Feb 28, 2012

Great Opportunity to Research Your Ulster Roots

Are you among the millions of Americans with Scots-Irish roots? I am, and so is my husband. When I learned that the Ulster Historical Foundation, in cooperation with other Northern Ireland organizations was putting together genealogy schools in Ireland, I so wanted to go. What better way to learn how to research over there? But I'm not able to go to Ireland this year.

But hooray! They are coming over here. Check out this schedule to see if there is a workshop or seminar you might be able to attend next month:


Ulster Historical Foundation
Irish and Scots Irish Genealogy Lecture Tour 08–26 March 2012


Saturday, 10 March 2012      (9:00 AM to 4: 30 PM)
Programme title:         Researching Your Irish Ancestors – EWGS Spring Seminar  

Location of
programme:                 Spokane Public Library, 906 W. Main, Spokane, WA 99201
                                    Tel: 509 444 5300

Host organisation:        Eastern Washington Genealogical Society

Main contact:               Donna Potter Phillips, donna243@gmail.com
Tel: (509) 624-4118.
                                   
Registration Details:    $20 Members; $25 Non-Members
                                    Send postal registrations to:
EWGS P.O. Box 1826, Spokane, WA 99210-1826

Further information:    Register via the online form EWGS at:


Sunday, 11 March 2012        (9:00 AM to 5:00 PM)
Programme title:         Irish Genealogy Conference

Location of
programme:                 Nordic Heritage Museum 3014 NW 67th St Seattle WA
           
Host organisation:        Irish Heritage Club

Main contact:               Jean A. Roth, jeanaroth@juno.com
                                    Or John F. Keane, j.f.keane@frontier.com

Registration Details:    $45 pr person including box lunch

Further information:    Register online at: http://www.irishclub.org/Genealogy.htm

                                    OR mail the registration information (name, contact info,
lunch choice and a cheque payable to IHC), to:
Irish Heritage Club, P.O. Box 75123, Seattle, WA 98175


Monday, 12 March 2012       (6:00 PM to 9:00 PM)
Programme title:         Irish and Scots-Irish Ancestors

Location of
programme:                 Oregon Stamp Society Building, 4828 NE 33rd Ave
Portland, OR 97211

Host organisation:        The All-Ireland Cultural Society of Oregon

Main contact:               Sam Keator, sam.keator@frontier.com

Registration Details:    $20 per person. Register online at –
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Location of
programme:                 Tuscon, AZ – Details to be confirmed

Main contact:               Nina Harrison, tullywinny@gmail.com



Saturday, 17 March 2012      (10.00 AM to 3.30 PM)
Programme title:         Researching Irish and Scots-Irish Ancestors
           
Location of
programme:                 Bentonville Public Library, 405 S. Main Street. Bentonville, AR 72712
Host organisation:        Northwest Arkansas Genealogical Society

Main contact:               Joyce Ater, President of NAGS

Registration Details:    There is no charge to attend but those wishing to attend must register as
seating is limited. They can preregister by phone 479-271-6820 or by mail:
                                    NAGS, c/o Bentonville Library at the above address,

E-mail at: nags2@juno.com or by phone, 479-271-6820 where you can leave a message.
           
Further information:    nags2@juno.com           Tel: 479-271-6820



Monday, 19 March 2012       (9:00 AM to 5.00 PM)
Programme title:         Researching your Irish Ancestors

Location of
programme:                 Spout Springs Library Branch, Hall County Library System,
6488 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch, Gainesville,
GA 30542

Host organisation:        The Friends of the Hall County Library System

Main contact:               Ronda Sanders, rsanders@hallcountylibrary.org
Tel: 770 532-3311, ext 116

Registration Details:    $35 per person. The price includes the workshop and a box lunch.
Library opens 8.30am for registration, workshop beings at 9.00am
                                   
Registrations to be received by 14 March (space is limited).
There will be an additional $5.00 for late registration.

