The Power House- Echoes of Ballaghaderreen

(Dan Galvin, now retired in Dublin, was one of the men who worked in the “Power House” that supplied electricity and light to Ballaghaderreen from 1906/7 until the E.S.B. arrived in 1933).

The original powerhouse and town supply of electric current was designed by Louis Lawless of Howth, who served his time with Gerry Boland who was afterwards a minister of state. Thomas Drury of Monasteraden, co. Sligo, was appointed as the first manager. He had been in the U.S.A. and later with Stewarts of Boyle who had a private plant there. The Power House had two suction gas engines run on gas produced from welsh anthracite it also had a 300 Amp wet batteries used to steady the load and to prevent the lights from flickering. This supply was ample until the bulk of the houses decided to use current for lighting. So about 1912/13 it was decided to use water power, and the new cutting on the river at Lung was ideal for this purpose. The actual work of digging the cutting from Aughalustia to the bridge at Lung was done by pick and shovel and men from the district were billeted in Denby’s of Pound Street, and celebrated on Friday nights after being paid. The first water turbine installed was a belt driven Dynamo type and required a man on duty when operating as well as a phone link to the town to give him instructions. This system worked well until consumption of current rose above output. Thus in 1925 a new design of turbine was installed by Vickers of Barrow in Furnance. Dan Galvin was appointed to assist the Wheelwright Harry Kemp. This was a new design of turbine and had the Dynamo set on top of the shaft. It was a great success and was remotely controlled from the Power House by a two way electric motor. About this time Jackson, a Vickers engineer, put a runner at the bottom of the turbine to counteract the back pressure from the Tail Race where the water was not low enough (affecting output). Mr. T. McLoughlin pf siemens and later E.S.B. also saw the new system. He was involved in developing the Shannon Scheme at Ardnacrusha providing country wide electrification in the thirties. His sister, Sr. Martin taught in the convent for many years.
A Mr. Jackson had proposed an alternative design for the Shannon involving a series of 10 or 12 separate turbines at Castleconnel to avoid flooding. The “Power House” continued to operate successfully until 1930 when a new 300 H.P. single cylinder diesel engine (Ruston Bucyrus) was installed to increase output, it continued to operate well until 1033 when the E.S.B. came. All the equipment was sold by auction and the new engine went to Donegal. Thus ended a very unique operation lasting over a century.
While wages were 35/-. It may be added that the West of Ireland was early in the field for electric power houses and similar units operated in Ballyhaunis, Claremorros, Boyle, and Ballymote and in other western towns.
The roll of honour for those who worked over the years in the power house is as follows:
Paddy Dohert (Lung), Martin Coleman, Jack Mulligan, Eddie Denby, Bill Galvin, Tom Flannery, Bernie Mulligan, Peter Hunt, Josie Quinn, Pat Finneran, Frank Flynn (Clogher), Frank Stenson, Pat Fitzpatrick, Pat Coleman, T.Moran, John Collins (curry), Dan Galvin, Seamus Dooney, Michael Duffy (Cross), Pat Peyton (Tibohine) and finally Dick Duffy (later E.S.B.)
Footnote – When Ballaghadereen town was connected to E.S.B. supply in 1934, there was 204 customers (today there are 650 approx). The Bishop’s Palace was connected shortly after the town. At that time, Ballaghaderreen was part of Swinford area – there was a store in the shambles when the town became an area of its own. The store/office was then located at Dick Carney’s yard, and money was collected on Friday afternoons. The present office and showrooms opened in 1961.
Monasteraden and surrounding villages were connected on 1954/55, while the remainder of the Ballaghaderreen rural areas were connected in 1961/62.
At that time the population in Ballagh was around 1500 and there were 77 Pub Licences , the charge for electricity was 4 pence a unit.