Now open at Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester

Electric Generations has crossed the Irish Sea. It travelled from Dublin, via the University of Hertfordshire, to Manchester, where it was launched on 8 March at the Irish World Heritage Centre as part of the Manchester Irish Festival. The exhibition has adapted to its new location, with a display of electrical items manufactured by Manchester company Pifco, from a trouser presser to Aladdin’s lamp, and we’re eager to delve further into the history of this brand (a blog post will follow).

The launch was accompanied by a series of talks. Curators Ciara Meehan, Owen Davies, and Ceri Houlbrook introduced the session by explaining how and when the idea of Electric Generations was sparked (pun shamelessly intended) and by thanking the many organisations who have helped with the exhibition: Irish World Heritage Centre, dlr LexIcon, ESB Archives, IET Archives, MOSI Archives, and the University of Hertfordshire.

Ceri Houlbrook, Owen Davies and Ciara Meehan thanking those who helped make the exhibition possible. Photo courtesy of Deirdre McParland.

The talks were kicked off by Steven Leech, Content Developer at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. Steven focused on the history of domestic electricity in Manchester, using documents held in the MOSI archives to provide a window into the ‘all-electric house’ of 1920s Didsbury.

Deirdre McParland, Senior Archivist of ESB, then shifted the attention to Ireland by considering how the ‘electric revolution’ changed lives, in charting social transformation through the advertising of Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board from the 1920s-1960s.

Katrina Navickas, historian at the University of Hertfordshire, brought the focus back to England by exploring the impact electricity had on the landscapes around Greater Manchester, focusing on the 1954 public inquiry into the Super Grid power lines from Blackstone Edge to Belmont Moor.

Maurice O’Keeffe, co-founder of Irish Life & Lore, rounded the event off by returning to Ireland. Drawing on his wealth of oral history recordings, Maurice provided some fascinating insights into how people responded to electricity coming to rural Ireland in the 1950s. (You can read a blog post that Jane O’Keeffe wrote for us about such memories here).

The talks were followed by some lively reminisces from members of the audience, many of whom had been born in Ireland but had immigrated to Manchester. Stories were shared of using old electrical appliances, of working as electrical engineers, and more broadly of life in rural Ireland compared to life in urban Manchester.

The event concisely captured the main themes and drives of the Electric Generations project. Shifting back and forth between Ireland and England, it explores the diaspora experience, as well as considering how people – from rural farmers to city-dwellers – reacted to this frightening but freeing power being brought into their lands, their homes, and their lives.

Electric Generations: The Story of Electricity in the Irish Home is on display at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester until June 2018.  A variation of the exhibition is also on display on the de Havilland campus of the University of Hertfordshire until the end of April 2018. Learn more about Electric Generations team here.

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