Mail registration forms to the Friends of the Hall County
Library System, Irish Workshop, 127 Main Street,
NW, Gainesville, GA 30501-3699

Further information:    http://www.hallcountylibrary.org
On the home page click on “Adults” at the top of the screen, and then click on “Genealogy” for information about the program.  Then click on “Click Here” for more details and a registration form. It is possible to register and pay online.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012                  (7:00 PM to 9:00 PM)
Programme title:         Researching your Irish and Scots-Irish Ancestors

Location of
programme:                 R.R. Smith Center for History and Art, 20 South New Street,
Staunton, VA 24401

Host organisation:        Augusta County Historical Society

Main contact:               Katharine Brown, klbrown@ntelos.net

Registration Details:    Programme free for members, non-members $5.00 each. 
                                    E-mail: augustachs@ntelos.net
                                    Postal address: P.O. Box 686 Staunton, VA 24402-0686

Further information:    Augusta County Historical Society, 20 South New Street,
Staunton, VA 24401, Tel: 540-248-4151



Thursday, 22 March 2012     (6:30 PM to 8:30 PM)
Programme title:         Researching 17th Century Irish Ancestors

Location of
programme:                 2nd Floor Poetry Room, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh,  4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Host organisation:        Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Main contact:               Marilyn Holt, holtm@carnegielibrary.org
                                    Tel: 412 622 3154 (Carnegie Library)

Registration Details:    Free and open to the public but pre-registration
required – call 412-622-3154



Friday, 23 March 2012          (4:00 PM to 7:30 PM)
Programme title:         Researching your Irish and Scots-Irish Ancestors

Location of
programme:                 Commodore John Barry Irish Center, 6815 Emlen Street,
Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, PA 19119

Host organisation:        The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania

Main contact:               Joyce Homan, ExecDir@GenPA.org
Anita Coraluzzi, anita.coraluzzi@gmail.com
Tel: (215) 545-0391

Registration Details:    GSP & Irish Center Members - $20; Non-Members - $30.
                                    Register online at: https://genpa.org/civicrm/event/info?id=31&reset=1

Further information:    http://genpa.org/




Saturday, 24 March 2012      (9.00 AM to 4.00 PM)
Programme title:         Irish and Scots-Irish Research

Location of
programme:                 Ramapo College, 505 Ramapo Valley Road, Mahwah, NJ 07430

Host organisation:        Genealogical Society of Bergen County

Main contact:               Ann Thompson, nannyannie58@aol.com

Registration Details:    $50  Early registration  (postmarked by March 1)
                                    $55  Regular registration (postmarked after March 1)
                                    Make cheques payable to GSBC.
Mail form with cheque to GSBC Seminar, PO Box 432, Midland Park, NJ.
Register by March 17 to guarantee a syllabus and lunch.

Further information:    www.njgsbc.org



Sunday, 25 March 2012        (10.00 AM to 5.00 PM)
Programme title:         Irish and Scots-Irish Seminar

Location of
programme:                 Manheim Township Public Library, 595 Granite Run Drive  Lancaster,
PA 17601, Tel: 717 560-6441

Host organisation:        LancasterHistory.org. (Lancaster County Historical Society and President
James Buchanan’s Wheatland)

Main contact:               Marjorie Bardeen, Marjorie.Bardeen@LancasterHistory.org
                                    Tel: (717) 392 4633 ext. 119
                                    Tel; (717) 392-4633 ext. 114

Registration Details:    $75 for members/$85 for non members. For more information or to pre-register call 717 392 4633 ext. 119, or email:

Participants should pre-register by March 19, 2012

                                   
Further information:    http://www.lancasterhistory.org/
On the home page click on the “Events” tab at the top of the page.
Then scroll down the “upcoming events” to view information about the programme. Then click on the link to download the brochure.




Feb 27, 2012

Guest Post: A Irish Story



Cead Mile … Stories!
By Jamie Chavez

Ireland is such a historic place! There’s a story—a hundred thousand of ’em!— in every corner of the place, if you just have eyes to see.

