The phone connection received a mixed reception from a dubious public

It was 100 years ago when a seemingly innocent little advertisement in The southern star heralded a communications revolution in the region

ON May 10, 1922, the Town Clerk of Skibbereen placed a notice in The southern star, urging potential subscribers to send her their names. By then, phones had been ringing around the world for almost 50 years.

In 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell showed his “device” to US President Rutherford B Hayes, he apparently replied, “It’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” Imagine his reaction to a recent Deloitte survey, which revealed that Irish people check their mobile phones an average of 58 times a day!

The United Telephone Company established Ireland’s first telephone exchange in Dublin in 1880. With only five subscribers, the young boy who ran it was bored and often went out to play marbles. By 1893 an exchange had been built in Cork and around 30 subscribers soon showed up in Bandon.

Speaker after speaker sang the praises of the telephone at a public meeting at Skibbereen Town Hall in September 1919. Unlike laborious listening to telegraph messages, telephone contact was instantaneous: someone in Bandon could address another in Dublin “as if he had a personal contact”. conversation’. A local call was cheap and a ‘party’ line could be shared with neighboring farms for just £3 a year.

A call to subscribers to Skibbereen in May 1922’s Southern Star.

The phone offered help in an emergency. Cape Clear was sometimes cut off from the mainland “for a week at a time”. With a connection to Castletownbere, a doctor could rush to a sick person in the remote region of Ardgroom. If machines broke down, farmers could order new parts without going to town or writing a letter, phone the nearest station to arrange pick-ups and deliveries, and call a veterinarian to examine horses and cattle. sick. Butter and egg merchants could check the latest prices “in seconds,” and fishmongers sourced their supplies from Berehaven’s herring shops.

Many envisioned the device becoming “as common as the gas meter” in homes. But the Postmaster General was opposed to an ‘expensive extension’ in the far south west of Ireland.

According to Seán Creedon, for many years the only telephones were at the post office, at the parish priest, doctor or vet, and perhaps in the odd pub and hardware store.

The telephone came to Macroom in 1924. Other places quickly appealed, but their requests were put on hold for a few years.

Users were offered help on how to deal with the new equipment: “The lips should be as close as possible to the mouthpiece of the transmitter”, “it is rarely necessary to speak loudly” and, above all, s ‘you have to leave the phone during the conversation. , ‘do not replace the receiver!’

The phone numbers were published in a directory, which could become “a whole living room item” by adding a velvet-covered stiff cardboard sleeve, Bantry’s J Cullinane & Co said.

In 1942 Bere, Whiddy and Dursey Islands were blessed with the telephone, thanks to exchanges at Castletownbere, Bantry and Garnish respectively. But only telegraph messaging was available at Cape Clear, Sherkin and Heir Islands until 1954-55.

Lines offered to farmers in the Skibbereen Eagle on May 30, 1914.

Connection costs were high and some subscribers demanded a reduction in “huge rents” of £7 10 shillings a year. Several Kinsale residents asked to be disconnected, with one describing the device as an ‘expensive habit’, another saying businesses had done fairly well in the past without the phone.

The first telephone kiosk in Ireland was erected in College Green in Dublin in 1925, but West Cork was maintained for another quarter of a century for its boxes. In October 1949 a kiosk was set up outside the Kinsale Post Office. By the spring of 1950, kiosks had also appeared in Skibbereen, Bandon, Bantry, Macroom, Dunmanway, Glengarriff and Clonakilty.

Communications Minister Jim Mitchell made the first telephone call to Ireland on December 11, 1985. Unlike the pocket smart phones we carry around these days, the first gadgets were the size of house bricks!

Reception was often poor. In Macroom, “you might as well be talking into a 20-cigarette pack as talking into a cell phone,” complained Council President Denis Kelleher (southern star March 18, 1995).

If people used to complain about crackling and cross lines, now, in the age of cellphones, we’re still whining – about weak signals and short battery life!

Comments are closed.