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Impact on the kitchen

The arrival of electricity into the rural Irish kitchen meant a reduction of hard manual labour for the woman of the house. Kitchen designs were slow to change from traditional models, with freestanding appliances introduced to traditional layouts. The fitted kitchen only became popular in new bungalows built in the 1970s.

Female domestic servants emigrated in large numbers during the 1950s at the same time that domestic appliances were becoming widely available in Ireland. Domestic work became the sole preserve of the housewife, who both managed the home and did the housework, only sometimes helped by female relatives or paid staff.

Listen to Brigid O’Brien talk about the difference that electric appliances made to washing and ironing on a Kilkenny farm:
Brigid O’Brien interviewed by Eleanor Calnan in County Cork, March 2018


Electric irons and cookers with thermostats meant that ironing and cooking temperatures could be controlled. Refrigerators allowed the storage of fresh food, as well as delicacies such as ice cream. Washing machines and dryers were particularly welcomed by women with large families, allowing cloth nappies to be washed and dried indoors in bad weather.

Many people initially installed a light in each room and one socket near the kitchen door, which was used for the iron, radio or kettle, as needed. Many households had a shock when their kitchens were lit up with electric light. Suddenly, cobwebs invisible in gas- or candle-light could be seen, which prompted a wave of repainting and redecorating across the country. Electric light was welcomed for its ability to illuminate homework and crafts, as well as upgrading Sacred Heart lamps to perpetual electric light.

Listen to Josephine Helly talk about turning on the new lights:
Josephine Helly interviewed by Eleanor Calnan in An Grianán, County Louth, April 2019


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