I stumbled on one story in a small Irish cathedral in Clonfert, Co. Galway, when the Irishman and I were there some time ago. It was a gravestone with a lengthy inscription that I found so sad I took a photograph of it:


“To the memory of James Frederick Henry Dennis, son of Major James Dennis of the 4th Regiment, whose remains lie interred near this place. He was born at Newark in upper Canada the 17th of January 1805 and died at Shannon Bridge the 8th of Sept 1820, aged 15 years, 7 months, and 29 days. This humble stone was placed as the last tribute of his fond parents bereaved early of a son whose affectionate and religious conduct endeared him to every acquaintance. His infant sister Ellen, aged 2 years, 6 months, and 24 days also lies interred by him, having only survived him 10 days. Blessed be their peace for ever.”

Naturally I imagined a story to go with it: Maj. Dennis and his wife were emigrated Irish and had come “home” to Ireland (for a visit? to stay?) with their two children.

But I wasn’t thinking like a historian. My dear friend Margaret, a skilled genealogist, set me straight: Maj. Dennis must have been stationed in Canada with his regiment for a while. She found numerous mentions of his presence with British forces in Canada in the early nineteenth century (Newark, where the son was born, was the capital of Upper Canada, which is now Ontario) and quickly discovered that the major was a career officer who saw service in several countries. She quoted from some official records; he “served in Copenhagen campaign; wounded in both hands. Present at Queenston, wounded (Bvt. Major 28 Nov. 12), Fort George, Stoney Creek, twice wounded, Hoople’s Creek. Commanded a Division at Maharajpore, 29 Dec. 43. Bronze Star and appointed K.C.B. for his services.”

You caught that, right? He was in Denmark, then shipped to Ontario for what we Americans call the War of 1812 (these were battles: Queenston, Ft. George, Stoney Creek, Hoople’s Creek) and brevetted to major; then they shipped him to India sometime before 1843. Think about how long that took with a wife and kids and household goods. As a result of the awful and bloody Battle of Maharajpore he was awarded the (bronze) Gwalior Star and made a Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Orderof the Bath. (I just report these things, kids, but you’ll see it really does have to do with, well, taking a bath.)
            
Margaret continued to poke into the records over the next half hour as we speculated via e-mail about why Maj. Dennis happened to be in Ireland in 1820. Was it his home? Or was he there as part of the British forces keeping the “Irish problem” in check? This period of time in Irish history was pretty tumultuous (when was it not?) and the English had garrisons all over the country.

Then she found an obituary that told us this: “in 1801 he married a daughter of Hugh Lawton, Esq. of Cork. That family were descended from an old Cheshire family, Lawton of Lawton Hill, who went to Ireland with Wm. III. In Ireland Hugh Lawton Esq.’s seat was called Marsh Hill. Maj. Gen. [promoted again and again!] Sir James Dennis, K.C.B., died at age 78, Jan. 14 1855, in Pall Mall.” Now, Wm. III would be that darned Dutchman, the Prince of Orange, who as the English king in 1690 won the Battle of the Boyne, and set in motion many of the problems that still exist in the north of Ireland. Thus we might assume the Lawtons were Protestant. And Pall Mall is in London, so I’m betting ol’ Jamie was English born. Margaret told me she found his obit in “Gentleman’s magazine and historical chronicle,” vol. 43, with all the details of his service, including Canada. Interesting is that he started in the Royal Navy as an ensign who distinguished himself and later switched to the army.

 A few minutes later, Margaret had even more information: “Mrs. Dennis was Sarah Lucia Lawton, and she died in 1828, having had ten children. Seven of those children died under the age of fourteen. From what I can determine only two grew up and married. After the death of Maj. Gen. Sir Dennis there was a complicated court case between representatives of the children, competing for shares of the estate. One was the widower of an adult daughter.”

So there is the rough outline of a life. Of two lives. Quite a story! James Dennis married Sarah when he was twenty-four and stayed married to her for twenty-seven years (a long time in those days; an average marriage was ten years, due to all the wives dying in childbirth). But it’s still very odd that—if Sarah was landed gentry from Cork—she was so far away from her home. Shannon Bridge is in Co. Offaly—the Midlands—and St. Brendan’s in Clonfert is about two or three miles away. So that part makes sense, but she was still a long, long way from Cork, especially by the standards of travel in 1820. What was she doing in Shannon Bridge? It’s a very small town, and it’s not really on the way from/to anything.

