‘Rural electrification brought about a real transformation’

From having to go to the shop to buy paraffin to being able to turn on the light at the flick of a switch, Eileen Cronin Aylward remembers the transformation brought about to home and farm life by the rural electrification scheme.

A native of Rathmore, Co. Kerry, 79-year-old Eileen clearly remembers the day in September 1952 when the rural electrification scheme came to their home and small dairy farm.

“My grandmother who was 82 at the time and who was confined to a chair – there were no wheelchairs then – said: ‘May the light of heaven shine down on us.’ I was 12 years old at the time.

I remember the bulbs being put in. There was one plug in the kitchen for the wireless and the iron and when we needed to do the ironing, we had to unplug the wireless.

“Every house had the Sacred Heart picture with the red lamp. We didn’t get a kettle and washing machine until later on.”

Eileen recalls her father being delighted that he was able to use a yard light, with lights also in the cow shed and piggery.

One of three, her mother died when Eileen was 17 months old and the youngest was only four months old. The houseshold was then run by her maternal grandmother and a housekeeper.

“Before rural electrification, I did my homework by the paraffin lamp at the top of the table. We had a double burner but some houses had a single burner or a Tilly lamp. Schools had dry toilets that were flushed in the evening. It brought about a real transformation.”

Eileen studied psychiatric nursing in St. Finan’s, Killarney, before going to study general nursing in Walton Hospital, Liverpool. She met her late husband, Walter, from Kilkenny, on the night of the Grand National, in London, and they got married in London in 1968. They moved back to Hugginstown, Co. Kilkenny, in 1973.

Looking back, Eileen recalls that rural electrification made life much easier, doing away with some of the toil.

“The odd house didn’t get the light but I think the majority did. There was a dance in the local hall to celebrate the installation of electricity which created jobs for the local men who were digging the holes.

“It brought about big change and now we have electric cars,” mused Eileen.