB to ensure that the most efficient building and insulation techniques will be used in the future.

For further enquiries regarding the film archive please email esbarchives@esb.ie and to view the complete film archive please visit www.esbarchives.ie/film