On the right wavelength

An Irishman’s Diary: A strange sight in Kippure

Kippure: “It’s there by day and by dark, beaming out rays that make the world work better. Take a leap of faith and see its invisible sendings. It is not so much a transmitter as the transmitter.”

Kippure: “It’s there by day and by dark, beaming out rays that make the world work better. Take a leap of faith and see its invisible sendings. It is not so much a transmitter as the transmitter.”

Tue, Jul 30, 2013, 01:00

The air is full of beams. They bend and pierce and refract. Light, magnetic and radio waves unite into vectors that hurl down on us. Ceaselessly. Bounced up off reflectors in space or neat arrows hugging the curve of the Earth, they target your eardrum. Such beams require blind belief. For they are invisible. As we peer through the living luminiferous ether, we never see light beams, only what they illuminate.

A convenient study of physics never fed me anything more thought-provoking than the theory that light was something sent out by the eye (chapter one of a textbook whose thickness was hard even for me to rival). Other theories have ended up with more purchase in the mature scientific mind. But the flaw in certainty is that magic takes a dive.

Too many people speak of the moon, the stars, the sea. They plot their lives by reference to geophysical entities. Their landmarks are rivers, bridges, fields, disused barns, half-finished housing estates. Or bars, churches, crossroads, forks in the road, burnt-out cars, sets of traffic lights. I look to the transmitter as a sentinel and city guardian.

Stare up now towards Kippure and you will see it – a structure of function rising up from acres of forest. A metal wand and a magnet, it makes of me an iron filing and draws me up.

It’s there by day and by dark, beaming out rays that make the world work better. Take a leap of faith and see its invisible sendings.

It is not so much a transmitter as the transmitter.

I visit it frequently making a pilgrimage to machine and nature. Beyond the closed-off barrier at its foot is a surfaced approach track.

It ascends with every step: a lesson in gradient. On each side are miles of unbroken bog, its cotton shaking in fear of T-shirt factories as the invisible waves sweep down around it. A dark trench of undrinkable primal stout seeps to the left and accompanies you most of the upwardly linear way. The mast is getting closer: a modest Eiffel thing, a reluctant destination.

If you are accompanied, assume a single file: become particles in the wave motion and press on. You will get to the top. The road finally spirals and tests the last of your breath. But then you are there.

The Kippure peak transmitter is a triumph of industry and isolation.

There is nothing for miles around. Cement bunker buildings must be deadweights to anchor down the stabbing mast. Cables lashed to reinforced concrete with monster staples hold its height in place, making of it a great Meccano kite as it belts out signals to your screen, your phone, your ear.

The terrain up here is black, burnished, a place of scorched-Earth politics from which the restrained metal giant stretches up to the sky.

The air is a buffeting Babel, dense with messages that the wind howls down to the city.

If this is not a source, what is?

The last time I was up there, the magnificent desolation was being repaired. Two men in forensic white boiler suits suddenly appeared, covered in oil as though they had crawled out of the ground.

A guy in a hard-hat leant back at right angles to counterbalance the slack of one of the cables while another operated a strange rotary winch. I wanted to think they were tightening the cables.

A man with the word “Darren” inscribed on his headgear turned out to be the guardian of the mast. A friendly hero of transmitter upkeep, he told me they were actually greasing the cables – when winter ice settles on them and later thaws and slides down, it strips them of rust protection.

He and his colleague wound the freshly greased cable up through the core of the mast to the top and then back down at an angle to be secured to the huge weights.

He built it in 1994, he told me, having dismantled the previous one: “There is old footage of a Scandinavian team of experts in the 1960s coming up here on a dirt track with mules . . .”

Later, as I walked down the mountain, the boiler-suited men, the cable colleague and the man with the word Darren on his headgear waved as they drove past in a continuous vector. And as I eventually made my way back into the receptive city, the manmade mast kept beaming out the invisible rays.