Glimmer man

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A glimmer man (also rendered as "glimmerman"; Irish: Fear fannléis) was a somewhat pejorative name unofficially, but almost universally, applied to inspectors who were employed by the Alliance and Dublin Consumers' Gas Company, the Cork Gas Consumers Company and other supply companies in the smaller towns and places in Ireland to detect the use of gas in restricted periods during the years of the Emergency from March 1942[1] and in some places as late as 1947.[2][3] The term derived from the copy of advertisements published in the media and on posters which enjoined the population not to waste gas ...not even a glimmer.

Ireland has negligible indigenous coal resources and production of gas was dependent on the importation of coal which was severely restricted as a result of the war in Europe.[4]

Notwithstanding attempts by the Emergency Scientific Research Bureau to manufacture gas from bog peat, imports of suitable coal and therefore gas production fell dramatically and initially its use for home heating was prohibited. In March 1942 the supply in Dublin was cut to 10 hours per day during the week and 11 on Sundays but this only reduced usage by about a quarter. In May the supply was further reduced to 5.5 hours per day and the gas supply companies changed their terms of supply to make the use of gas in "off hours" a breach of contract.[1]

The reductions in supply caused great privation as a large proportion of the population (particularly in the cities and towns) were dependent on gas for heat, cooking and lighting. As there were no readily available alternative sources of fuel, especially for cooking, people were reduced, if they could, to using the residual gas left in the pipes after the reticulated mains supply had been turned off at the gasworks.[3]

Eventually the supply was so restricted that by April 1944 the Minister for Supplies, Seán Lemass was threatening[5] to make a special Emergency Powers Order to officially ration the supply to dwellings and businesses to certain hours of the day and make it a criminal offence to use gas in the "off hours". However that threat was apparently never carried out.[6]

One of the effects of the restrictions was that the smaller supply companies closed or attempted to maintain supply using gas derived from peat and charcoal.[7][8]

The gas companies' officials were empowered under their supply contract with their customers to enter premises to carry out their inspections and if they detected anyone using gas outside the permitted hours could disconnect the premises from the mains supply.[9][10][11][12][13] However, some Dublin residents, such as students at Trinity College, were apparently immune from the inspectors' visits.[14] This immunity may also have been due to the small numbers of inspectors employed - perhaps only two or three for the whole of Dublin.[15]

The inspectors were reputed to be particularly intrusive when carrying out their duties as evidenced by the Phil Chevron lyric in "Faithful Departed" which suggests that in addition to the "boogie man", one can be "Rattled by the glimmer man" in the sense of being alarmed by their anticipated arrival.[16]

A Low Lingering Flame[edit]

In the 21st century doubt has been cast on whether in fact there were ever house to house inspections carried out by gas supply company officials.[17] But one oral history[18] graphically describes a glimmer man's inspections He came to our house I think about twice. He came at a very civil time of the day, when there nothing doing, you know? ... When he came into our house he put his hands over the thing and put powder on it then… with the powder, I don't know what time it would have to be since they were on, but he'd put the powder on, but we never got in any trouble over it. After a while everybody got to know them (laughs) "it's the glimmerman" and you'd be pouring water over it. Another writer describes the tribulations of a neighbouring widow to get reconnected and the lengths his mother went to avoid being detected using "the glimmer" but concedes that his house never received a visit.[19] On the other hand, Irish secondary school history students are expected to have a knowledge of the topic and be able to comment on its significance.[20]

Notwithstanding that the phenomenon of the glimmer man was transitory, perhaps much improved with the telling, and had in any event disappeared prior to the middle of the 20th century, it appears to have left an impact on the psyche of the Irish and not just those who lived through the Emergency period.[21] The glimmer man is frequently referred to (as referenced here) in formal histories, blogs and websites[22] newspaper and magazine articles, as well as oral histories and memoirs even if only in passing.

The impact is however most pronounced on those who did have direct experience such that the poet Paul Perry in The gas stove and the glimmerman describes[23] how the memory is as significant to an old woman as that of the politician Éamon de Valera:

She's gas;
her eyes hold the best
part of the century. She'll tell you about the Black 'n Tans,
Dev, the gas stove and the glimmerman.