            Well … that, my friends, is where the story lies, no?

Jamie Chavez is an editor, writer, and blogger. This article reprinted by permission, © 2012.




Feb 24, 2012

5 of My Favorite Irish Things

(In no particular order.)

1. Knots
    I love Celtic knot designs. Our wedding rings have the eternity knot design, a symbol that love never ends. Right now my husband is stenciling a Celtic knot design on the landing of the stairs leading to my office. We have the design in several places around our home, including stepping stones outside. The design is ancient and for me, inspiring.

celtic-knots
http://www.flickr.com/photos/islandvittles/

2. Sayings
    Love those witty sayings--Trust God but don't do a jig in a currach. Stuff like that. Do you have any you'd like to share?

3. Music
    Wow. Not much need to explain, is there?

4. Grass
    The green stuff, you know. Such a delight for the eyes, especially near the blue ocean.

5. People
    I love Irish people. So friendly and generous with their time and craic. Craic? Well, that could be a whole other blog post.

The craic in the corner
Photo By Jeremy Gould


These are only five of my favorites. I could come up with more. What about you?

What are your favorite Irish things?

Feb 18, 2012

Guest Post: House 29



House 29: A Beautiful Museum by Jamie Chavez

It’s a source of endless fascination to me that the electric company in Ireland (the ESB, or Electricity Supply Board) is so dedicated to Irish history.

In this post, I told you about the ESB’s massive Archives department; in this one I told you about their special dam, Ardnacrusha, down near Limerick. Now I want to tell you about the lovely House 29.

http://bluebuttsheep.com/ireland/dublin/number-twenty-nine/
 “Number Twenty Nine, Fitzwilliam Street Lower,” the official guidebook says, “was first occupied in 1794, during a time of great change in Ireland’s capital … On the surface at least, Dublin in the 1790s was booming. A relative peace had reigned since the late 1600s and the population grew from approximately 60,000 at that time to nearly 180,000 a century later. Ireland had its own Parliament that sat in College Green in Dublin. The capital was being rebuilt in a modern style.”
The beautiful College Green Dublin, here is the Bank of Ireland building, which was the former Parliament building! Enjoy the history, present and the future!:)
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/

And, as previously discussed, the prevailing style of architecture was Georgian. Upscale homes were laid out on four sides of a central square, or fenced park; only homeowners had keys to the gate. Many of those townhomes still exist. Some are still homes. Some—because they are in the heart of Dublin—have been converted for other uses.
Merrion Square is a Georgian square  near Dublin city centre.
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/
 
The ESB, in fact, owned a whole block of these houses on Fitzwilliam Street Lower, in which resided their offices. They’d taken over the rooms one by one; it was a veritable rabbit warren of offices.

By the 1960s, more than twenty townhouses on the street, a continuation of the east side of the square, were set to be destroyed to make way for a brand-new headquarters for the ESB. The resulting public outcry caused the company to join with the National Museum of Ireland; if the ESB could build a new building on most of the block, they’d keep one home intact.

Thus House 29 (and, technically, number 30 as well: it’s the entrance and gift shop) was reborn in the late 1980s as a showpiece Georgian home, remodeled to look just as it did when its first owner, Mrs. Olivia Beatty, the widow of a prominent Dublin wine merchant and mother of seven, moved in. She was just thirty-three years old at the time. (You can read more of her history here.)
http://www.esb.ie/main/about-esb/numbertwentynine/virtual_tour/drawing_room.htm

They were expecting us at the House: the Irishman’s colleague, curator of the museum, bustled out and greeted us warmly. Then we sat down with an English couple who’d arrived just before us and watched the introductory film; afterward we were whisked off on the tour, just ahead of a boisterous group of school kids. As we began, we were joined by another Englishwoman, and these three Brits kept our guide on his toes, getting answers to questions that further illuminated the tour. Veddy English, right down to the sensible shoes. :-) (Cindy's note: an Irish friend of mine told me he could always spot the American tourists by their big, stark white athletic shoes!)

