Peter Lacey was one of the 4,000 ‘Tunnel Tigers’ who drilled, blasted and cleared the rocks from the inside of mighty Ben Cruachan over a period of six years from 1959 to 1965 to make way for the UK’s first pumped storage hydro power station.
A mural dedicated to these men has pride of place on the walls of the machine hall, and it is here where one of Peter’s sons saw a photo of him by chance when watching the comedian Frankie Boyle’s Tour of Scotland on BBC television, which featured the power station. They knew instantly it was their father in the photo, as he was missing an index finger due to an injury caused during a farming accident when he was younger.
After seeing the programme, the brothers Frank, John, Martin and Peter did some research about the men who built Cruachan and got in touch with the visitor centre to arrange a tour. As the four men now live in different locations across Britain, the four of them have only been in the same room together a handful of times over the last 30 years to attend family funerals.
The visit was delayed due to covid restrictions but the brothers have finally now been able to see the place where their father had spent many years working.
Peter Lacey grew up near Dublin and moved to Scotland with his family in 1950, leaving his job working on his family’s farm to take advantage of the generous wages being offered to labourers in Scotland – which reflected the danger and difficulty of the work.
Conditions for the men who worked at Cruachan during those early years were really tough and tragically, 15 of them died. These men are commemorated by the mural on the wall of the machine hall as well as in a specially commissioned tartan Drax created, which includes 15 strands of a special dark blue thread.
Martin Lacey, the second youngest of the four brothers, said:
“My father, like many of the other men working at Loch Awe, gave up so much to better his family. We weren’t a rich family, but we never wanted for anything. We were so proud of him and always looked forward to him coming home on the weekends when he could.”
The work was physically exhausting and the environment dark and dangerous. Peter suffered several accidents during his time there, including broken ribs. During retirement he lost his eyesight too, which was put down to the hours he had spent working in the darkness of the tunnel all those years earlier.
The brothers took a tour of Cruachan power station during their visit. They were in awe of the size and scale of the power station which their father helped to build:
“We were able to go inside the machine hall which is the size of three football fields and the height of St Paul’s Cathedral. The generators are huge. When we stood beside the photo of our father and saw the inner workings of the hall I was so impressed.”
They also viewed the mural in the machine hall privately – a very emotional experience for them as they remembered their father, who they described as a thoughtful and caring man.
“To us he was a giant of a man at 6ft 3. He was never ill and never felt the cold, he never wore a jacket or jumper no matter the weather,” Martin recalled.
“He never asked for much. He was a family man and very content with what he had. He was extremely hard-working and could never sit still for long. Even when he wasn’t working, he always had to be doing something, gardening or fixing things.”
“Our father and mother taught us to love and support each other, work hard and be decent people. Even though it’s been years since we’ve been together as a family, the lessons they taught us stay with us to this day.”
The brothers now live in different parts of the country. Frank travelled the furthest for the family reunion at Cruachan – coming from Skelmersdale in Lancashire, which is over 280 miles away.
“The staff at Cruachan made the visit really special for us. I’d like to thank them again, we had a great time and it’s a trip that we will always remember. I hope to visit again in the future with my wife.”
Ishbel McFarlane, Cruachan Visitor Centre Team Leader accompanied the brothers on the tour.
“When the brothers got in touch, we were more than happy to accommodate them. They were a delight to show round the power station and it was so interesting hearing their stories and memories about their father. I hope they enjoyed their time at Cruachan and will visit again in the future.”
After the visit, the brothers each received a scarf made from the special tartan Drax commissioned to commemorate the men who built Cruachan.
Photo caption: L-R: Martin, Frank, Peter and John Lacey, in front of the photo of their father Peter Lacey (pictured left) on the wall of the Cruachan Machine Hall.
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Peter Lacey died aged 79 in Skelmersdale, Lancashire surrounded by his family on 25th June 1998.
Frank, John, Martin and Peter also have three younger sisters, Margaret, Anna and Geraldine. Margaret passed away in 2013. Anna and Geraldine were unable to make the trip to Cruachan due to work and childcare commitments.
The power station welcomes around 50,000 visitors every year.
Drax is moving forward with ambitious plans to build a new underground pumped storage hydro plant at its Cruachan facility. The new 600MW station would be built within a new, hollowed-out cavern that would be large enough to fit Big Ben on its side.
The new power station will provide a huge boost to communities around Loch Awe and across Argyll during construction, with the creation of jobs in these rural areas.
Drax Group’s purpose is to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future and in 2019 announced a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology.
Drax’s around 3,000 employees operate across three principal areas of activity – electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers and compressed wood pellet production and supply to third parties. For more information visit www.drax.com
Drax owns and operates a portfolio of renewable electricity generation assets in England and Scotland. The assets include the UK’s largest power station, based at Selby, North Yorkshire, which supplies five percent of the country’s electricity needs.
Having converted Drax Power Station to use sustainable biomass instead of coal it has become the UK’s biggest renewable power generator and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe. It is also where Drax is piloting the groundbreaking negative emissions technology BECCS within its CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage) Incubation Area.
Its pumped storage, hydro and energy from waste assets in Scotland include Cruachan Power Station – a flexible pumped storage facility within the hollowed-out mountain Ben Cruachan.
The Group also aims to build on its BECCS innovation at Drax Power Station with a target to deliver 4Mt of negative CO2 emissions each year from new-build BECCS outside of the UK by 2030 and is currently developing models for North American and European markets.
Pellet production and supply:
The Group has 17 operational pellet plants and developments with nameplate capacity of 4.6Mt, which will increase to c.5Mt once developments are complete.
Drax is targeting 8Mt of production capacity by 2030, which will require the development of over 3Mt of new biomass pellet production capacity. The pellets are produced using materials sourced from sustainably managed working forests and are supplied to third party customers in Europe and Asia for the generation of renewable power.
Drax’s pellet mills supply around 30% of the biomass used at its own power station in North Yorkshire, England to generate flexible, renewable power for the UK’s homes and businesses.
Drax is the largest supplier of renewable electricity to UK businesses, supplying 100% renewable electricity as standard to more than 370,000 sites through Drax and Opus Energy.
It offers a range of energy-related services including energy optimisation, as well as electric vehicle strategy and management.
To find out more go to the website www.energy.drax.com