Wireless technologies, which we now consider as commonplace, have had an enormous influence on our lives since their introduction by Marconi in 1896. Ireland and the West of Ireland have played important roles in the development and advancement of these new technologies. This ranged from the research by Fitzgerald and others on the understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, to Marconi himself and developments of the telecommunications companies in Ireland. Ireland had several scientists who participated in no small way to the development of electrical/electronic engineering as we know it today. Some of the earlier contributors included Dr. Nicholas Callan from Maynooth who developed the transformer shortly after the principle was discovered by Faraday. In 1868, George Stoney proposed that light waves are produced by periodic orbital motions within atoms and he was responsible for the name electron. It was George Francis Fitzgerald, at Trinity College, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, who made some of the most significant contributions to the understanding of electromagnetic phenomena.
He was interested in the work of Clerk Maxwell who had made the initial proposal of electromagnetic propagation in air. Based on his own work, and the experiments of Heinrick Hertz in Germany, FitzGerald was able to offer the proof for the Maxwell theory. This was certainly a very important step along the road to the breakthrough of Marconi in 1895.
Another active researcher was Joseph Larmor, Professor of Physics at Queen's College Galway from 1880 to 1885. He contributed to field theory and electrodynamics and derived an expression to predict the radiation from an accelerating electron. His successor, Professor Anderson, at Galway, had a keen interest in the work of Marconi and had a Marconi set in the University by 1902.



Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna in 1874. His father was Italian and his mother was from Co. Wexford, a member of the Jameson Irish whiskey family. As a boy in his teens, he came in contact with Professor Righi of Bologna who was experimenting with electromagnetic waves.
He set up his own laboratory at home to experiment with the transmission of electromagnetic waves. Up to this point, all transmissions were indoors and over very short distances. Using an elevated antenna from the spark gap transmitter and an elevated receiving antenna, Marconi was able to receive transmissions over a mile and a half in the summer of 1895.
This was an incredible advance and it was to earn Marconi the title of inventor of wireless communication. Remember that he was still just 21 years of age at the time of this discovery. Marconi moved to England and was granted a patent for his invention.
With the help of his Jameson cousins, he was set up the Marconi company in 1897. For the next forty years, Marconi was to make numerous contributions to global communications. During the course of his career, he was to receive many awards including the Nobel Prize for Physics with Braun in 1909.


The early transatlantic signals (1901-1905) were between Poldhu, Cornwall and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. In 1905 Marconi put in hand the plans for the erection and equipping of the new high-power station at Clifden, with a view to establishing a regular commercial service across the Atlantic.

Thus, the work at the Clifden site was started in October 1905. A limited public service was inaugurated on October 17th 1907 and this service was made available to the general public on February 3rd 1908. This established the Clifden station as the vital link in transatlantic wireless communication in the early part of this century.

Really long wavelength radio waves were employed for these communications, that of Clifden being over 6,000 metres and that of Glace Bay over 7,000 metres, the separation being sufficient for simultaneous transmission in both directions, an innovation at that time.
Both transmitters were equipped with extensive multi-wire aerials covering an area of, approximately, one quarter of a square mile, and supported on twenty or twenty-five steel and wooden masts, each over two hundred feet high. The station receiving the signals from Glace Bay was situated up in the hills at Letterfrack, some twenty miles distant, and a single-wire receiving aerial was stretched across the valley.

The Clifden facility was not small. The building in which the condenser was housed measured 350 feet in length and 75 feet feet in breadth, and the height of the eaves was 33 feet. The condenser itself consisted of 1,800 galvanised steel sheets, each measuring 30 feet by 12 feet, suspended from the roof ties of the building by porcelain rod insulators.
The Clifden station continued to operate until the early 1920's when it was destroyed during the Civil War.


By the second decade of the 20th Century, Clifden was a key station in a wireless network that circumnavigated the earth. The other stations were - Glace Bay, New Jersey, Panama Canal Zone, Singapore, Bangalore, Aden (Yemen), Egypt and London. This chain that circled the globe was but the main artery with feeders and branch stations contributing to a more complete network.

It is interesting to view some of the financial projections from 1912. The cost of a submarine cable to cover a distance of 3,000 miles is anywhere from $7,000,000 to $10,000,000, while the total cost of a pair of wireless stations to do the same work is but $600,000. The cable must handle $0.5m worth of business in order to earn enough to keep it in repair while 2% of this amount would take care of the same item for the wireless. Two million words at 25 cents a word will earn only a sufficient sum to cover depreciation of the cable, while the same number of words at half rate by wireless will produce enough to pay depreciation charge and 35% on the investment besides. (by F. W. Sammis, The Marconigraph, 1912, p.255)

Unloading fuel for the station.
The West of Ireland tradition in telecommunications continues to this day. Perhaps the best example of this is the presence in Galway of Nortel Networks. The company also has campuses in Dublin and Shannon. Nortel Networks a company that employs over 70,000 people in 150 countries, is a world leader in the development of next generation telecommunications architecture, the next wave of Internet technologies and pioneer e-business applications. The Nortel Facility in Galway was established in 1973 and initially, it employed just 30 people. It has expanded rapidly since then and evolved from a low tech, low volume manufacturing plant to a campus style facility employing over 950 people. It is responsible for customer service for the entire European, Middle Eastern and African regions, as well as in the development and manufacturing of highly sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

The Galway plant is home to one of Nortel Networks Global Systems Houses and an internationally recognised Research and Development facility. Here leading edge products such as Symposium Call Centre, Meridian, DECT Wireless and INCA(Internet Communication Architecture) have been developed or are currently under development. The global systems houses is a multi-dimensional operations centre responsible for order engineering and testing of complex customer voice and data solutions.