Representing the Shannon Scheme: electrical technology, modernisation and national identity in the Irish Free State, 1924-32
Funded by AHRC
Dr N Gordon Bowe (external supervisor)
This thesis considers the representation of the Shannon Scheme hydro-electric power station from 1924 to 1932, during the first Cumann na nGaedheal Government of the Irish Free State. The station was constructed by the German company Siemens and was the first large-scale building project carried out in the new state, starting in 1925. The semi-state Electricity Supply Board was formed by the Government to run the power station in 1927 and it began generating power in 1929, forming the basis for rural electrification after the Second World War.
The thesis considers the formation of Irish nationhood during the early years of the Irish Free State, examining the tensions between the essentialist tone of Irish nation- building heritage and the wider epochal concerns of state-building in modern Europe. Early chapters argue that the idea of a technological Ireland was one possible alternative to the prevailing rural and antiquarian emphasis of the dominant national identity. It examines methodological approaches for the analysis of technological artefacts from the history of design and the history of technology, applying them to the power station buildings and visual representations as disparate as advertisements and paintings. It also analyses ideas about technology and the technical in the 1920s, both in Germany and America, and how these influenced attitudes towards electrical technology in Ireland, as well as differentiating between the condition of modernity in Ireland in a period where Modernist modes of representation had not yet been accepted. It argues that the form and style of the Shannon Scheme buildings are directly related to German industrial building and considers the role which technical drawings played in the negotiation of shape and form.
Later chapters consider the visual representation of the Shannon Scheme across a range of media from 1924 to 1932, which include industrial photography, amateur photography, corporate advertisements, independent and commissioned paintings and prints, a commemorative stamp and ephemera such as picture postcards and cigarette cards. The thesis analyses how, rather than equating technology with industrial Britain, these examples present electrical technology as a symbol of Irish national identity, contrary to established codes of representation of the nation. The German origin of the station is only emphasised in images of German origin, as the Irish examples elide the German involvement in the construction of the station in favour of representing it as a purely Irish undertaking. Through the readings of representations of electrical technology, it addresses issues of labour and machinery, the role of the tourist, and the self-conscious creation of histories and national mythologies during the first government of the Irish Free State.