The Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry
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Ballinskelligs Transatlantic Cable Station

While the first commercial cable station was established in Valentia in 1866 competition soon arrived in the form of a British company (Direct United States Cable Company). In 1874 the company established a cable station in Ballinskelligs. Soon after however the Anglo American Cable Company took a majority shareholding in the British company and a connecting cable was laid from the Ballinskelligs station to the Valentia cable station. Anglo American subsequently leased the line to the telecommunications company Western Union who continued the lease up until 1920. The business was then sold to the British Post Office. The British Post office diverted the European end of the cable to Cornwall in 1923 and the Ballinskelligs cable station was closed. The Ballinskelligs station had the shortest life span of the three cable stations that were built on the iveragh peninsula operating from 1874 to 1922.

The Cable station buildings became government property soon after their closure and in the 1930's and 40's were used as a summer college for Irish language students. They later fell into disrepair and most have now been demolished.

Valentia Transatlantic Telegraph Station

Telegraph station plaqueIn 1857 the first transatlantic telegraph cable was landed in Ballycarbery strand on Valentia island by the Anglo American Cable Company. The first cable was short lived lasting just a few months, it did however the establish the viability of transatlantic telegraphing and subsequent cables were laid and by 1866 trans Atlantic telegraphing took hold. In the years that followed the first of the “cable stations” as they became locally know as was located in Valentia Island and by 1900 approximately 40 telegraphers worked here along with various support staff and family members. Such were the financial rewards to be gleaned from the sending and receiving of transatlantic telegraphs that a “mini village/community was built locally to house and support the business. To a large extent the staff and the families formed a little colony onto themselves in this remote part of Kerry but as time went on and nature took its course they integrated more into the local community.

Some of the original cable station houses can be still seen on the island today. Drive down the main street of Knightstown past the ferry landing and onto the shore road. You will see a group of white-painted cable station buildings on the right a short distance from the ferry. An IEEE marker can be seen on one of the gateposts. The cable station in Valentia was operational from 1866-1966.

The first transatlantic telegraph cable

The remoteness and location of the Iveragh peninsula (on the edge of the western sea front) was to prove to be a major asset to the area in the middle 1800’s. Prior to the introduction of the telegraph the Atlantic Ocean was seen as a huge and hazardous barrier between the new world (America) and the old world of Europe. A trip across the Atlantic was generally seen as “one way ticket”  by many of the emigrants who took this trip. The transatlantic telegraph cable changed all that. Its significance to the towns on the Ring of Kerry and the world at large cannot be over emphasised. 

In 1857 the first transatlantic telegraph cable (or cables) was landed in Ballycarbery strand on Valentia island. It was a momentous event.  By the turn of the twenty century six of the ten transatlantic cables that spanned the Atlantic Ocean came from stations on the IveraghPeninsula (Valentia, Ballinskelligs, and Waterville). The introduction of the telegraph stations to south west Kerry was immense and its effects can still be seen to this day in terms development of the villages of Waterville, Valentia and Ballinskelligs. In local language many people still refer to “telegraphers” when discussing friends and relations who worked at the stations. At the time “telegraphers” were skilled and highly paid personnel, and the cable stations taken as an entity were of huge economic benefit to the area. The telephone stations became know locally as "Cable Stations".

 

Waterville Transatlantic Telegraph Station

In 1884 the Commercial Cable Company laid two cables across the Atlantic connecting Canada, Britain and France all via a station in Waterville. A total of some 2,399 miles of cable (manufactured by the German company Siemens) was laid and became known as the Mackay – Bennett line. The first message from Waterville to St. John, Novia Scotia, passed along the transatlantic cable on Christmas Eve 1884. The cable station in Waterville was operational from 1884 – 1962.

The commercial Cable Company built a large housing estate on the outskirts of the Village of Waterville facing out onto the wild Atlantic Ocean. In total approx 300 telegraph personnel settled here in what at the time would have been considered very luxurious conditions. Many of these fine buildings can still be seen today and though built over 100 years ago still command a prominent position on the northern side of the village facing out on to the bay. The Waterville cable station was the largest of the three cable stations on the Iveragh Peninsula and the telegraphers who settled here along with the support personnel for the station brought with them their own way of life and pastimes. In 1889 a nine hole golf course was built in the nearby sand dunes and thus Waterville golf links was born.

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The location of the landing point of the cables is marked today by a historical marker on the road by the oceans edge. Just opposite the Huntsman Restaurant on the Cliff road you will see a marker on the low wall by the road. If you walk down to the beach at this point you will see the cable bulkhead, where the cables coming in from across the Atlantic were routed from the beach underground to the cable office. The remains of several cables can still be seen.

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