Net results: the tale of Ireland’s technology history

Launch of the Irish Tech Archives, a initiative from veteran Irish technology journalist John Sterne

As notices about the internet go, this one wasn’t too encouraging: “No guarantees of reliable service are available at present, it is quite likely that the line will go down at no notice.”

Some of you will be quipping that this must be rural Cavan last week, or your 3G mobile broadband just about anywhere.

But no: this historic email caution was issued 25 years ago, on June 19th, 1991, by Michael Nowlan and refers to Ireland's first direct link to the internet.

Nowlan, who led a systems support team in Trinity College's department of computer science, and Cormac Callanan had just set up IEunet, one of the first companies licensed to offer network services in Ireland.


Eventually it would become EUnet, and be bought by Esat, then absorbed into BT.

But back in 1991, the two entrepreneurs had arranged for a leased line from then-Telecom Éireann to be connected to TCD and – with a few modems on a 19.2kbs connection (yes, only wimpy little kilobits back then, not megabits, much less gigabits) – Ireland was online directly, rather than having to go through other proprietary services.

Fantastic initiative

All this was recalled with good humour last week at the launch of the Irish Tech Archives - - a fantastic and much-needed initiative from veteran (and venerable) Irish technology journalist

John Sterne


There's no one better suited to create such an archive. Over a long career, Sterne has interviewed a vast swathe of the names associated with Ireland's early (and eventually, burgeoning) technology sector. His text-format It's Monday newsletter delivered tech news and analysis to inboxes all over the country in the 90s and early 2000s. In 2004, he published the key historical work Adventures in Code: The Story of the Irish Software Industry.

And quietly, he’s been working on this new Tech Archives project to ensure that histories, personal memories and memorabilia are not lost to time.

Though limited at the moment (with intention and huge scope to expand), the archives are already a treasure trove of information and interactive timelines that start to piece together the complex mosaic of Ireland’s tech industry growth.

Lost context

This is so valuable. Already, context is being lost in Ireland, partly due to swift expansion of the tech landscape and, I think, partly due to the emphasis our government, State agencies and media place on what has happened here in the past decade.

You’d easily think little had been going on in Ireland until many computing and internet giants began to arrive at the start of the millennium.

But all this didn’t come out of thin air. The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in particular were a fertile period of progressive development, and some world-class Irish companies placed Ireland on the global technology map during that time. But the 1950s and 1960s were also a key period of growth.

The timelines on the site argue this case for themselves, as do the associated memories.

But Sterne needs more – much more – and hopes the community out there, individuals and companies, will provide it for what he terms his “memory-as- a-service” project.

He needs materials, personal memories, help, and of course, donations. He’s especially eager to get personal testimonies from people who were involved with the events highlighted on the timelines, but as he notes, the timelines themselves are a work in progress and much more can and will be added.

‘Archive leaders’

He’s also interested in finding “archive leaders” to help plan and co-ordinate the addition of further archive themes.

The entire archive is being preserved following best practice, in long-term storage formats that will help ensure it isn’t lost to the future.

All of this work takes money. This brilliant project deserves some corporate support from the huge sweep of national and multinational technology companies in this country now.

But individual contributions are important, too, and anyone with a love of technology and the internet will know the aggregation of lots of smaller individual donations can make big things happen.

Check out the archives and please do consider if you or someone you know might have material to add. Oh, and if you want to read more about that 1991 email and that first net link, it’s here:

This weekend at the Hay Festival in Kells, Co Meath, Karlin Lillington and Galway writer Maura McHugh will present a special strand of events on "the image" in storytelling: comics, graphic novels, gaming, animation, film and cartooning. They will have a range of international and Irish writers and artists including Rhianna Pratchett and PJ Lynch.

More information at, and tickets and full details are at