Guglielmo Marconi, pioneer of radio communication

Today is National Radio Day, a day to celebrate the invention of the radio, when communication around  the globe changed forever. You may be surprised to hear that Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), pioneer of radio communication and inventor of the first practical system of wireless telegraphy, has an Irish family connection.

Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna on April 25, 1874, the son of Giuseppe Marconi and his Irish wife Annie Jameson. Annie was one of “the Jamesons.”

Her grandfather, John Jameson, founded the whiskey distillers Jameson & Sons in Dublin in the 1780s. Annie’s father, John Jameson’s son Andrew, was a famous distiller in his own right. He founded a Jameson distillery in Ennicorthy, Co. Wexford, and settled with his wife Margaret Millar in Daphne Castle, on the outskirts of Wexford.

It is believed that Guglielmo, along with his mother and older brother Alfonso, often visited the castle during his boyhood summers. Unfortunately, little now remains of the distillery or Daphne Castle. You’ll find Andrew Jameson in Fairfield, Enniscorthy, County Wexford in 1853 on Findmypast.ie. There’s also an entry which lists Mr Jameson as a member of the “Nobility, Gentry & Clergy” of Enniscorthy.

The Irish family connections don’t end there though. On March March 16, 1905 Marconi married the Hon. Beatrice O’Brien (1882-1976), a daughter of Edward Donough O’Brien, 14th Baron Inchiquin and High Sheriff of Clare. Beatrice grew up in Dromoland, Co. Clare but moved to London with her mother in 1900 after the death of her father. It was here that she met Marconi who immediately broke off his engagement to an American woman to pursue her.

After initially declining his offer of marriage, due to his burgeoning celebrity status, she eventually agreed and they married in St. George’s Church in Hanover Square, London. They honeymooned in Dromoland. As large landowners there are many entries for the Barons of Inchiquin in Findmypast’s records, with over 800 in Griffith’s Valuation alone. Edward Donough O’Brien is also listed as a “Representative Peer Elected For Ireland Since The Union” in Thom’s Irish Almanac 1880.

Although the marriage was ill-fated, resulting in an annulment and both remarrying, Guglielmo’s Irish connection continued via his business interests. Ballycastle, Co. Antrim was the site of the world’s first commercial wireless telegraph transmission, performed by Marconi’s employees, on 6 July 1898. His company had established a wireless transmitting station at Marconi House, Rosslare Strand, Co. Wexford and begun a regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service between Clifden, Co. Galway and Glace Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 and died in 1937 aged 63 following a series of heart attacks. His ex-wife Beatrice visited him as he lay in state.

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