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Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy on April 25th 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother - his mother was Annie Jameson whose family owned the Jameson Whiskey Distillery in County Wexford. His work on Rathlin Island and in Ballycastle covered a relatively short period from June 4th to September 2nd 1898, Marconi himself visited for four days during that time. The experimental work was carried out by his assistant George Kemp, who was in turn assisted by Edward Glanville, also employed was a John Cecil from Rathlin Island. They carried out experimental transmissions between Kenmara House on the cliff above the harbour and the east lighthouse on Rathlin Island via a 104 foot aerial at the ‘White Lodge’ house situated where the new ferry terminal is - and in doing so created the historical link between the town and the pioneering developments that were taking place in ‘wireless telegraphy’.
Heinrich Hertz who died in 1894, had discovered that electro-magnetic waves existed in the air and that these could be detected over short distances, Sir William Crookes also predicted that these same electro-magnetic waves could be used for communication. Marconi had studied physics and took inspiration from the work of Hertz, he carried out a series of practical experiments in wireless telegraphy in Italy and although Sir Oliver Lodge and Dr Alexander Muirhead claimed to have sent a ‘wireless’ signal between two Oxford buildings in 1894, it was Marconi who registered the first patent of this technology. Sir Oliver Lodge had developed a more efficient way of picking up these electo-magnetic signals than Hertz in the ‘Branley coherer’ and Marconi developed this ability a step further. In 1985, a Captain H. B. Jackson (Royal Navy) had also succeeded in transmitting a ‘wireless’ signal the length of ship which rang a bell, and later in 1886 from ship to ship within the confines of an harbour, repeating what Marconi had already done in 1894 - Jackson later met Marconi during experiments on Salisbury Plain.
At the time many scientist were working in the same field but it was Marconi who had realized the potential of the discovery, which led him to register Patent No. 12039, on June 2nd 1896 -‘ with specification for a ‘wireless’ system using Hertzian waves’. Some of his landmarks achievements are as follows:
1894 - Italy – first demonstrated the transmission of ‘wireless’ signals to sound a bell across a room. 1895 – Italy - successfully demonstrated signal transmission and reception over a 2km distance across fields. 1896 - England - came to London and registered his patent - demonstrated transmission and reception on Salisbury plain using an aerial developed by the Russian Prof. Alexander Popoff, Captain H. B. Jackson was present along with the chief engineer of the General Post Office and also representatives of the British Army. 1897 - England – He achieved a range of 7km transmission and reception on Salisbury Plain - achieved a new record distance of 14km when he send a message across the Bristol Channel from Flat Holm, Weston-super-Mare to Lavernock Point, Cardiff – set up an aerial in the grounds of the Royal Needles Hotel, Alum Bay, Isle of Wight and communicated with two hired ferries and later with another station set up in the Medeira House, Bournmouth – Italy - communicated from La Spezia, Italy with the armoured cruiser ‘San Martino’ a distance of 11 miles - England - with his cousin Jameson Davis he first registered his company as The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company. 1898 - Ireland - transmission and reception between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle under commission by Lloyds of London – sent the world’s first live ‘wireless’ report of a yacht race from a ship called ‘The Flying Huntress’ to a shore station at Kingstown (Dublin). This brought immense publicity and interest for Marconi work and its commercial and military potential. 1899 - England -The Goodwin Lightship which had been installed with a transmitter was rammed in heavy fog by the S.S. ‘R.F. Mathews’ , it was able to send the first ‘live saving’ signal from sea, for the assistance of two lifeboats. 1901 – Send a signal 198 miles between the Isle of Wight and Lizard Point, Cornwall - defying critics and the opinions of the scientific world he sent a signal around the curvature of the earth, from Poldhu, Cornwall to Signal Hill, St John’s, Newfoundland. 1918 – first signal from England to Australia . These are just a few of the scores of events and achievements during his lifetime - and we have not touched on the greatest aid that his work created for shipping, namely the ability to sent 'wireless' distress signals which led to the saving of hundreds of thousands of lives at sea.
