Crookhaven Radio GCK
Crookhaven's radio links were short lived but, important in the historical development of radio, with Marconi using the location both as a staging post for his transatlantic experiements and establishing a communications station.
In 1899 Professor John Ambrose Fleming became a consultant to the Marconi Company. In this capacity he worked with Guglielmo Marconi in the developments which resulted in the first one-way reception of radio signals across the Atlantic. While Fleming was working to improve the condensers, Marconi started to experiment at Poldhu on the tuning of the system with the rudimentary antenna. In mid-June, he succeeded in getting a clear transmission between Poldhu and station at St. Catherine's on the isle of Wight, 160 miles apart.
The village of Crookhaven has a history as the first and last port of call for ships going between Northern European ports and America, with ships stocking up with provisions and fuel here before tackling the Atlantic Ocean. On arrival from America, ships had to contact their owners to discover which port was their cargo’s destination.
All the shipping lines had agents in Crookhaven to tell the ships in which port their cargo had been sold. Reuters’ and Lloyds’ agents had flag-signalling and semaphore equipment up on Brow Head to communicate with the ships as they passed by.
It was in this context that Sgr. Guglielmo Marconi came to the Mizen peninsula to try to get his first radio message across the Atlantic.
Encouraged by his earlier success between Poldhu and St Catherine's, Marconi went to Crookhaven, hoping to capture the signals from Poldhu, 250 miles away. According to a letter from Kemp to Marconi on June 29 1901, the reception seemed modestly successful. Kemp wrote, "I am pleased to know you are getting our signals O.K. and hope you will get them stronger when we get the aerial out to its proper place."
On July 1 1901, Fleming went to Poldhu for 10 final days of experimenting with Marconi. Two 200-foot masts had been erected, and 25 200-foot-long wires between them formed a temporary antenna. On July 4, 1901, they tried the long-distance transmission between Poldhu and Crookhaven. However, they apparently did not detect signals. Marconi replaced Fleming's main oscillation transformer with his jigger and, on July 10th 1901, they obtained some good results.
Neither Marconi nor Fleming had considered the mechanical safety of their aerial system and, in a severe storm on September 17th 1901, the 20 masts and 200 wires at Poldhu collapsed. (Soon after, all the antennas at Cape Cod suffered the same fate.)
Marconi decided to quickly build two new masts at Poldhu to form a fan-shaped antenna with only 54 wires. His plan for reciprocal communication between Poldhu and Cape Cod was altered to become one way, with transmission at Poldhu and reception at any place in North America.
In October and November, signals sent from Poldhu were clearly received at Crookhaven, which meant that the system was again working well. In these experiments, Marconi employed as a receiver a new mercury coherer (later called the Italian Navy Coherer), which contained a drop of mercury between two plugs, in conjunction with a telephone (earphone).
With the rapidly fabricated antenna, the transmission between Poldhu and Crookhaven was successful, encouraging Marconi to perform a transatlantic experiment.
The destruction of the aerial system in the USA allowed Marconi to change his chosen reception location to St John's, Newfoundland, the North American location closest to Poldhu, where simple signals were received on December 12th and 13th 1901.
The village has three pubs. O'Sullivans faces the harbour and its walls are adorned with historical pictures of the village and notes about the area—a veritable museum with a scenic view and atmosphere.
Nottages, or The Welcome Inn to give it its formal title, is only open during the summer and is the home of a regular crowd (you have to go there to know what "regular" means). The pub was once owned by a Mr Nottage. Mr Nottage was an English gentleman who came to the village to work at the Marconi signal station. The pub still retains its aged character. The last pub is The Crookhaven Inn. The pub building today was once the bottle store for the much grander pub and hotel located across the road. When the original building was converted to flats, the bottle store was converted to this quaint and charming pub.
The village of Crookhaven has a distinguished history as the first and last port of call for ships going between Northern European ports and America. Over the centuries ships stocked up with provisions and bunkered fuel here before tackling the Atlantic Ocean. As the boats anchored in or out of the harbour, depending on their size, a flurry of small boats or lighters would swarm out striving to be the first there to get the business. On their arrival from America, ships had to contact their owners to discover which port was their cargo’s destination. Pilots travelled from ports in the United Kingdom to vie for the job of piloting the ships from Crookhaven to ports such as Liverpool, Bristol and London.
