The successful installation of the undersea cable connecting Europe to America 150 years ago is being celebrated on County Kerry's Valentia Island with a five-day festival.
The Transatlantic Telegraphic Festival celebrating Kerry’s connection with Heart’s Content, a tiny fishing village in Newfoundland, Canada kicked off on July 13, with fireworks over Foilhommerum Bay, from where the SS Great Eastern, at the time the world’s largest ship, left on July 13, 1866 for her groundbreaking cable-laying enterprise across 1,686 nautical miles.
Descendants and relatives of the original cable station team are gathering for the festival, a number of academic talks will take place, and an exhibition of rare prints and paintings of the historic events will be on display, the Irish Examiner reports.
Before 1866, it took two weeks to send a message across the Atlantic. After the cable was installed, Europe and North America could share nearly instantaneous communication.
The cable was brought ashore in Newfoundland on July 27,1866, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Valentia cable was made obsolete by satellites.
Festival-goers will hear that Valentia is applying for UNESCO world heritage status, based on its role in helping to usher in the age of modern communications technology.
The operation and maintenance of the three local area cable stations required skilled personnel.
Experts in telegraphy, engineering and science all found their way to south Kerry, and a training college was established in Cahersiveen. Valentia became an important communications center.
It didn't last, unfortunately. Advances in communication technology gradually rendered Valentia redundant. That decline combined with the lack of any further industrial development and the closure of the railway has led to a massive population decline on both Valentia Island and in south Kerry.
Tons of cable remain beneath the waters along the Kerry coast, however.
The disused cable is not only from the successful operation that included the three stations at Valentia, Waterville and Ballinskelligs. In the late 1850s there had been numerous attempts to lay a transatlantic cable. Thousand of miles of snapped and blown copper and brass coated cable were left on the seabed, where it remains to this day.
Joe C Keating, a local man, said that 20 years ago there was an attempt by a Norwegian rig to remove the cables, but it was too expensive and the business was not viable because of the cost of recovery.
“The cable is still there, tons and tons of it,” said Keating, who was involved in the operation.
The full program of the festival is available at telegraphcablefestival.ie.