Researchers on trail of Marconi and aviators


A WINDBLOWN blanket of Connemara bog that was once a hub of global communications is to become the focus of a new multidisciplinary research project.

Derrygimlagh, near Clifden, was not only the location of Marconi’s first transatlantic wireless station, but also the landing place for intrepid British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown.

However, no one knows precisely where the British airmen crash-landed after their first Atlantic crossing by plane. And there is no trace of the Marconi station, close by, as it was burned down by Irish forces during the War of Independence in 1921.

Disappointment expressed by large numbers of tourists who have visited the area, three miles southwest of Clifden, motivated a team with archaeological, engineering, geophysical and historical research skills to find out more.

“The memorial to Alcock and Brown, erected on Errislannan hill in 1959, is clearly not the landing site – but even co-ordinates for the location published in newspapers at the time weren’t correct,” engineer and industrial archaeology researcher Shane Joyce explains.

The monument, in the shape of an aircraft tailfin, offers spectacular views of the bog, but tourists are often crestfallen at the dearth of interpretation and presentation, he says.

“From 1907 until 1922, Ireland was a major player in the development of transatlantic wireless communications,” he says, and the coincidental association of the Clifden Marconi station with the Alcock and Brown landing makes the sensitive habitat at Derrygimlagh “unique”.

Nobel prize-winning Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built his first transatlantic wireless station at Derrygimlagh in 1906 and opened it the following year.

“There was nothing between this and Glace Bay Station on Cape Breton Island except the sea, and unlimited turf was at hand to fuel the steam-driven power plant,” historian Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill, author of The Story of Connemaraand a participant in the research project, has written. Among several hundred staff at the station, which transmitted world news at the time, were engineers CS Franklin, HJ Round, George Kemp, and Jack Phillips, who became chief radio officer on the Titanicand was lost in the ship’s sinking in 1912.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is supporting the project, undertaken on behalf of the Clifden and Connemara Heritage Society. It has secured rural development (Leader) funding and will involve both modern technology and traditional archaeological and historical research.

Working with Mr Joyce and Ms Villiers-Tuthill are Connemara archaeologist Michael Gibbons, who has discovered many sites in the area, scholars Breandan O’Scanaill and Robert Jocelyn, Paddy Clarke, and geophysicist Kevin Barton.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford, where the Marconi archive is now housed, is providing assistance, as is the British navy, and a specialist researcher Cathy Soughton has also been engaged.

Mr Joyce says the project team is keen to make contact with anyone who may have information regarding the site specifically, or the “Irish dimension to the Marconi story”.