All the shipping lines had agents here to tell the ships in which port their cargo had been sold. Reuters’ and Lloyds’ agents had flag-signalling and semaphore equipment up on Brow Head to communicate with the ships as they passed by. At the end of the 19th. Century it was said that you could cross the harbour on the decks of boats. Up to 700 people lived and worked in the village against the 29 permanent residents today.
It was in this context that Sgr. Guglielmo Marconi came to the Mizen peninsula to try to get his first radio message across the Atlantic. He had arrived in England in 1896 and filed the world’s first patent application for a system of telegraphy using Hertzian waves. The British patent was granted on June 2nd. In 1897 he established contact across the Bristol Channel and the Solent (from the Isle of Wight to Bournemouth) He formed The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company.
In 1899 he acquired premises in Chelmsford, Essex and established communication across the English Channel. In 1900 the name of the company was changed to Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. And the Marconi International Marine Communication Co. Ltd. was formed. The ‘four sevens’ patent (no. 7777) for tuning was granted.
It was at this stage that, desperate to get a signal across the Atlantic Ocean, he was searching for a suitable site for his masts and he came to Crookhaven. He erected a high mast in the grounds of the presently named Marconi House, but he didn’t have any success with it. However, this did not end his connection with Crookhaven.
In 1902 a telegraphic station was established in the village using a coherer receiver. Marconi brought wireless operators from England with him.
In 1904 utilising the network of communications that existed here already, Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. entered into a contract with the Commissioners of Irish Lights to put telegraphic equipment and aerials on the Fastnet. The telegraphic station was moved up to Brow Head where the signalling equipment had been used for so long to contact passing ships.
Messages were sent to the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse by signalling methods and then relayed to the Brow Head station by wireless telegraphy for relaying on to the recipients in the U.K. or Northern European owners.
At first, very few ships had telegraphic equipment on board. 50 messages were considered a great feat, but the development in wireless telegraphy was gaining pace so quickly that the operators were never bored. The operators might be in touch with one ship at a time, but by 1904 they were in communication with at least 6 ships at a time.
There were six operators. At first they worked in the wireless telegraphy station in the village but later they had to make the lonely trudge out of the village and up the hill to Brow Head to the former Lloyds station. There were three watches – midnight to 8 am., 8am. to 4pm., and 4pm. to midnight with two operators on each watch.
In 1904 a ship broke a shaft eighty miles out from Crookhaven. She was fitted with Marconi equipment and soon hundreds of messages were streaming back and forth to her as the passengers contacted their families and friends. Assistance was sent immediately and she was back on course without mishap. Marconi’s invention had taken much of the fear out of the sea.
After Marconi had conquered the transatlantic message and more shipping lines equipped their fleets with Marconi equipment, it was not necessary to be close to the shipping. It was no longer necessary to man a station in a remote area like West Cork and the station closed.
The role of Crookhaven as a communications and provisioning hub was over and it reverted to a quiet fishing port. However, it has never lost its cosmopolitan appeal.
In 1998 Elletra Marconi, Guglielmo’s youngest daughter by his Italian second wife, Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scalli visited Crookhaven to see for herself the place where her father had worked at the beginning of the century.
In June 1901 Marconi had commenced experimental transmissions from Poldhu which were received well at Niton 186 miles away and, a little later, at the newly opened station at Crookhaven, a distance of 225 miles (source - "A history of the Marconi Company" by W J Baker)
Marconi House was the home of Gugliamo Marconi - the genius of wireless. Marconi came here first in 1901 to live in Marconi House. He worked on his experiments to send transatlantic messages from the house and then moved his apparatus to the higher ground of nearby Brow Head. Today, the house is converted into holiday accomodation.
