THE 4,000 labourers, many from Limerick city, who built Ardnacrusha Power Station were remembered at an event to mark 85 years of the ESB.
The guest of honour at the event was former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, who was nine years old when his father, WT Cosgrave, officially opened the power station in 1929.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said WT Cosgrave, president of the Executive Council in the first Free State government, was a “true patriot that made the brave decision to harness the power of the Shannon to produce electricity for the Irish people”.
“Ardnacrusha remains a symbol of the visionary thinking of these men and women and their passion for their country.
“What a legacy they have left us, one that makes us justifiably proud as a nation and as a people,” said Mr Kenny.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said it is important to not just salute the memory of the visionaries who caused it to happen, but also to remember the men who worked on the project.
Seven and a half million cubic metres of earth was moved at a time when JCBs were in the distant future.
“A great many of them were seriously injured and some of them died. It is appropriate we remember them as well,” said Mr Rabbitte.
The Taoiseach described the opening on July 22, 1929 for the young Liam Cosgrave as a “big day for a small boy”.
Mr Cosgrave said it “means a lot” to be invited back.
His recollections of the day are that it was “very exciting” but the weather was very bad.
“It was a great occasion and it’s nice to be back.
“Ardnacrusha revolutionised industry and agriculture at the time, endured ever since and expanded.
“They are very kind to present me with a copy of a painting by Sean Keating,” said Mr Cosgrave.
Ardnacrusha was built at a cost of 5.2m old Irish pounds by the German company Siemens. That figure represented almost one fifth of the entire annual budget of the new Irish government.
It forms part of the Shannon (hydroelectric) Scheme and was the first national electricity system in the world.
Work on the massive hydro electric project began in 1925 by Siemens of Germany and was completed in 1929. Approximately 5,000 people – 1,000 German and 4,000 Irish – worked on the construction of the scheme.
The waters of the Shannon were harnessed at the Ardnacrusha Dam and a network was constructed to transmit electricity across the country from the new power station.