At the heart of every epic story there is a champion, a character who sets out to achieve an impossible task. They persevere despite the side line comments ‘you’ll never make it; this is pure madness; you will surely fail’. And then when they have met the inevitable setbacks, disappointments and failures they return to the front line and square up to the task over and over again; having learned something new from each failed attempt, they know they are inching closer their dream.
160 years ago, Cyrus Field, a wealthy New York Business man was the champion in the epic story of the first Transatlantic Cable. When he ran his finger from Newfoundland to the South Coast of Ireland on a globe in his comfortable study, tracing out a possible route for a 2,000 mile submarine telegraph cable, it must have felt at first like a rush of blood to the head. But Cyrus Field in that true American spirit did not greet the suggestion with “that cannot be done”; instead he said “why not?” The idea must have blown loud like a starter’s gun and catapulted him off on a marathon without knowing how far he would travel, how long it would take or how much it would cost.
After 10 years of multiple attempts and several very public failures they finally succeeded in 1866 to connect a telegraph cable from Foilhamerrum Bay on Valentia Island to Hearts Content in Newfoundland. It is ironic that this first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was laid on the ocean floor passing close beside the Early Christian Monastic site on Skellig Rock. On more than one occasion the pioneering spirit of human-kind endeavouring to stretch beyond the confines of its own limitations has launched itself from the Skellig Coast.
Up to 1866 it took almost 2 weeks to transport a message by ship from Europe to America and only 103 years later in 1969 Man first landed on the Moon. The Trans-Atlantic Cable allowed for the easy transfer of information, the instant exchange of ideas and the flow of international conversation. This certainly contributed to the exponential rate at which technology developed since that first heroic connection was made in 1866.
By 1902 the globe was at last fully encircled by telegraph cable. In the late 19th Century the Skellig Coast was an International hub of cutting edge telecommunication. As the number of trans-Atlantic cables grew, additional cable stations opened in Waterville and Ballinskelligs. As time wore on improvements in telecommunications technology were made and telegraph cable technology was passed out by the more modern telephone. For 100 years Telegraph Station Operatives at Valentia Cable Station accepted and transmitted telegraphs ranging from diplomatic international exchanges to sad and clinically short messages letting family in far-away lands know of a parent’s death. Valentia Cable Station closed its doors for the last time in 1966 having proudly made its own significant contribution to the incredible story of the First Trans-Atlantic Cable.