In 1904, the Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Company installed wireless
telegraphy equipment and signal flag masts on the roof of
the lantern to contact passing ships. The Rock was used as a regular
Lloyd’s signal station, receiving flag signals from passing
ships and telegraphing the messages ashore to the Brow Head
From Guys Postal Directory 1914
Skibbereen (Population 152)
Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station
Officer in charge - F H Henchman
S W Corrin
R J Smith
H F Yardley
By June 1901 Marconi had established radio stations in England and at Rosslare and Crookhaven in Ireland. By September 1909, the British post office Marine Radio Communications Service had been established and radio stations were taken over from the Marconi Company and Lloyds. These stations provided a short range safety of life and radio telegraph service for the 286 British ships then equipped with radio equipment in addition to some foreign vessels.
The 1914, the station at Crookhaven was closed down and the service was transferred to its present location on Valentia Island. By 1920, only two marine radio stations remained operational in Ireland, those at Malinhead and Valentia, which have provided a continuous service to shipping to the present day. Both stations were administered by the British post Office up to the 1st June, 1950, when they were handed over to the Irish Dept. of Posts and Telegraphs. During 1956, the Dept. of Transport and Power took over the administration of the Aviation Radio stations at Ballygireen, Shannon and Dublin. On the 1st April, 1967, Malinhead and Valentia Radio Station joined forces with the Aviation Radio Service and became known as the Aviation and Marine Radio Service (AMCS), initially under the Dept. of Transport & Power and then under the Dept. of Communications, and now Dept. of the Marine.
William (Bill) H Boyle
Radio Operator at Crookhaven Radio
William H Boyle was born in Gilford, Co. Down. He was the son of the local school headmaster, and Crookhaven Radio was his first posting in his first job.
While at Crookhaven, Bill met his wife Henrietta McCormick who came from Goleen, the village next to Crookhaven.
Bill continued his working life in telecommunications and worked in India and travelled down through much of Africa before returning to the UK and back to Ireland.
The above photograph and information were provided by Terry Boyle, Bill's grandson and his Great Grandson Mark Boyle. To both of you, thank you so much for helping preserve the memories of those who served in the Coast Radio Station service.
Bill Boyle is survived by his one son Tim now living in Cushendall, Co. Antrim; Barbara Daly and Mary Boyle both living in Belfast and Geraldine Nagle who lives in Limerick.
The following article was printed in a
newsletter issued within the
Wireless Telegraphy Section
of the UK GPO in 1975
by W (Bill) H Boyle
"Where" asks the
rookie "Is Crookhaven, and what's to do about it
anyway?" - not realising that it was Crookhaven and its
sister station Malin Head that added to
the I.O.W.T. vocabulary the traumatic words "Isolated
station". Time was, when to decline to take one's turn (3
years) at one of these stations, was to forego any chance of over
joining the Coast Wireless Service.
Where is Crookhaven? It is about midway
between the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse and the Mizen Head fog Signal
Station in the southwest tip of Ireland and about ten miles from
each. Landwise it is 30 miles from the rail head of the
Cork/Skibbereen railway (now defunct), and 15 miles from the
terminal of the Skibbereen/Schull tramway (now also defunct). The
remaining 15 miles to Crookhaven had to be covered by a privately
hired jaunting car, for at this time (1914) motor cars
were not yet a normal form of public transport (there's a
thought). The distance to most of our homes was such that only
one trip per year was made out of Crook and the eleven months
were spent spent.
Life at Crook
Our house (known as the "Barracks") was at the wireless
station end of the village and was over a mile from the station.
The house was provided by the department as was also the kitchen
staff. For this we each paid 3/- per week. The staff took monthly
turns at caterer ordering meat and groceries by post, but odds
and ends could be purchased from the three small stores that
comprised the local "shopping centre". By present day
standards "the Barracks" was rather spartan, no hot or
cold, indeed no laid on water at all. Our water supply was what
flowed from the roof into concrete tanks (and of this there was
plenty). A charcoal filter was employed to make this acceptable
as drinking water but for those who held that this was an insult
to an honest thirst the local "shopping centre" could
save the fruit of the vine or John Barbecom (I hasten to add that
not once in my experience were these delectable commodities
indulged in immoderately).