 And this was fascinating stuff! I learned, for example, the origins of the phrase counting the silver: in those days, the silver (huge platters, serving dishes, teapots, utensils, and so forth) would have been displayed right in the dining room in a locked cabinet. After dinner, when the family and their guests had moved on to other activities, the silver was washed right in the room, counted, and locked back up!

The housekeeper kept these and other keys on a belt around her waist—everything was kept under lock and key. The lady of the house herself, however, would have kept a particularly special key—to the box of tea leaves—on a chain around her neck, as tea was very, very expensive. (Hence the outrageousness of a certain group of upstart colonials dumping an entire shipload of the stuff into Boston Harbor right around this time.)
And did you know that the real reason the ladies withdrew from the dining room—ostensibly so the men could have their after-dinner port and cigars—was so that the men could (ahem) make use of their after-dinner chamber pots (also kept right in the dining room)? Enquiring minds want to know!


Having seen the House many times, the Irishman lingered in the tearoom with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies while I took the tour. At the end, I joined him there and was brought tea brack (here’s a recipe), a traditional Irish cake. Teabrack is similar to what we’d call fruitcake, the difference being that the fruit—currants, in this case—is soaked overnight in tea before being baked into a loaf-type cake. Yum.

Irish fruit brack
Photo by
Ben Ostrowsky 



 When next you visit Dublin, I’d highly recommend a tour of House 29. The ESB has a very thorough website, so you can read more about it here.

JamieChavez is an editor, writer, and blogger. This article reprinted by permission, © 2012.


Feb 16, 2012

How Ireland Inspires

I was sharing some of my photos from Ireland with someone and it occurred to me that I still have many I haven't shared with you. So today I'm offering a few of them along with some words from the Carmina Gadelica. If you'd like to use any of these photographs, please just ask.

Be inspired!


O GOD, who broughtst me from the rest of last night
Unto the joyous light of this day,




Be Thou bringing me from the new light of this day
Unto the guiding light of eternity.


     Oh! from the new light of this day


     Unto the guiding light of eternity.

Feb 15, 2012

Guest Post: A Very Large Dam




Ardnacrusha: A Very Large Dam By Jamie Chavez

You don’t think of the electric company as being a big deal, do you? I don’t. I pay the bill and they keep the lights on. But in the Republic of Ireland, the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) played a vital role in the development of the country.

In this post, I told you about the ESB Archives (my fiancé—I call him the Irishman—works there), which preserves the history of the company and the country because the two are so closely connected. One of the first orders of business for the young country was to bring electricity to the rural countryside, and thus it was decided to build a Very Large Dam. They called it Ardnacrusha (for the small village it was located near).

I’d heard so much about this dam—the project was called the Shannon Scheme—from the Irishman: the visionary ESB head who’d championed the project … the young Irish engineer who’d helped plan it … those who’d fought against it … the political situation at the time…

The naysayers claimed Ireland would never need the amount of electricity Ardnacrusha was projected to produce. (In its early years it did easily supply the whole country, yet in the twenty-first century the dam supplies less than 3 percent of the country’s consumption.) And the Brits were furious when the contract to build the thing was awarded to Siemens-Schuckert of Berlin, feeling the contract should have gone to, well, them, I guess; honestly, it’s not like they’d been winning friends and influencing Irish people in the previous seven hundred years. Regardless, the German company had experience in constructing hydro-electric power stations; because of the economic climate of post-World War I Germany, Siemens were delighted to get it.

The thing was built, in spite of everything. In addition to the dam itself, and the outbuildings, it required the construction of sixty miles of railway and the use of 138 locomotives.

Ahead of the opening, four major bridges had to be built, four streams were diverted and seven million cubic meters of earth and 1.2 million cubic meters of rock were shifted.

It took them four years: 1925 to 1929.