How or why Marconi came to Ballycastle to undertake the trails for Lloyds is not completely clear, it was certainly related to the fact that ‘wireless telegraphy’ promised to become the most important development in tracking incoming and outgoing vessels. The possibility had come of age when, with Marconi equipped stations all along the coast, all vessels within twenty-five miles of shore could make their presence known and send or receive communications. So apparent were the advantages of such a system that Lloyds in May, 1898, entered into negotiations for the setting up of Marconi instruments at various Lloyds stations; and preliminary trial were commissioned between Rathlin Island and Ballycastle. Another factor may have been the location, as all transatlantic shipping coming and going from Liverpool passed between Torr Head and the Mull of Kintyre and like Malin Head, Torr Head already had a signaling station - both which relied on semaphore communication - therefore Rathin to Ballycastle would have been the ideal location.
These early contracts from Lloyds along with others from the Royal Navy, British Army and three shipping companies gave the new company its first income and the foundations of what today is a multi national company. There are however, some incorrect facts around the work that took place in Ballycastle - firstly the cottage referred to as ‘Marconi’s Cottage’ situated on the shoreline, at the end of the road before Fair Head, was not where the reception of transmissions were received. As James O Kane, ex Town Clerk of Moyle District Council pointed out in an article to the Irish News - the former Antrim County Council, misled by local Post Office officials put a plaque on the cottage, not only was it at the wrong location but the date on the plaque of 1904 was also wrong.
The other point is the fact that the transmissions and receptions, were not as some accounts claim, the first transmission or receptions over water or indeed the first 'wireless' transmissions in the world. They were a part of the development of 'wireless telegraphy' which would revolutionized communications, especially for mariners.
Marconi’s assistant George Kemp arrived in Ballycastle on June 4th 1898 and was assisted by Edward Glanville, a young graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. Kemp also employed a John Cecil of Rathlin Island to assist in the work they would undertake and I am sure several other local people helped in the task of erecting and securing the mast at the east lighthouse and at Ballycastle - Kemp identified the east lighthouse on Rathlin and the harbour area in Ballycastle to be the best locations for the two signal stations. They set about erecting an eighty foot aerial at the east light house on Rathlin, at first they could not get any reception at the harbour in Ballycastle and after researching other locations in Ballycastle they eventually increased the mast size at ‘White Lodge’, near the coal yards (where the present Ferry terminal car park is situated) to 104 feet.
This seem to solve the problem and on July 6th Kemp recorded the first signals transmitted from Rathlin Island by Edward Glanville - they continued with their experimental trails until George Kemp was instructed to go to Kingston (now Dun Laoghaire), Dublin. Marconi had been commissioned by the Dublin Daily Express to report the progress of the Kingston Regatta (July 20–22nd July 1898). He did this from a steam tug, sending 'wireless' messages back to the harbour where they were subsequently telephoned to Dublin. Becoming what many believe to be have been the first ‘live’ transmission of a sporting event in the world, in the process he gained immense publicity for the technology and his Company. There seems to be some confusion as to some dates and whether Edward Glanville actually accompanied Kemp to Dublin or not.The Regatta was held on July 20-22nd 1898 which meant that Kemp and Granville would have been away together.
The untimely and tragic death of Edward Granville taking place on Sunday 21st July 1894 when he stumbled and fell down a cliff on Rathlin Island would infer he stayed on Rathlin. Marconi is recorded as having arrived in Ballycastle on August 29th and spent four days here, during which time he visited and check the equipment and transmissions on Rathlin Island, experienced the Lammas Fair on the 31stAugust and left for London on the 2nd of September. Marconi went on to develop short wave radio, the basis for most long distance communications before satellite. He was also awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 and on his death in 1937 was given a state funeral in his hometown of Bologne.