Electricity Supply Board exhibition kitchen in the Spring Show model farmhouse, ESB Annual Report 1961-62. Courtesy of the ESB Archives.
Design history lecturer Dr. Sorcha O’Brien, from the School of Art and Design History and the Modern Interiors Research Centre (MIRC), has been awarded an Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Leadership Early Career Fellowship for her research project ‘The Electrification of the Rural Irish Home: Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in the 1950s and 1960s’ in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland (NMI).
Making use of the extensive ESB Archive, as well as several other national and institutional archives and collections, the project will look the issues surrounding the consumption of domestic electrical products in the Republic of Ireland in the wake of the Electricity Supply Board’s (ESB) rural electrification project, and will culminate in a monograph and an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland.
The vast majority of post-War domestic products were imported into Ireland from Britain, the United States and several European countries such as Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, due to the very small scale of design and manufacturing in Ireland, and this project will look at the selection of products sold on the Irish market, through department stores, drapery shops and the dedicated network of ESB shops. It will consider the way which these products were promoted and sold to the rural Irish housewife, through domestic advice literature, advertising and exhibitions such as model houses at the yearly agricultural Spring Show in Dublin.
The focus will be on the housewives themselves and the emotional meaning of domestic products in the home, particularly in the context of post-war Ireland, where new ideas about modernisation were starting to challenge the power of the establishment and the Catholic Church.
A series of oral history interviews will be carried out in conjunction with the National Museum of Ireland, to allow these women to speak for themselves and to tell their own stories. It will also look at the role played by the ESB’s female electrical demonstrators in familiarising rural women with electricity and electrical products, as well as the involvement of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in promoting electricity to their members.
Museum galleries at the National Museum of Ireland Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland.
The AHRC Leadership Fellow scheme provides time for future research leaders to undertake focused individual research alongside collaborative activities which have the potential to generate a transformative impact on their subject area and beyond.
The funding of approximately £250,000 includes provision for a six month exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland’s Country Life site in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. This award winning museum is located in a purpose-built building on the grounds of Turlough Park, and houses the Irish national collection of folk crafts, domestic life and traditional material culture.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of events developed in conjunction with Age & Opportunity, the Irish organisation best known for the Bealtaine festival of creativity in older age.
Seed funding for initial research on the project was provided by the Modern Interiors Research Centre, the Design History Society, and the Fundació Història del Disseny.