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For the 1996 movie see The Glimmer Man

A glimmer man (sometimes rendered as "glimmerman") 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].

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 (especially 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. [5]

Eventually the supply was so restricted that by April 1944 the Minister for Supplies, Seán Lemass was threatening [6] 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. [7]

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. [8] [9]

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 issue fines or even disconnect the premises from the mains supply.[10] [11] [12][13][14] However, some Dublin residents, such as students at Trinity College, were apparently immune from the inspectors' visits.[15]

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.

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

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]. One writer graphically 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.[18] On the other hand secondary school history students are expected to have a knowledge of the topic and be able to comment on its significance. [19]

Notwithstanding that the phenomena 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.[20]The glimmer man is frequently referred to (as referenced here) in formal histories, blogs and websites [21] 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 Letters to a Stranger describes [22] 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). [23] [24][25]


  1. ^ a b Lemass, Seán (19 May, 1942). "Adjournment Debate — Dublin Gas Restrictions". Parliamentary Debates (Dáil Éireann) 86. Retrieved 17th January 2009.  
  2. ^ Murray, Niall (15th June 2005). "Heroes, genetics and glimmer man as options open". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 9th January 2009.   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. ^ Crooks, Monica (2006). Voices in the Wind. Oxford: Trafford Publishing. pp. 60–62. ISBN 1412241731.  
  4. ^ Trench, Paddy (December 1942). "International Notes: Ireland". Extract from letter from Dublin [signed by Paddy Trench], dated August 21, 1942. Fourth International. Retrieved 10th January 2009.   The town gas supply depends on imported coal, and has been very drastically cut down.... There is a drastic fuel famine.
  5. ^ Crooks, Monica (2006). Voices in the Wind. Oxford: Trafford Publishing. pp. 60–62. ISBN 1412241731.  
  6. ^ Lemass, Sean (19 April, 1944). "Adjournment Debate — Coal for Dublin Gas Company". Parliamentary Debates (Dáil Éireann) 93. Retrieved 29th January 2009.  
  7. ^ Somerville-Large, Peter; Mark Fiennes (1999). Irish Voices: Fifty Years of Irish Life, 1916-1966. Chatto & Windus. pp. 226. ISBN 0701168668.  
  8. ^ Ó Gráda, Cormac (1997). A Rocky Road: The Irish Economy Since the 1920s. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 9–11. ISBN 0719045843.  
  9. ^ Ó Drisceoil, Donal (1996). Censorship in Ireland, 1939-1945: Neutrality, Politics and Society. Cork: Cork University Press. ISBN 1859180744.  
  10. ^ Dayman, Eddie. "The Second World War years". Parish History (Parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel - Mourne Road, Drimnagh). Retrieved 7th January 2009.   ...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.
  11. ^ Ni Ghiolla, Clara (2008). "Neutral Ireland". WW2 People's War. BBC. Retrieved 7th January 2008.  
  12. ^ Curtin, Valerie (June 1998). "The Emergency". The Archive - Journal of the Northside Folklore Project (Northside Community Enterprises Ltd., Cork) 1 (2): 11–12.*/ Retrieved 9th January 2009.  
  13. ^ Solomons, Michael (1993). "Pro Life? The Irish Question p. 4". Publications & Reports. IFPA. Retrieved 10th January 2008.   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.
  14. ^ 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 2009-02-06.  
  15. ^ Sowby, David (2009). "Memories of two medical schools 1944-1951". 300 Years of Excellence (Trinity College, Dublin). Retrieved 2009-10-27.   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.
  16. ^ Moore, Christy. "Faithful Departed". Lyrics. Christy Moore. Retrieved 10th January 2009.  
  17. ^ Cowley, Jerry (8th February 2006). "Joint Committee on Transport - Road Safety Presentation". Parliamentary Debates (Dáil Éireann) 71: 4. Retrieved 30th January 2009.  
  18. ^ Farrelley, Ronnie (17th September 2004). "Here comes the Glimmer Man". Ireland's Own (Independent News and Media): pp. 34.  
  19. ^ "Junior Certificate Examination 2005" (PDF). Chief Examiner’s Report. State Examinations Commission. 2005. Retrieved 30th 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
  20. ^ [|O'Halpin, Eunan] (2000). Defending Ireland. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 218. ISBN 9780199242696.  
  21. ^ "Lime Marmalade". Radge Blog. September 24, 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-20.   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...
  22. ^ Perry, Paul (2003). "letters to a Stranger". Electric Acorn 6. Dublin Writers' Workshop. Retrieved 30th January 2009.  
  23. ^ O'Flynn, Senator (11th November 1999). "Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1999 Seanad : Second Stage". Parliamentary Debates (Dáil Éireann) 510. Retrieved 7th January 2009.  
  24. ^ Lynch, Andrew (9th October 2008). "Dear, oh dear, Trevor reckons we're not clever enough". Evening Herald. Retrieved 9th January 2009.  
  25. ^ Whalley, Ernie (11th June 2009). "La Belle France". The Evening Herald. Retrieved 2009-06-27.   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...


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