The term is now applied metaphorically, particularly in Ireland, to any perceived intrusion into privacy (especially of a bureaucratic nature).[24][25][26]


  1. ^ a b Lemass, Seán (19 May 1942). "Adjournment Debate – Dublin Gas Restrictions". Parliamentary Debates. Dáil Éireann. 86. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2009.
  2. ^ Murray, Niall (15 June 2005). "Heroes, genetics and glimmer man as options open". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9 January 2009.[permanent dead link] The only problem he cited was a short question about a glimmer man, a gas inspector during the 'emergency' in Ireland, a job many students would not be familiar with.
  3. ^ a b Crooks, Monica (2006). Voices in the Wind. Oxford: Trafford Publishing. pp. 60–62. ISBN 1-4122-4173-1.
  4. ^ Trench, Paddy (December 1942). "International Notes: Ireland". Extract from letter from Dublin [signed by Paddy Trench], dated August 21, 1942. Fourth International. Retrieved 10 January 2009. The town gas supply depends on imported coal, and has been very drastically cut down.... There is a drastic fuel famine.
  5. ^ Lemass, Sean (19 April 1944). "Adjournment Debate – Coal for Dublin Gas Company". Parliamentary Debates. Dáil Éireann. 93. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  6. ^ Somerville-Large, Peter; Mark Fiennes (1999). Irish Voices: Fifty Years of Irish Life, 1916–1966. Chatto & Windus. p. 226. ISBN 0-7011-6866-8.
  7. ^ Ó Gráda, Cormac (1997). A Rocky Road: The Irish Economy Since the 1920s. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 9–11. ISBN 0-7190-4584-3.
  8. ^ Ó Drisceoil, Donal (1996). Censorship in Ireland, 1939–1945: Neutrality, Politics and Society. Cork: Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-074-4.
  9. ^ Dayman, Eddie. "The Second World War years". Parish History. Parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel – Mourne Road, Drimnagh. Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2014. ...Gas could be used only on certain hours of the day and hence the arrival of the Glimmer man. If he knocked at the door and found you using the gas outside of the permitted hours he could get the gas turned off so everybody would be on the look out for him.
  10. ^ Ni Ghiolla, Clara (2008). "Neutral Ireland". WW2 People's War. BBC. Retrieved 7 January 2008.
  11. ^ Curtin, Valerie (June 1998). "The Emergency" (PDF). The Archive – Journal of the Northside Folklore Project. Northside Community Enterprises Ltd., Cork. 1 (2): 11–12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 January 2005. Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  12. ^ Solomons, Michael (1993). "Pro Life? The Irish Question p. 4". Publications & Reports. IFPA. Retrieved 10 March 2016. While it was possible to use the minimal supply remaining in the pipes, the family ran the risk of being caught by the 'glimmer man' an inspector who had the right to call at random and disconnect the gas if he found evidence that they had been breaking the law.
  13. ^ O'Flaherty, Ken (2001). "Looking Back – Dr Ken O'Flaherty MB BCh BAO '52 recalls the Blizzard of '47". UCD Connections. 7 (Autumn/Winter): 39–41. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  14. ^ Sowby, David (2009). "Memories of two medical schools 1944–1951". 300 Years of Excellence. Trinity College, Dublin. Retrieved 27 October 2009. No glimmer-man ever dared to enter Trinity, and as the glimmer at the top floor of Number 2 was almost as good as the real thing, I was never without a bit of gas.
  15. ^ Doyle, Roddy (2008). Rory & Ita. Randon House. p. 131. ISBN 978-1-4070-1789-1. ...there were only two or three glimmer men for the whole of Dublin
  16. ^ Moore, Christy. "Faithful Departed". Lyrics. Christy Moore. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
  17. ^ Cowley, Jerry (8 February 2006). "Joint Committee on Transport – Road Safety Presentation". Parliamentary Debates. Dáil Éireann. 71: 4. Retrieved 30 January 2009.
  18. ^ Redmond, Marc (2010). "Olive and Noel's Story". North Strand Bombing 1941. Dublin City Archives. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  19. ^ Farrelley, Ronnie (17 September 2004). "Here comes the Glimmer Man". Ireland's Own. Independent News and Media. p. 34.
  20. ^ "Junior Certificate Examination 2005" (PDF). Chief Examiner's Report. State Examinations Commission. 2005. Retrieved 30 January 2009. responses to Question 1 (a) showed that many candidates were not familiar with the wartime rationing official known as the glimmer man. Page 16
  21. ^ O'Halpin, Eunan (2000). Defending Ireland. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-19-924269-6.
  22. ^ "Lime Marmalade". Radge Blog. 24 September 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2009. I loved hearing about old money, the glimmer-man, about my da's childhood, or her own early life when she moved to Castle Avenue in Clontarf...
  23. ^ Perry, Paul (1 November 2003). "Of the gas stove and the glimmerman". The drowning of the saints. Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland: Salmon Poetry. p. 18. ISBN 1-903392-34-9. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  24. ^ O'Flynn, Senator (11 November 1999). "Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1999 Seanad : Second Stage". Parliamentary Debates. Dáil Éireann. 510. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 7 January 2009.
  25. ^ Lynch, Andrew (9 October 2008). "Dear, oh dear, Trevor reckons we're not clever enough". Evening Herald. Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  26. ^ Whalley, Ernie (11 June 2009). "La Belle France". The Evening Herald. Retrieved 27 June 2009. The tiny reservoir in the hills was insufficient for the town's needs, so every summer brought the local equivalent of the glimmer man round to make sure no one was watering their garden...