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Energy Store can save Callan’s bacon

by John Fitzgerald

PARDON the pun, but what was once a pig factory could now save a town’s bacon.

Recycling is truly in vogue in Callan after Green Minister Malcolm Noonan used pedal power to generate alternative energy.  

He launched the Callan Energy Store that aims to promote awareness of alternative means of lighting up our lives,via electricity or in the many ways we can live comfortably without damaging Mother Earth. 

The store is housed in a one-time bacon factory building opposite the town car park and in full view of the town’s picturesque Abbey Meadow.  

The project is supported by the Creative Climate Action Fund.

The inside of the factory was unrecognizable to those who hadn’t seen it since it closed over 30 years ago.  

Gone are all traces of its previous incarnation as a killing and processing plant.  

Ironically, among the slogans that festoon the walls are ones urging us to eat less meat and go vegetarian.  

Other messages inscribed in block letter or calligraphy warned of the dangers we face if climate change isn’t tackled. 

A range of stalls highlighted alternative energy ideas and gadgets. One device could de-rust even the most dilapidated old tools. 

The restored metals looked as new as if they’d come off the shelves of a hardware shop. 

Experts were on hand to outline the benefits of solar power, retrofitting, wind power, and electric transport.

In coming weeks a series of lectures, slide shows, movies and chat forms will be hosted at the centre to delve further into how each of us can make a difference to the planet’s future.  

The gramophones in the former bacon factory


Participants will be encouraged to make suggestions and share ideas about reducing greenhouse gasses, conserving our flora and fauna, and reducing our carbon footprint.

An ambitious aim is to encourage the creation of Callan’s own electricity generation that would make it independent of national providers and hopefully offer cheaper power to the town and district. 

This idea has a special resonance in Callan because the town had an electricity supply board back in 1907, long before the ESB’s arrival.  

Minister Noonan, said he was deeply impressed with the project. He inspected all the displays, expressing support for the aspirations behind what he called a wonderful undertaking.

One gadget especially took his fancy. He stopped to observe a machine that consisted of a converted bike attached to a mad max- style control panel. 

It was being used to generate electricity to make smoothies. 

Noonan demonstrated how we can, if we need to, power machines and household appliances the way the mythical Flintstones did, with human kinetic energy, muscle movements and good old fashioned elbow grease.

The bike contraption, an eco-pundit explained, was also utilized to charge mobile ‘phones and other devices.

As he cycled, his pedal work was accompanied by an orchestral blast from the past. 

Again, no fossil fuels or oil were involved. A DJ attired in 1920s garb played old 78s on two antique gramophones that he cranked up by hand. 

The Minister praised the organizers, especially Asylum Productions, the theatre company that is the impetus behind the project.  

Marianne Kelly with Malcolm Noonan and baby Emma Kelly in pram


The company has a string of successes to its credit, including jaw-dropping dramatic extravaganzas such as the 2016 Bridge Street Will Be that saw the ghosts of Callan’s past return to the streets.

There was also a zany adaptation of Tom Kilroy’s The Big Chapel in 2019 that reset the story of the 19th century Callan Schism in a future dystopian society.

AP’s Donal Gallagher outlined his hopes for the project, stressing the importance of Ireland becoming less dependent on oil, gas and any other kind of fossil fuel. 

He spoke with the passion and charisma of an Old Testament prophet, except that his theme was a present day one relating to changes we need to make urgently to ensure the survival of our species.  

“Everyone must play a part,” he thundered, “and by the power of one you can make it happen”

Callan had an electricity supply board in the early 20th century when most parts of Ireland were still in the dark. 

I wrote about it in Callan through the Mists of Time (2004)

 Twenty years before the advent of the ESB, Callan already had its own supply of electricity. 

Local business people, acting with the blessing of the Town Commissioners, set up the town’s privately run electricity board in 1909. 

