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Generations: Memories of the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme

By: Seamus O’Donoghue , Kieran McCarthy

Publication Date: September 2008


The ESB’s Lee hydroelectric scheme is one of Ireland’s great engineering triumphs. Celebrating its fiftieth year in 2008, the Lee scheme has made a lasting impression on the local geography, economy and population of the Cork region and beyond.

Generations begins by tracing the story of the river Lee. This is an area rich in ancient history, and a wealth of geographical detail and historical background is explored and explained. The geography of the valley is varied and ever-changing, and the river Lee’s progress through its many different townlands to disgorge at Cork Harbour and into the Irish Sea is carefully charted while telling the story of local saints such as St Finbarre, and of the origins of many of the townland names.

The ever-growing need to provide an improved level of electricity service for existing customers, as well as the new demands created by an ambitious programme for rural electrification set in motion the process for the building of the Lee stations and the damming of the valley, 40 kilometres in length and over 22 wide. This was a colossal task, and necessitated years of minute planning, geographical surveys and preservation orders on, for example, the Gearagh region, and land purchase, with the final contracts for the works in place towards the end of 1952. Detailed land acquisition records and newspaper documentation afford a fascinating glimpse into what must have been an enormous upheaval for two hundred families involved, many of whom relocated elsewhere as the valley was flooded and their homes were submerged.

The success of the enterprise depended on the effective deployment of manpower (650 personnel, many of them highly trained or skilled), both from home and abroad. This is narrated by way of interviews with the many men and women whose lives were shaped by the Carrigadrohid and Inniscarra dams. The sheer scale of the project required a sophisticated infrastructure of housing, lodging, catering and entertainment as workers were drafted in from not only the Cork region but from all over Europe.

The Lee hydroelectric scheme transformed the Lee valley by opening up new tourism opportunities for fishing, waterskiing, sailing and rowing, and by securing the future supply of clean and economical electricity and water throughout the Cork area and beyond. The impact of the Lee scheme is positive and lasting. This beautifully illustrated book is fascinating record of that achievement, and a testament to its continuing success.


KIERAN MCCARTHY is a Corkman born and bred and holds a Masters of Philosophy in Geography from University College Cork. He has lectured widely on the history of Cork and worked in numerous institutions, universities and schools. He contributes a local history column to the Cork Independent, and is author of over 400 articles and six books.

SEAMUS O’DONOGHUE was brought up around Coachford in the heart of the Lee valley. After qualifying as a National Teacher he spent most of his working life in his native parish and was principal of Clontead National School from 1965 to 1988. He is a keen local historian and founder member of Coachford Historical Society.



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Weight 1.5 kg
Dimensions 235 × 156 mm
Publication Date

September 2008


Paperback, 183pp