‘National institution’ Ardnacrusha the subject of RTÉ documentary

‘National institution’ Ardnacrusha the subject of RTÉ documentary


Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Scheme
Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Scheme

Ardnacrusha is the subject of an RTÉ documentary that airs this evening.

Episode three of Building Ireland examines the Shannon hydroelectric scheme that brought the country into the electric age. The series takes a look at the most impressive engineering achievements and buildings in Ireland, it is presented by Tim Joyce, Susan Hegarty and Orla Murphy.

Established in 1929 the Ardnacrusha power station was the biggest hydroelectric project in the world at the time. It took four years and 5000 men to build the structure at a cost which was twenty percent of the country’s budget at the time. Within ten years of opening, it was generating 96% of the state’s electricity

Engineer Tim Joyce fulfills a life-long ambition to get up close and personal with Ardnacrusha power station and to explore the innovative engineering that made it the biggest hydroelectric project in the world when it opened in 1929.

Joyce said of the project “The River Shannon has been the lifeblood of Ireland for millennia. 360 Kilometres long, it slowly cleaves the island east/west, from Cavan in the north to Limerick in the south. If you could harness the force of this mighty river, you could power an entire state, and open the door to the future. You have to remember that Ardnacrusha was as much about nation-building as it was about engineering, and the fact that it was built by Siemens-Schuckert – a huge German company – is really significant. It was a symbol of the Free State emerging from the shadow of the British Empire, and reaching out to the wider world.”

Geographer Susan Hegarty sets out to investigate why the engineers chose the Ardnacrusha site and to examine the River Shannon – an almost completely flat, slow-moving river.

Above the surface, Ardnacrusha is an impressive structure. Its weirs, sluice gates, and penstocks are instantly recognisable as icons of Irish engineering. However, the buildings themselves have their own unique character, as architect Orla Murphy explains.

“This is so much more than a functional, industrial building. It’s where technology and engineering are put on a pedestal to be worshipped and admired. This is the Generating Hall, where these huge vertical windows flood the space with natural daylight. It’s as if you are in a cathedral. And I suppose in a sense, you are; this is a cathedral of industry, built, not just to serve an engineering function, but also to celebrate it”.

The scheme was formally completed on the 22nd of July, 1929. By that stage, 700 tonnes of explosives had been used to blast away 1.2 million cubic metres of rock – and Ireland had changed forever. Tim concludes the episode by describing the value of Ardnacrusha as a national institution.

This Ardnacrusha special of Building Ireland airs this evening (Friday) at 8:30pm on RTÉ One.