Power Brings New Lease of Life for Coney Island

By Paul Deering

Sligo Champion, December 8th, 1999

Calls for further development of services on Coney Island including better facilities for the docking of boats have been made following the electrification of the island this week.

John McGowan, who has lived all his life on the 400 acre, Atlantic facing island with his wife Margaret and three children, said the introduction of electricity marked the dawn of a new era and he was looking forward to a new lease of life on Coney.

Up to now this could be described as a fast dying island, but today I am very optimistic that this is all going to change and that electricity will bring back people permanently here, said Mr McGowan after the official switch on of power on Monday by Minister for State, Eamon O’Cuiv.

Mr McGowan, who can trace his family roots on the island back to the 1700’s, said he would also like to see a small industry on the island, which would entice people to set up home there.

At the moment there’s nothing for my children here, he said.

He hoped the electrification of the island would mean further developments on Coney and said he would dearly love to see a ferry service linking the mainland. The piers on the island and at nearby Rosses Point would need to be upgraded first, he maintained, and he made a plea that this be the next one on the list.

Access to the island needs to be improved because at the moment all we can dock are small boats. Another major problem facing the island is coastal erosion.

It is a great day for my family but also one for the island as a whole. I have been looking forward to this day for the past 25 years and the future is certainly bright, said Mr McGowan, who along with the other residents had to rely on gas for heat and light up to now.

He described life on the island without electricity as very tough, particularly, he said, as his family were the only permanent residents.Some of the crowd celebrating the arrival of electricity

We would have part time residents in the summer months and at weekends and only for these we would have been a lot worse off. They have been a big help to us. Only for them we might never have stayed on the island, he said.

Mr McGowan’s wife, Margaret, said she was looking forward to operating a washing machine, steam iron and a deep freezer.

Up to now I washed by hand and at times when I wasn’t able to cope I had to go into Sligo to a launderette, she said.

Son, Michael, who works in Dublin, said he comes home every second weekend to Coney Island and he believed life will never be the same again there.

Electrification is a major step forward for the island and I can see great opportunities arising now. Electricity has turned life on the island on its head, he said.

Minister of State, Eamon O’Cuiv, performed the official switch on of electricity to the island in front of a large gathering, which included members of families who once lived there. The 60,000 electrification project involved the laying of a special 10,000 volt cable, which was imported from Sweden, four feet under the sea and stretching the one mile distance from the Strandhill side to the island. Fourteen homes were connected and Coney is the first of eight islands to be supplied with electricity as part of a 1 million project involving an equal investment by the ESB and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltecht and the Islands. Managing Director of ESB Customer Services, Sean Wyse, said he was very pleased that Coney Island now had the opportunity to gain benefits from Ireland’s growing economy.

The infrastructure will provide you with an opportunity for tourism development and potential future growth on the island.

It is appropriate that you, the residents of Coney Island, should be connected at a time in our history when we are about to step into a new Millennium. I do not think many of us would have expected to see the rapid change that has taken place in this country in such a short few years, he said.

The ESB’s Rural Electrification Scheme began in 1947 and Mr Wyse said this had brought about major changes in the social and economic life of rural Ireland. He said the islanders had taken on the challenge of a new era but had managed to do so while retaining the wonderful spirit that is unique to such people.

The hardship your predecessors suffered without the facilities of modern Ireland will now hopefully be a thing of the past. You should not forget however, that you have many treasures that those of us in the grid-locked cities of Ireland envy. The ESB is now an integral part of the island communities. As we face into a new era of competition in the industry we will continue to serve you and bring you all the benefits of a changing world, he said.

Chairperson of Sligo County Council, Mary Barrett, said Sligo was rightly proud of its island heritage and the fame of Coney Island had spread far and wide.

It is said that a man from Rosses Point named the New York Coney Island after its Sligo namesake.

Coney Island is rich in story and legend and local histories have brought to the people of Sligo a tapestry of myth and folklore, the most famous probably being those surrounding Saint Patrick’s Wishing Chair, she said.