Archive for the ‘oral history’ Category

Media coverage of the Kitchen Power exhibition, July 2019

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RTE Six One News


The Kitchen Power exhibition has received quite a bit of coverage on Irish TV and radio and in the newspapers in the last couple of weeks and I wanted to do a round-up of all that coverage here.


Television Coverage

RTÉ One News bulletin, 19th July, 1pm, starts approx. 12:30 (page opens in new window)
Segment by Pat McGrath, Western Correspondent (interviews with Sorcha, Deirdre McParland from the ESB Archives and Noreen Durken)


RTÉ Six One News bulletin, 19th July, 6pm, starts approx. 33:30 (page opens in new window)
Segment by Pat McGrath, Western Correspondent (interviews with Sorcha, Deirdre McParland from the ESB Archives and Noreen Durken)


Radio Coverage

RTÉ Radio 1, Morning Ireland, 19th July (page opens in new window)
‘Exhibition showcasing experiences of rural electrification opens in Co Mayo’ (interviews with Sorcha and Deirdre McParland from the ESB Archives, and clips from Ciunas Bunworth, Rose Mac Hugh and Noreen Durken)


Midwest Radio, 22nd July (audio to come)
Article featuring Mary Ann Egan and Josephine Scannell (page opens in new window)


Culture File, RTÉ Lyric FM, 23rd July, starts approx. 2:08:00 (page opens in new window)
Lorcan Murray’s Classic Drive (featuring an interview with Sorcha and clips from Maureen Gavan and Ciunas Bunworth)


Newspaper Coverage

Connaught Telegraph, 19th July (page opens in new window)
‘Mary Robinson launching Turlough exhibition on women’s experiences of rural electrification’


Irish Daily Star, 20th July (scanned image opens in new window)
Laura Colgan, ‘Gadgets n Girl Power’


Irish Examiner, 21st July (page opens in new window)
Ellie O’Byrne, ‘How electric-powered kitchen appliances revolutionised life for rural Ireland’s women in the 50s’ (interviews with Sorcha and Eileen Aylward)


Western People, 22nd July (scanned PDF opens in new window)
Paul O’Malley, ‘New exhibition revisits rural electrification / Ireland’s ‘quiet revolution” (interviews with Sorcha, Ciunas Bunworth, Maura McGuinness, Brigid O’Brien, Deirdre McParland from the ESB Archives, and Noel Campbell, NMI – Country Life)


Mayo Advertiser, 26th July (page opens in new window)
‘Former President launches Kitchen Power – Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification’


Irish Independent, 2nd August (pageopens in new window)
Kirsty Blake Knox, ”Electric ‘heaven’: How women escaped drudgery of domesticity’ (quotes from Maureen Gavan and Noreen Durken)


Web Coverage

ESB Archives blog post, 24th July (page opens in new window)
‘Launch of ‘Kitchen Power’ exhibition’, 27th July (page opens in new window)
Caroline Allen, ‘Shining a light on women’s experiences of rural electrification’


The, 28th July (page opens in new window)
Orla Dwyer,”They can’t believe how we lived’ – How electricity cut down the drudgery of life in rural Ireland’ (interviews with Maura McGuinness and Bridie Tapley)


Woman’s Way, 30th July (page opens in new window)
Kitchen Power – Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification

The Kitchen Power exhibition runs until July 2020 at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life.


Guest post from Rachel Botha: Life of Shadows

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Powdered snow sits in piles on the window sill as I look out onto this morning’s antics in my back garden. Two male robins puff out their reddened chests in a territorial dance for the last morsels of breadcrumbs left out by my mother. Behind them a meandering path of trodden steps leads to the wooden shed, a sequence of prints like the stitches of a hem holding the folds of pristine snow together. The turf has been brought in for today’s fire, those caoráns (Irish for fragment of turf) heaped into the weaved basket – what a difference from the summertimes passed in bog-side bliss, the seasonal duty of turf cutting which called upon the entire family to help out. In the barren flat bog lands our abled bodies would work following the rigid cut lines, stacking the peat into jenga-like structures in order to dry. A day of hard labour in the soaking sun left us sun-kissed and aching. The suddenness of a knock on the front door brings me back to the contrasting reality of the pelting snow outside. It’s our neighbour with a circular loaf of home-made brown bread, still warm to touch, which emanates a delicious baked scent. And just in time for lunch, Mom has a pot of vegetable soup simmering on the stove. This scene may have aptly portrayed a rural domestic home in 1950s Ireland on the cusp of electrification, but in actuality it is a return to a simpler time which was brought upon us by the great snow storm of 2018. While stranded in the house, entrapped by red weather warnings, there was an opportunity to relish birdwatching, bread baking and soup making.


