Powering the West - a History of Bord na Móna and ESB in North Mayo will be launched in the Town Hall, Crossmolina, this Friday evening (7pm ) by retired UCD professor of archaeology Dr Seamus Caulfield. The 400 page, coffee-table style hard cover publication is a fascinating mix of personal stories and wonderful images of Erris. It is a history of the pioneering spirit of men who tamed and brought under control the “unmanageable” bogs of Erris and gave rise to huge employment in an immigration and unemployment blackspot.
The book tells the story of Mayo’s contribution to the national programme of energy supply during the dark days of the Economic War and later the Second World War. It records the political machinations and intrigue that went on in Mayo County Council and in Government as the residue of the civil war continued to colour political debate and decisions.
Co-authored by James Laffey and Christy Loftus, the book records the details of the surveys undertaken on Oweninny and Bangor Erris and the battle fought, in the main by Dr C S “Todd” Andrews, to secure the political go-ahead to drain the bogs and bring them to the production stage. It tells of the pressure applied by the minister for industry and commerce, Sean Lemass, to get a reluctant ESB board to engage with the project.
The construction of the iconic 292 foot cooling tower, the highest cooling tower in the country, is graphically recorded in old images of the site and shows some of the innovative building methods employed for the first time in high rise construction in the country. The station, together with others in the midlands, provided the opportunity for a new generation of young Irish engineers in both the ESB and Bord na Móna to showcase their talent and innovation taking on the roles which had previously been the preserve of professionals from overseas.
Bellacorick had a 40MW capacity and was connected to the national grid via Carrick-on-Shannon and Galway. Originally two 40MW plants were envisaged but one mooted for Bangor was shelved. The Bellacorick station was planned to last for 20 years. It survived for more than 42 years during which time it never came offload. The station met a dire need to support the delivery of electricity to the west of Ireland where industry and homes, now connected under the Rural Electrification Scheme, were at the end of a sometimes weak distribution system. Bellacorick provided stability of supply and, on occasion when supply faltered nationally, the station never failed to deliver.
Many tributes have been paid to the Bord na Móna and ESB teams for the sense of pride they brought to the job and the teamwork that came to the fore whenever an emergency presented itself. John A Duffy, the electrical engineer during construction and later director of generation and transmission in the ESB, referred to an “esprit de corps” that was unique to Bellacorick, while Eddie O’Connor, a former Bord na Móna CEO, described Bellacorick as “a magic place”. “I have worked in fewer more remote places but I have never worked with a better team,” said O’Connor.
Electricity generation at Bellacorick ceased in 2005. On October 14, 2007 over 3,000 people turned up to see the gigantic tower, seen as a safety hazard, come crashing to the ground. The demolition brought to an end the tallest structure in Mayo, an iconic feature on the Erris landscape, a structure that stood for progress and prosperity and a feature that welcomed home many returning Erris emigrants and migrants. The structure is gone but the memories live on and are vividly captured within the covers of this splendid book.