So off we went, to Limerick (the third largest city in the Republic) and beyond. The countryside became flatter as we got close to Limerick—which makes sense, as it is in the lower Shannon delta. Not all visitors to Ireland make the pilgrimage to Ardnacrusha; in fact, I’m fairly certain I’m one of a very select group—perhaps the only American tourist who has. Ha.

Once we’d skirted the edge of Limerick city, we got off the main road and picked our way through back roads towards the river and the dam that harnesses it.

At O’briensbridge village (so named for a charming, arched bridge spanning the River Shannon), there was a lay-by right on the river, so we pulled over to take in the view. Across the street, there was a little roadside shrine, and along the river, a park, and—a pleasant surprise—a plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the ESB, the operator of the very dam we were on our way to see.

We arrived at midday, and toured the site. Not much had changed here: the original buildings from the ’20s are still in use today, and they are lovely. It was also a thrill so see one of the original paintings done by Sean Keating, the artist who was hired by the ESB to record, in sketches and oils, the building of the dam. This project was chronicled in a lovely book the ESB published a few years ago, one of several books of historic interest that the Archives—the Irishman’s department—has had a hand in shepherding to publication.

In 2002, the American Society of Civil Engineers bestowed on Ardnacrusha and the Shannon Scheme its prestigious Landmark Award (for major civil engineering achievements)—previously won by the Eiffel Tower, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and the Panama Canal, among others—for being a ‘‘huge achievement’’ in civil engineering terms. (You can see a list of all the winners—300 or so—here.)

Ardnacrusha was also the recipient of the Milestone Award—a prize bestowed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., although the organization is most popularly known and referred to by its acronym, IEEE. This award, for electrical engineering, is harder to win than the Nobel Prize or an Oscar, and has only been awarded to forty-five other recipients, including the Japanese bullet train and the first American space shuttle. The IEEE (Eye-triple-E) is a nonprofit, technical professional association of more than 380,000 individual members in 150 countries.

Only eight organizations worldwide have won both these awards. (They were made jointly to the Electricity Supply Board and the Siemens group.)

Jamie Chavez is an editor, writer, and blogger. This article reprinted by permission, © 2012.







Feb 14, 2012

The Irish St. Valentine Connection

A Victorian Valentine
Happy St. Valentine's Day!

You've probably read on other blogs that there were at least three martyred saints named Valentine, one of which is said to have died on February 14, thus the date of this observance. You may have read that just like other church observances, this one was set to coincide with a pagan festival, to draw attention away from it, in this case a fertility feast. You've probably also read that the exchange of valentine cards originated during Victorian times.

But did you know about the Irish connection? In the nineteenth century there was a Carmelite priest who was well known for his preaching and his service to the poor. Fr. John Spratt helped establish the Irish Carmelite order and was responsible for acquiring for the church the property that had once housed a 13th century Carmelite monastery on Whitefriar Street in Dublin in 1825. He visited Rome in 1835 and was invited to speak to the Jesuits the following February and was transported there in the carriage of the Cardinal who was the Pope's advisor on affairs in England and Ireland. He visited more cities but somehow on that journey he was awarded with the relics of a 3rd century martyr, Saint Valentine.

Whitefriar Street Church
Photo by William Murphy
That is how St. Valentine's remains (at least in part) came to be held at Whitefrair Street Church in Dublin, one of the city's largest churches. They were forgotten for a time because the shrine was built in modern times.

Here is a photo of the outside of Whitefriar Street Church. I haven't been there, but it looks like you could walk right past it without realizing the history it contains.
It seems to me that since so little is known about St. Valentine, Fr. Spratt might be the more interesting figure. He certainly gets lost in the story. He was charitable and showed the love of Jesus to the starving, the orphans, the homeless on the streets of the city where he was born and lived most of his years and died. He was so loved by the people that his death was mourned greatly. His example for the rest of us is something to strive for. I love my sweetheart, truly, but romantic love was not what the feast day was originally focused on. Just something to think about. I still think you should enjoy your chocolate today!
 :-)