The Electric Irish Homes research project looks at the effects of electrification on rural Irish housewives and homes during the 1950s and 1960s. Over the past few months I have been interviewing and checking transcripts of the women who were affected by rural electrification – the ‘switching on’ event, how it changed their daily lives and the new electrical products which entered their homes. The recording of Irish women’s memories and lived experiences gives us insight into this specific historical time, as well as highlighting the impact electricity made in the everyday during the twentieth century.


A home in rural Ireland before electricity had the heat of the open fire to keep you warm and the light of the Tilley lamp and that of the Sacred Heart portrait to illuminate the room. However, the literal darkness of these times triggers Catherine Marshall’s (Stoneyford, Co.Kilkenny) memories of children huddled around the kitchen table with the oil lamp in the centre. They hastened to complete their homework while the shadows in the background danced and “became a place for imagination.” In Maria Landy’s house in Kilkenny a king-sized bed was shared by four sisters sleeping top to tail, and the chamber pot would reside underneath in case “you got caught short in the night.” Shared baths in front of the fire were a common occurrence and you definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be the tenth child in. With the introduction of electricity came an initial fear and disgruntlement, farmers refusing to have a pole in the middle of their land, a continuous scare that the “light might set fire to the house” and there was an irrational terror of being electrocuted by the light switch. That said the ‘switching on’ was a ceremonious event for all. Eileen Aylward from Rathmore, Co. Kerry accurately remembers this greatly anticipated event with her 82-year-old grandmother blessing herself and proclaiming “The Light of Heaven to our Souls” as the switch was flicked.



With the light in the home came the launch of new mod-cons or “labour saving devices” that would assist a housewife with the menial duties of running a home. Obviously priority was attributed to the kettle, without it would take the best part of an hour to make a cup of tea. Another favoured item was the automatic washing machine. Before this Mondays were set aside as wash days and many women described the painstaking task of scrubbing the clothes on the washboard, the breaking and cutting of hands over rigorously scrapping the clothes, “it would rip the knuckles off you..” said Josephine from rural Co. Dublin. But when the automatic washing machine arrived it was praised no end “Putting your washing powder in, close the door, turning on the switch and away you go”, it was another pair of hands. Even though jobs were getting done quicker it didn’t mean the load was any lighter. One of the questions I would always ask was “What did you do with all this free time after the electricity?” They were baffled and took a pause for recollection and generally answered knitting.



Alongside the tedious duties of washing, ironing and looking after multiple children these women had the daily chore of baking fresh bread. Marshall affectionately remembers her short plump grandmother with her apron on and white hair tied back in a bun winning the 1957 National Brown Bread Baking Competition sponsored by the ESB. With her simple recipe of equal parts of wholemeal and white flour and a teaspoon of bread soda with buttermilk, the passed down family recipe is merely based on ratios, no eggs otherwise “That’s not bread, that’s a cake.” Her prize for this prestigious accomplishment were a set of hard-bottomed pots which are still in use to this day, an everyday heirloom that brings back cherished childhood memories.



The time before electrification was filled with hardship, simplicity and an attitude of getting on with things, however these women reflect on their past memories with a shared fondness, a glow of nostalgia is noticeable as they indulge in their reminiscing. “They were good days” was a phrase repetitively mentioned as they were brought back to a time where normally granny, the parents and the fellow dozen siblings all lived under the one roof. A time where every member had a role to contribute to the running of the home, a time where people were self-sufficient. The acceleration of change in Ireland since the 1950s has been unimaginable, the life that these women lived is difficult to envision compared to now. But Storm Emma gave us a small insight into these simpler times where we were reminded of the unruliness of nature, the importance of being a good neighbour and enjoyed the pleasures of baking. That said, after those few days of confinement we were all eager to return back to our frantic lives.


