Michael Lyne to speak at the Transatlantic Communications and Light Gathering.

Michael will speak on the History of the Transatlantic cable he cover all of the parts of the rich history of the cable from its inception to its final success including the failures and the personalities

Here is a short synopses of Michael’ Talk

The first attempt at laying a transatlantic from Valentia to Heart’s Content in New Foundland was made in 1857 when Cyrus W Field formed a company, The Atlantic Telegraph Co., and secured 2 ships to lay the 2500 miles of cable. The Niagara was to commence laying the cable from Valentia and The Agememnon would lay the second half on to Trinity Bay. Both ships arrived off Valentia on 5th August 1857. The Niagara came in to the back of Begnish inside Doulus Head. A Liverpool man by the name of John Raphael Isaac was rowed in a small boat from Glanleam across to Begnish. He climbed up to’s The Pilot’s Lookout and sketched the boats in Lough Kay. We still have those lithographs. The cable was transferred to smaller boats and brought into the White Strand where a trench was already made with a little hut. From there the cable was transferred across the Bay to Knightstown where a store was made available in the Slateyard. The Niagara sailed on 7th of August but the cable broke after​​ about 300 miles as the depths of the ocean suddenly increased and the breaking system was n’t adequate for paying out the cable.

Another attempt was made in 1858. This time the 2 ships met in mid Atlantic and made a splice. The Niagara sailed West and the Agememnon sailed East but again the cable broke 3 times and with both ships damaged by severe storms returned to Cobh. They sailed again on 17th July 1858 and this time everything went well and the Agememnon arrived in Lough Kay on 5th August , one year since she had been there before. This time the cable was brought directly into Knightstown and messages were sent across the Atlantic from the Store in the Slateyard to Hearts Content on 16th August 1858. Messages exchanged between Queen Victoria and President Buchanan of USA. Tremendous celebrations in Valentia, Killarney and Dublin. Transmission times were very slow however. Bright was the electrician in charge in Valentia and he booted up the voltage to increase the speed ( once he used a big battery from the slate quarry ). Because of this the insulation failed. There were many electrical problems to be sorted before it was going to be a success. The cable was abandoned within weeks.

In 1865 they tried again. This time they had secured the services of the biggest ship afloat……….The Great Eastern…………which when all of its cabins were removed could stow the entire cable. This time Foillhammerum Bay was chosen as the starting point and the cable was brought ashore over a bridge of 20 small boats to a hut on the cliff top. There was a carnival atmosphere as Sir Robert Peel made speeches and the Great Eastern sailed away on 23rd July 1865. It was an eventful journey. The cable was sabotaged when a spike was put through the cable but it was hauled back in and repaired. The speed of transmission back to Valentia was excellent . Finally when she was 2 days off NewFoundland while hauling in the cable to do a repair, the ship cut the slack cable. Several times they grappled the cable and almost brought it to the surface but finally ran out of hauling rope. They marked the cable with buoys and returned to Ireland triumphantly. They now knew they had improved speeds of transmission greatly ( 8 words per minute). They knew they could grapple the cable easily even from a depth of 2 miles. Every technology had improved.


Cyrus Field went back to London and spent the Winter trying to raise funds for another attempt. This proved much more difficult than expected but eventually a deal was signed one day before Black Friday 10th May 1866……. Financial Crash

The William Corry put the shore end ashore in Valentia and the Great Eastern sailed West on Friday 13th July with the Terrible, The Albany and The Medway in convoy. On 27th July The Gt. Eastern sailed in to Heart’s Content without mishap to wonderful celebrations and before the Gt. Eastern had refuelled, The Terrible and The Albany had found the 1865 cable. The Gt Eastern sailed out the 600 miles and picked up the cable. Field wept as he sent a message to his family in New York back to Valentia through the 1865 cable and back out to New York on the 1866 cable. The Gt. Eastern sailed back into St. John’s on the 10th of September thus completing the second cable.

At Foilhammerum, the wooden hut was replaced with a more permanent structure with accommodation for the workers. The hut became the first Valentia Voluntary Hospital. But in 1868 the operation was moved to Knightstown when the Cable Station Building was erected. This building was designed by the architect Thomas N Deane. The First Superintendant was James Graves and he served from 1865 to 1909 and the Graves Family still have a home at the Cable Station.

There were others cables laid afterwards in 1873  and 1874 and 1880 and 1895. Siemens also laid a cable in 1881……….The German Cable……….but this was later cut by the British during the First World War.

The TransAtlantic Cable made a huge impact on World Trade and could be compared with the Internet in modern times. There were over 200 people employed in the Cable Station at its peak and this had a major impact on the economy of the Island. The Cable Station finally closed in 1966.

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