Electric Irish Homes: Rural Electrification, Domestic Products and Irish Women in the 1950s and 1960s

The Electric Irish Homes research project looks at the effects of rural electrification on rural Irish housewives and homes during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Electric Irish Homes research project looks at the effects of rural electrification on rural Irish housewives and homes during the 1950s and 1960s. It focuses on the importation, promotion, cultural context and significance of domestic electrical products and their meaning to a generation of rural housewives. Electric Irish Homes is a Kingston University research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and run in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland.

Although electric products for cooking or cleaning were seen as modernising and liberating technologies in other countries, this project uses archival research, object analysis and oral history to consider to what extent these meanings held for Irish women, particularly against the background of Irish establishment attitudes to the role of married women as domestic housewives. As the rural electrification project of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) was rolled out across the State, the majority of domestic electrical products such as irons, fridges or vacuum cleaners were imported from Britain, Europe and the United States, and the project looks at the specifics of product ranges available in Ireland, and consider the implications of ‘modern’ influences from outside the state, particularly before the Scandinavian Report on Irish Design (1962) kickstarted the native design industry in the late 1960s and 1970s. Outputs include a monograph, journal articles, and an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland Country Life, accompanied by a series of creative workshops.

An important part of the Electric Irish Homes project is the oral history interviews, run jointly with the project partners, the National Museum of Ireland. These are inter-generational oral history interviews carried out with women who were rural housewives during the rural electrification programme and remember their homes being electrified, as well as electrical demonstrators or women involved with promoting electricity in Irish in this period.

The aim is to record the memories of Irish women about rural electrification – how it affected their daily lives, what they thought of the products available and how they were sold, as well as what they were actually like to use. This contributes to our understanding of women’s lived experience in Ireland, and providing a record of twentieth century Ireland for future generations. The recordings will be used to inform the research project, particularly the book and exhibition, and at the end of the project they will be archived in the National Museum of Ireland, and copies lodged with the Electricity Supply Board archives and the Digital Repository of Ireland.

We are currently looking for groups or individual women who would be interested in being interviewed for the project. For groups of women (e.g. ICA guilds, local history societies), we will train one member (preferably from a younger generation) to carry out the oral history interviews, and provide them with the equipment and support needed.

If you are interested in being interviewed (or interviewing!), please contact Sorcha on 087-2922827, or, or write to her care of the National Museum. If you have any domestic products (e.g. irons, vacuum cleaners, etc.) from the period that you would be willing to loan or donate to the project, please do get in touch!

Twitter: @electricIEhomes