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Preservation of a Heritage, Ring of Kerry, County Kerry

by guest writer Margaret Brown
Old Cable House

Before the Internet, before television, radio, and telephone there was the telegraph.

The world’s heart-beat quickened when the first submarine telegraph cable across the Atlantic linked Ireland/Europe to USA/Newfoundland (Canada) in 1858.

The knight of Kerry fought to have the cable come to Valentia island. There was no reason why the cable could not have been brought ashore to the mainland but skilful advocacy implanted the idea that maximum efficiency would only be possible if the shortest distance was used, and so Valentia island was chosen.

The cable only lasted two weeks as it was spliced together in mid-Altantic, one part originating in Newfoundland and the other in Valentia island. But, from that point on, there was never any doubt that a trans-Atlantic cable was feasible.

Brunel's Great Eastern Cable Ship courtesy Margaret Brown Ten years later Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the Great Eastern cable ship, capable of carrying one cable long enough to span the entire distance. It left Valentia Island on 27th July, 1866 and arrived at Hearts Content, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, two weeks later, having successfully laid the cable.

Once the 1865/66 telegraph cables were in place the pace of life, of business, of diplomacy accelerated. London news was available in the New York morning papers, and simultaneous trading in the London and New York stock exchanges created opportunities which were as exciting at the time as e-commerce is today. The telegraph was described by some as the "Victorian internet" as it passed messages down an electrical wire, not too dissimilar to email, only much slower.

For many years the Kerry cable stations were not viewed as a significant part of Irish heritage, although they were an essential part of the pre-history of the information revolution. They were seen as British installations on Irish soil although many Irish natives worked at the stations. Before the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising, a leakage of information via telegraph alerted the United States to its start.

When the stations were closed, their contents were discarded or sold for scrap. The province of Newfoundland took a different view and, at closure, the then premier Joseph Smallwood accepted an offer from Western Union and purchased the stations at Trinity Bay and Bay Roberts together with all their equipment and documents for $25,000. The Heart’s Content station at Trinity Bay, with all its documents and equipment intact, is now a Cable Museum.

In July 2000 the cable stations received an International Milestone Heritage Site Award from the IEEE (Institute Electronic and Electrical Engineers Inc USA) for their significance in the history of global electrical science. At this time their importance was finally recognized in Kerry.

Ballinskelligs Cable Station courtesy Margaret Brown The built heritage of these magnificent cable stations on the Iveragh Peninsula in South Kerry is surrounded by Ireland’s magnificent land and seascapes. The stations (Valentia Cable Station 1866–1962, Waterville Cable Station 1884–1962, and Ballinskelligs Cable Station 1874-1922) are now recognised as World Heritage Communications Sites. It you are in the south Kerry region of Ireland, visiting these sites now recognised as the “birthplace of modern telecommunications” makes for an interesting tour.

Article and photos courtesy:
Margaret Brown
The Old Cable Historic House
Milestone Heritage Site
Old Cable Station
Waterville Village, Ring Of Kerry
Tel. 0 669474233
Fax. 0 669474869
Web: Old Cable House

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