Rachel Botha has an MA in Visual & Critical Studies from the Dublin Institute of Technology and a BA in History of Art & Architecture from Trinity. She volunteered on the Electric Irish Homes project in 2017 and 2018. 


Oral History Article in the Irish Examiner

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Sorcha and Brigid in Cork

Coming out of the involvement of West Cork ICA with the project, we have just had this article in the Farming pages of the Irish Examiner, which talks about the oral history aspect of the research, highlighting the ICA members who have been interviewed.


Kingston Research Week Exhibition

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The events of Kingston Research Week were intended to highlight the different forms of research being carried on within the University, and the Kingston School of Art participation included a series of research talks and an exhibition in the Platform Gallery in Knights Park campus, running from 3rd to the 7th April.


Opening of the Kingston University Research Week Exhibition, Knights Park campus

Opening of the Kingston University Research Week Exhibition, Knights Park campus


Sorcha gave a talk on the research project on the Tuesday, outlining the overall breadth of the project, as well as the progress of the research. This particularly dealt with the usefulness of oral history as a methodology, not only providing confirmation of archival sources, but providing Irish women’s own perspectives on the changes brought by rural electrification some 50 or 60 years on.

The exhibition included an installation of clips from the oral history interviews collected so far, covering women’s experiences before and after rural electrification, as well as contributions from ESB demonstration staff and the role of the ICA. The looping audio received particular attention from students and staff alike, largely because it allowed them to hear the voices of the interviewees themselves speaking about their experience.


Research Week installations showing Geraldine O'Reilly talking about her FAM washing machine

Research Week installation showing Geraldine O’Reilly talking about her FAM washing machine


Clones ICA oral history interviews

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The second round of oral history interviews were carried out by Geraldine O’Connor from Clones ICA. These included members of both Clones and Aghabog ICA guilds, as well as some friends and relatives. The main rural electrification covering Clones town and environs, SmithboroNewbliss and Drumcall, were electrified between 1959 and 1961, while areas further out such as Tydavnet and Scotshouse had been electrified much earlier (1948 and 1952/53 respectively), and there were strong memories in the area, both of life before the coming of electricity, and of the changes it brought.


Electric Irish Homes project participants at Clones ICA meeting, 2017

Electric Irish Homes project participants at Clones ICA meeting, 2017


Sorcha travelled to Monaghan in February to meet the participants at a meeting of the Clones ICA, which included a group discussion of the experience of rural electrification in the Border counties (and some excellent cake). Geraldine, an experienced local historian, then carried out twelve interviews over the following weeks, gathering a wealth of memories about rural electrification and the ICA.  These interviews really demonstrate the depth of changes that rural electrification brought to rural Irish women, particularly reducing the back-breaking work of washing by hand and ironing with flat or smoothing irons. The differences in cooking also came up, with participants talking about the different ways of adapting the baking of brown bread in electric ovens.


Rosemary Connolly with her collection of irons

Rosemary Connolly with her collection of irons (pre-electric smoothing iron on far right)


The history of the ESB was represented by an interview with Dan Kerr, who had worked for the ESB on their demonstration vans in the early 1960s, and shared his insights into selling techniques and merchandise. Some of the history of the ICA was also captured in Mamo McDonald’s interview, as she spoke about her experiences visiting An Grianán for training courses in the 1960s and the support within the ICA for rural electrification. Listen here to Mamo talking about some of the tactics used to convince farmers to install electricity and running water in the farmhouse, as well as the farm.



This is only a very brief glimpse of the wealth of discussion and memories in these interviews, which form part of the research for the Electric Irish Homes book and exhibition. Our thanks go to Geraldine O’Connor and all of the interviewees from the Clones area for giving their time and memories to the project!


Oral history interviews underway

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Oral history recorder

An early Christmas present arrived today from Castlebar – a package with a recorder full of interviews from the Castlebar ICA guild members. The interviews were carried out by Mary and Maura, who talked to nine of their fellow guild members about their memories of rural electrification across the Western seaboard from Donegal to Achill to Co. Kerry.


Many thanks to everyone who participated – we’re really looking forward to listening to your memories and stories!