MVA Newsletter 2018 – edition number 20

Derrigimlah, Clifden and all that

The editor’s spot

You may remember that this time last year I spoke about a rather nasty chest infection that meant that Christmas was a bad dream and January was a struggle to get through. Did it show? Looking back on it now, it doesn’t seem to me to have done so. This year has been another nightmare, but for different reasons: I sincerely hope it doesn’t show.

To make up for it, my wife Jackie and I made a most enjoyable visit to Connemara during May, The principal reason was to visit the Marconi transatlantic telegraph station site at Derrigimlah and a number of other Marconi related sites in the area. (Marconi and his assistant George Kemp had spent some time investigating various sites in the west of England and Wales and the west coast of Ireland before homing in on this large area of blanket bog at Derrigimlagh, a few miles south of Clifden in County Galway. Blanket bog gave the best damp soil conditions for the earth plane of the station‘s aerial system, and provided the fuel source, peat, for the boilers producing steam for the site’s electricity supply, and it gave an unrestricted view across the Atlantic to Glace Bay.) Our guide was Shane Joyce, of whom you’ve heard in a number of earlier newsletters. We stayed in Clifden, and during that time Shane and his wife Helen offered us their warm hospitality on a number of occasions. Thanks Helen and Shane.

Clifden Condenser House

He has been one of the driving forces in Clifden in securing funding, with the support of Failte Ireland (the Irish tourist board) from the Irish government to instal a hard-surfaced 5km walking trail around the site, with interpretive display panels carrying historical archive photographs to explain to the visitor, at key locations, what they would have been looking at between 1907 and 1921 when the site was in operation. This has tumed the site from a few building foundations and steel remnants in the peat bog into an importa.nt visitor stop on the heritage trail around the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ on the west coast of Ireland. It is only 500 metres from the spot where Alcock and Brown crash-landed in the bog after the ?rst transatlantic crossing by air from Newfoundland in 1917.

One of the things that I hadn’t really appreciated until this visit was the immense size of the heart of the station’s transmitter, the condenser house (see centre of photo above). A 1.8 microfarad capacitor, charged to in the region of 20,000 volts, comprising 1820 metal plates, each measuring 9m by 3.7m and spaced from each other with an air gap of 30cm, all housed within a building 105m by 22.5m – as long as a football pitch and a third of its width.

This part of Ireland is a delightful place to visit. We spent nine days there, with superb weather which you don‘t expect to get during a stay of this length. The scenery of the Atlantic seaboard of Ireland is beautiful, Clifden is a lovely little town, the folk are very friendly, there are umpteen pubs and restaurants all serving fantastic seafood and traditional Irish music – we loved it, although sometimes a little respite from ‘Whiskey in the jar’ is necessary. Boat trips to local islands, fomwal gardens at Kylemore Abbey, what’s not to love, We stayed Celtic for the rest of our holiday, going on to our daughter and her paltner’s cottage on the Isle of Arran in south-west Scotland.

On a more sombre note, It concerns me that over the last couple of issues the number of obituaries and tributes included to those who have died is rising. I suppose this is inevitable with the advancing age of our membership, but how many reminders of mortality are you happy to see? Let the editor know if you’d prefer a change of emphasis. Another concern is that the content seems to be predominantly from male contributors who have been engineers, often in more senior positions with a distinguished career behind them. It would be good to see more items from the shop floor and the admin departments.

Finally, I’ve decided that this will be my penultimate edition as newsletter editor, so can we have a volunteer to take over from me for the 2020 edition? Taking over from Peter, my first edition was in 2006 and I think it needs a fresh outlook. It’s been a very rewarding experience and I’ve learned quite a lot about the companies’ histories over that time. The most interesting part is following up on the enquiries we receive as the basis for articles, but that can be quite time-consuming, and because, like many I can only knuckle down to a job when a deadline is approaching, January can be a bit hectic – it’s now mid-February and I seriously overshot my delivery date. If a volunteer should come along during the coming year I can brief him or her on how I do it whilst I’m working on the 2019, and, if need be, I will be available to assist and advise the new editor for 2020 edition. Please think about it, and if you’d like to have a crack at it please contact the secretary, Barry Powell, his successor Colin Fletcher (see page 9) or me in the first instance if you’d like to find out a little more about what’s involved.