The episode airing on Friday 14th October on RTE One at 20.30, explores the scheme that brought Ireland into the electric age – The Shannon Scheme and Ardnacrusha power station. The photograph from the Miscellaneous Photographs Collection shows workers on the building of the Ardnacrusha power station outside one of the offices and it was taken in the early 1930s.
In the episode 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. Tim meets with Plant Manager Alan Bane, who details how the scheme turns water into electricity. By any standards, Ardnacrusha was a marvel of modern engineering. Within ten years of opening, it was generating 96% of the state’s electricity. Tim also looks at the head race of the Shannon Scheme, which is a 100 metre wide and 12.5 kilometre long canal. It feeds water from the weir at Parteen to the turbines in the Ardnacrusha station. Tim speaks to Professor Tom Cosgrave to find out what it took to construct these huge man-made canals.
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. Susan speaks to Tom Hayes, Civil Engineering Manager at Ardnacrusha, about the challenges of diverting the river to create enough of the drop and provide sufficient water for the hydroelectric power station to function.
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 will explain. Orla meets with Jan Frohburg of the University of Limerick, to discuss the stylistic features of the building and the different cultures which inspired them.
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.