Box of Chocolates
Photo by
By Svadilfari

References:
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/92645667/FATHER-JOHN-SPRATT-BELOVED-OF-DUBLINS-POOR

http://attractions.uptake.com/blog/st-valentine-dublin-ireland-9215.html

http://www.carmelites.ie/ireland/Whitefriar%20St/valentine.htm

Feb 13, 2012

Read Ireland



Reading Joyce in front of the Joyce memorial
Photo by
Monika Bargmann



Read Ireland
From Jamie Chavez:
The last time I was in Ireland there was still a bookstore in every small
town. I don’t know if that’s the case now. But even if you don’t have time
to hop on a plane, you can still visit an Irish bookstore! Check out Read
Ireland, an online bookstore dedicated exclusively to Irish interest books.
I’ve bought pounds of books from this nice man over the years.


Cindy: I did see plenty of bookshops when I was in Ireland in 2010. On the Read Ireland site there is a link to their reviews. It's a great place to spend time browsing, just like you would do in person. Let us know what you think!

Feb 11, 2012

Guest Post: Ireland's History Preserved by the Electric Company


Ireland: A Nation of Historians by Jamie Chavez

Harold's Cross Neighborhood of Dublin
Photo by Jamie Chavez
When people ask my Irish fiancé where he works, the simple answer is: the electric company. But ask him what he does, and you get an only-in-Ireland answer: he works in the ESB (ElectricitySupply Board) Archives.

In the Harold’sCross neighborhood of Dublin there resides an unprepossessing building that houses the ESB Archives, a small department in a big company that preserves a history—in paper documents, photographs, oral histories (preserved on video), and objects ranging from old kitchen appliances and telephones to barometers and signs—of the company. All of this is open, free, to researchers. How very Irish this all is: a respect for the past and a willingness to honor it with careful preservation. This is a company, after all, that, before commencing a massive dam project (called the Shannon Scheme, for the river it’s built on) in 1925, commissioned a well-known artist, Sean Keating, to record it.

You see, when the Irish Free State was established in 1922, it was one of the most impoverished countries in Europe. In order for the Industrial Revolution—and thus prosperity—to find its way to Eire, things had to change. It was an enormous task that faced the young government. How would they bring electricity to a largely rural nation?

Answer: electrify the population centers first, and move outward, like ripples on the surface of a pond. Then buy up the local shops, such as the wealthy farmer who might’ve installed a generator to power his equipment, or a mechanic or a machine shop, all of whom probably had run current to close neighbors (for a fee) and thus had a network established. And, finally, build a big ol’ dam. After that, create a need for your electricity by selling your customers those newfangled electric washing machines and ice-boxes and such.
ESB workers having tea. Possibly from the 1940's or1950's.
 Photo courtesy of ESB.

That’s exactly what they did. The ESB was established in 1927, so the history of the company closely parallels the history of the country. I learned all of this when I toured the Archives a few years ago.

Pat Yeates and Brendan Delany, my fiancé’s colleagues, explained how the Archives started, almost accidentally, as a repository of old records: I saw hundreds of old ledgers, from small electric companies around the country (that pre-dated the ESB), in which each man’s name and his weekly wages were inscribed in beautiful handwriting. This is how it was a hundred years ago.

With modern technology, all those little substations are being shut down; all the electricity comes out of Dublin now. But everything that was once in a small local substation somewhere came to Dublin, too, and resides in the Archives—old telephones, desks, perhaps an old wringer-washer from the 1930s that never sold. It’s all there in Harold’s Cross.

Now the Archives seeks out retired and present members of ESB staff: Pat interviews these old-timers on video, and the material is preserved and edited for presentations made by the ESB (the Archives has its own edit suite to do this), or used by TV documentarians. It has lent antique items to movie producers for use as set dressing. It has thousands of photographs scanned and catalogued. It has made permanent and semipermanent exhibits for local museums scattered around the country (I visited one of these a few days after my tour of the Archives). I also learned about the benefits of mobile shelving over static shelving—and was duly impressed, I must say.

There’s more to come—a visit to that big ol’ dam and to a fine museum the ESB maintains. But I’ll save those for another time!

Jamie Chavez is an editor, writer, and blogger. This article reprinted by permission, © 2012.