The wireless station stood on a plateau high up on the cliffs. It
was approached by an unmade cart track which in the wet weather
was amply supplied with well filled pot-holes. Because of the
heavy rain and wind during the winter months we were all equipped
with fisherman's oilskin overcoats, souwesters, leggings and
start boots. As Crookhaven is in the fog prone zone (hence Mizen
Head Fog Station) fog could persist for as long as 40 hours
huring which time flashes and booms punctuated the passing day.
Life was not, however, all boom and gloom - far
from it. It was here that not only did "spring its earliest
visits paid, and Summers lingering blooms delayed" but
winter almost bye passed us altogether. The merest token gesture
of snow or frost was all that we could expect, hence the Winter
gathering of birds from colder parts.
We had a couple of shot guns and as rabbits
abound (!) in the burrows a mile away we could always count on
knocking off a couple at a visit to supplement out routine menu.
Curlew were always around for those with time and patience to
pursue those wiley birds. We also had the use of a boat with oars
and sail so that we became handy enough at handling a boat. It
was also fairly routine to go to the harbour mouth at dusk just
when the Fastnet began its revolving light, then we could haul in
course fish a plenty. Plaice, sole, lobsters, crabs and crayfish
we could obtain from the villages at little cost. Our relations
with the locals were excellent on Christian name terms, and we
were free to roam over hill and dale without let or hinderance.
Our rambles were usually taken in twos and threes which probably
explained the cameraderie which was an after effect of life at
So relatively few ships were fitted with wireless
that we knew by first name the operators who passed regularly -
Cunard and White Star and some of them even visited us. We knew
their dates of sailing and when approximately we would first be
in touch. As we were the most Westerly station it was our
privilege to wish them au revoir as they went West and our Caed
mille failte on their return.
The wireless station was housed in an old
Martello tower (a watch tower built to withstand Napoleon's
cannon). The ground floor was occupied by the batteries, our only source of energy.
The first floor was our operating room and also the landline room. The landline room was of the physical
dimensions and design of our present day telephone kiosks, but
with far less glass and more upholstery. The upholstery was not
for our comfort but so that the key clicks and sounder clicks
would not interfere with wireless reception! This kiosk stood in
a corner of the main room which measured 12' x 10' and about a
quarter of this was stoutly wired off for safety. It contained
the mushroom spark gap 5kW contained in a sound proof box
(which was anything but soundproof), a bank of oil filled
condensers, a sliding inductance and a jigger coupling. At
the operating bench stood a multiple tuner, a formidable
looking combine of teak and ebonite. Also a magnetic detector with its slowly travelling band and its whispered indication that
it was functioning. This was out stand-by and a very insensitive
one at that. The normal rectifier was a zinzite/bornite
combination later to be replaced by a carborundum/steel, and
still later by a 4 valve bright emitter. The emergency
transmitter was a 10 inch coil that spluttered and zig
zagged across the gap to produce a dying duck note. With this we
used to communicate to the Fastnet Lighthouse and they would
reply by similar means.
Above the operating room was the second floor used
as the O/C's room, the store room, and two bunk beds that were
available for use of the evening staff if darkness or mist, or
wind made it hazarhous to go home.
In my revisit as I drove down towards the
village there stood the barracks much as it had been more than
half a century ago with the windows where I sat plugging away at
French and German, and the years melted away. In front of the
little boundary wall where we used to take out our gramophone and
play to the still waters of the harbour and across to the steep
craggy amphitheatre beyond. The "Green Isle of Erin"
(alas no everyone's cup of tea, but that too will pass) and
"Where are the Boys of the Old Brigade", how lustily
and how mindlessly we used to chorus the singer. But today where
are THOSE boys of THAT brigade? Not one of those who passed
through Crook in my time is around. Well might I say "I feel
like one who treads alone some banquet hall desperted, whose
lights are fled garlands dead and all but he departed."
Now there remains only a few old grey beards - a
few withered leaves on a wintry bough - Frank Yelland, Syd
Corrin, Dickie Knight to lower the blins and draw the curtains on
a facit of wireless grown ups that was contemplated with grave
foreboding and remembered with warm nostalgia. My own nostalgia
is of a deeper order, for it was from hereabouts I took away the
most loving and beloved of wives the most devoted and selfless of
mothers to be my dearest companion through 45 happy years. R.I.P.