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Honouring our Rural Pioneers

On 30th November, 60 years after the planting of the first rural pole in Kilsallaghan, north County Dublin, four of ESB's rural pioneers were remembered and honoured in a special way at events in Kilkenny and Carlow.

At 10.a.m. at 25 Lr Patrick Street, Kilkenny, John Shine, Executive Director, ESB Networks, Dr Norman Mc Milan, Secretary National Plaques Committee for Science & Engineering, Mr Martin Brett, Lord Mayor of Kilkenny and Mr Billy Roe (son of the late William F. Roe), unveiled a plaque to honour the contribution made by William F. Roe both to Rural Electrification in Ireland and Irish Society.

The speakers recounted the great leadership qualities of William F. Roe and the part he played implementing ESB's mandate of delivering a first class electricity service to every part of the country. Billy Roe highlighted the fact that he, his son and grandson, also christened William Roe, were present to witness this very special occasion.

A similar plaque was unveiled at 11.45am at Tinryland National School, this time to PJ Dowling, who had received his early education at that school. PJ Dowling was appointed Deputy to William F. Roe but later on took over as Head of the Rural Electrification Programme when Roe transferred to other duties associated with ESB's programme to build new power stations.

Those unveiling this plaque, John Shine, Dr Norman Mc Milan, Secretary National Plaques Committee for Science & Engineering, Mr Michael Abbey, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council and Mr Jim Dowling (son of the late PJ Dowling) spoke about the huge esteem in which PJ Dowling was held in the local community especially since his selection as Carlow Person of the Century in 1999.

His son Jim Dowling spoke to the pupils from the National School, who were looking on at the unveiling in blizzard-like conditions, of how his father had been taught by his teacher to measure the height of a hill using a spirit level and a ruler, this practical hands-on training resulted in a huge interest and love of engineering, which was put to good use in later life.

Later on, in the much more convivial surroundings of the Lord Bagenal Inn Hotel, both Neil O'Donoghue, who acted both as the first Accountant and Logistics Manager for the Rural Scheme and his immediate successor, who also filled those dual roles, Peter Conroy, were honoured when plaques commissioned by ESB Archives were unveiled for them. Representing the O'Donoghue family, his eldest son Jim recalled that in 1947, at the age of nine, he was present while his Dad drowned following a heart attack when swimming in Clontarf.

It was a strange irony that as this tragedy unfolded a sketch previously prepared by his father on how to construct a pole raft was being utilised by PJ Dowling and others in Alexander Basin, as poles were discharged directly into the Liffey to avoid heavy demurrage, an additional unscheduled shipment of poles arrived and no berthage space was available.

Jim concluded his remarks by acknowledging the fact that ESB and all those present were now honouring his father and it means a great deal to both himself and all his family.

Miranda Conroy, daughter of Peter, stated that she was both proud and delighted that her father was being honoured. The Rural Scheme was a way of life in her home and her family are still friends with some of the Finnish visitors that her Mum and Dad had entertained in the 50's including one of the original owners of a Finnish shipping company whose ships delivered poles and equipment to Ireland.

Miranda explained that her father embraced many aspects of the Finnish way of life and she recalled with some amusement that many eyebrows were raised by local neighbours when her dad arranged to have the first sauna in Ireland imported from Finland and installed in their back garden in Dundrum in South County Dublin in the conservative Ireland of the early sixties.

The Lord Mayor of Kilkenny, Michael Brett, stated that ESB had a proud tradition of service which was very much appreciated by the people of Kilkenny. They were indeed proud to be associated with honouring such distinguished Rural Pioneers and it was a great source of pride to them that one of their own, William F. Roe, had been appointed the first Engineer-in- Charge of the Rural Scheme. Michael Abbey, Cathaoirleach, Carlow County Council, praised both management and staff of ESB for their ongoing commitment to maintaining only the highest standards of performance and for their overall contribution to Irish Society. He stated that PJ Dowling would always be remembered with huge affection in Carlow and it had always been a great source of pride to the people of Carlow that Tinryland was one of the first places in the country to enjoy the benefits of electricity.

Dr Norman Mc Milan, Secretary of the National Committee for Science and Engineering Commemorative Plaques, said the work of Rural Electrification inspired many not only at home but across the globe, "The Government of this state and the Irish Diaspora proudly pointed to how a small country could inspire the entire world into the 20th century Rural Electrification in Ireland was more that a national achievement it was and international achievement and many countries regarded what happened in Ireland as a model of best practice."

John Shine praised the foresight of the founding fathers of the ESB and the work involved. "ESB is rightly proud of the work carried out by all those who participated in the Rural Electrification Scheme, in honouring these four men we are remembering the immense contribution all staff made to Ireland's development." Brendan Delany, ESB Archive & Heritage Manager, thanked all those who contributed to the event especially all the representatives from the four families. He stated it was a unique and special occasion for ESB, for the National Committee for Science & Engineering Commemorative Plaques and the families themselves and in many respects a very appropriate way of marking the 60th Anniversary of the Rural Scheme. EM

  Photo of Above Pupils showing their delight after the unveiling of a plaque to PJ Dowling at Tinryland National School.
Pupils show their delight after the unveiling of a plaque to PJ Dowling at Tinryland National School.

Photo of Miranda Conroy and her sons Josh and Philip with Johnny Shine, Executive Director, ESB Networks.
Photo of Miranda Conroy and her sons Josh and Philip with Johnny Shine, Executive Director, ESB Networks.

Photo of Jim, Anne and Neil O'Donoghue.
Photo of Jim, Anne and Neil O'Donoghue after the unveiling of a plaque to ESB Pioneer Neil O'Donoghue.

Photo of Austin Donohoe, Jack Stratton, Noel Knight and Cormac Fitzpatrick
Photo at the unveiling of plaques to ESB Rural Pioneers were Austin Donohoe Engineer Officer, Jack Stratton, Engineer Officer, Retired, Noel Knight, Supply Chain and Cormac Fitzpatrick, ESB Area Manager.

Photo of Jim Dowling.
Jim Dowling after the unveiling a plaque to PJ Dowling at Tinryland National School.

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