Ireland, An Overview of Energy Connectivity
By Derek Cassidy
September 28, 2021
Ireland, an island of the northwest coast of Europe has been the centre of literature culture and its capitol, Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature since 2010. Its deep-rooted history in the art of storytelling and writing is world renowned. In the Middle Ages it was called the land of saints and scholars and it had the title of the saviour of Europe in the dark ages due to the prolific writing and manuscript production that occurred at this time. Two perfect examples are the books of Durrow and Kells, both national artifacts and often called national monuments.,
But being an island also has its issues with regards to energy supply. In the Middle Ages and all the way up to the 20th century the burning of turf or peat in the form of rectangular sods was a main source of material for fires and energy production and steam generation. Ireland was plentiful in its supply of peat due to the vast boglands that straddled the country from east to west in the great central plain. Another source of energy was water. The introduction of the water wheel into Ireland in the 1600s helped start a revolution in water wheel design. The use of water wheels to supply energy to the many local and cottage industries flourished and at one stage, Ireland had more water wheels than the whole British Isles combined. These water wheels or water mills existed all the way up to the 1940s when electrification soon took over. This saw a quick decline in their use and the many paper mills and other industries that relied on water for their energy production quickly saw a rapid decline due to the change in working practices and energy production that came with electrification.
Ireland also had coal, and some said plenty of it, but unlike the UK and Europe, the coal seams in Ireland were shallow and were barely a metre thick in places, which made any coal mine unworkable and unprofitable. It was the latter that made the idea of coal mining in Ireland a near impossible task. However, that is not to say that Ireland had no mines, there were some pockets that did produce some coal and anthracite, but these were for industrial purposes and not for general use or vast industrial production that the coal mines in England and Wales produced for. In Ireland it was generally accepted that mining for coal was totally uneconomical, so today the vast majority of coal seams still lie where they are, untouched by human industrial endeavour.
If we look at the supply of energy in Ireland, in the middle and soon to be industrial ages, we can always start at the use of peat and wood, as Ireland had plenty of both. Water, for the turning of water wheels for all types of industrial productions from milling wheat and paper making was first used in the late 19th century fir the production of energy for lighting systems on private estates. These hydro systems were rudimentary in design and in private ownership and few in number.
However, with the establishment of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) in 1927 and the building of the first hydro-electric dam and electric generation station on the River Shannon, at Ard Na Crusha, in 1929 specifically for domestic and industrial use, saw the start of the era of electrification of Ireland on a socio-economic direction. This city and rural electrification project, designed to bring Ireland into the 20th century, begun in 1929 but it took nearly 40 years to finally electrify the country and connect all urban and rural dwellings and industrial premises. This was well behind other countries, but the building of the Shannon Hydro-Electric System designed by both German and Irish Engineers was seen as a model for future hydro-electric systems around the world.