Seamus O’Brien, in his researches, unearthed the names of the board members for that first year: 

James O’Mahony, Pierce Fennelly, Michael Shelly, Pat Pollard, James Lyons, Clark Lynch, Patrick Grainger, William Keogh, Dr Shee, John Phelan, Martin Hayden, John J. Dunne, Patrick Molloy, James Lanigan, Thomas Kerwick, Bernard Delahunty, and Edward Callanan.

The scheme engineer was Englishman Albert Laytham. 

Smoothies the energy-saving way


Aiding him in the early days of the enterprise were two of the town’s first electricians John Connolly and Harry Beale.

People in other towns and villages looked on with envy and astonishment as Callan blazed a trail. 

Seamus O’Brien discovered that the Callan Electricity Board, as the company called itself, had been inspired by a similar scheme in Loughrea, County Galway. 

Though Callan was a smaller town, the fact that its main streets radiated from a central point made it ideal for the kind of operation envisaged.

A generating plant was rigged up in premises in Mill Lane acquired from the Lynch family. 

Emblazoned in large block lettering on the front of the wooden building containing the plant was ‘Callan Power House’. 

By the mid to late 20s, the Power House was operating at full blast. Seamus, returning from school in the convent could see the two large generators powered by Japanese engines that required anthracite coal to drive them. 

He recalled: “The dynamos emitted a galaxy of sparks as the friction of the mechanism transformed the power into stored electricity.”

In Seamus’s childhood, the engineer in charge of maintaining the generators was Michael Power and the electricians were Frank O’Regan, Joe Kennedy and Joseph Carroll.

  The downside of Callan’s famed electricity supply was that the larger shops only could afford to have it installed. 

Slogan on wall of Energy


Apart from these lucky recipients, the main streets were also illuminated many years before private houses began to avail of electricity.

Early street lights were not attached to poles but secured on iron wall brackets. 

The remnants of two of these can still be seen. One is on a wall in West Street, near the creamery, and the second on the Clonmel Road, opposite the priest’s house. 

Some of the wall brackets had originally carried oil lamps in the days before electricity. 

Barry Walsh of West Street had, at one time, been employed by the Town Commissioners to light the oil lamps. 

The vast majority of families in Callan had to wait a bit longer for the comfort of electric light in their homes. 

Seamus had fond memories of the oil lamp that hung on the kitchen wall in his parents’ home in Bridge Street. 

 It had a crudely made battered old tin shade around it, tacked to the ceiling. 

The shade was to prevent the smoke from blackening the ceiling and walls. 

A table lamp was lit in the sitting room-but only on special occasions. 

At bed time, enamelled candlesticks were lit in the kitchen and carried upstairs.

The old bacon factory building now an energy store

 In almost every house, Seamus recalled, a small lamp with a red shade was positioned underneath a picture of the Sacred Heart. 

The flame burned constantly. Luckily for householders, paraffin oil cost a penny a pint only, and that kept lamps flickering for a month. 

 This was considered a small price to pay to keep your soul out of Purgatory, or to shorten your sentence in that unhappy place of confinement in the afterlife.

 The privileged few who could afford electricity in the days of the Callan ESB had their use of current measured by meters. Their bulbs did not shine as brilliantly as later models. 

Despite being ahead of its time in having electricity, Callan did not embrace the concept of the electric bulb without some reservation. 

It took a long time to catch on in certain quarters. Even into the 1940s many Callan people thought electricity might be a gigantic hoax or a kind of urban myth. 

Seamus heard the reaction of a Callan woman who saw a light bulb for the first time. 

Weeks after she witnessed the switching on of the bulb in the house of an affluent neighbour, she was still assuring her friends: “Whatever anyone says, there must be paraffin oil involved somewhere in that thing”

Callan Power House no longer exists. The arrival of the semi-State Electricity Supply Board made the Callan company redundant. 

The old Power House building later became a section of the bacon factory. 

Minister Noonan with Donal Gallagher of Asylum Productions.

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