The village of Crookhaven has a distinguished history as the
first and last port of call for ships going between Northern
European ports and America. Over the centuries ships stocked up
with provisions and bunkered fuel here before tackling the
Atlantic Ocean. As the boats anchored in or out of the harbour,
depending on their size, a flurry of small boats or lighters
would swarm out striving to be the first there to get the
business. On their arrival from America, ships had to contact
their owners to discover which port was their cargo’s
destination. Pilots travelled from ports in the United Kingdom
to vie for the job of piloting the ships from Crookhaven to
ports such as Liverpool, Bristol and London.
All the shipping lines had agents here to tell the ships in
which port their cargo had been sold. Reuters’ and Lloyds’
agents had flag-signalling and semaphore equipment up on Brow
Head to communicate with the ships as they passed by. At the end
of the 19th. Century it was said that you could cross the
harbour on the decks of boats. Up to 700 people lived and worked
in the village against the 29 permanent residents today.
It was in this context that Sgr. Guglielmo Marconi came to the
Mizen peninsula to try to get his first radio message across the
Atlantic. He had arrived in England in 1896 and filed the
world’s first patent application for a system of telegraphy
using Hertzian waves. The British patent was granted on June
2nd. In 1897 he established contact across the Bristol Channel
and the Solent (from the Isle of Wight to Bournemouth) He formed
The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company.
In 1899 he acquired premises in Chelmsford, Essex and
established communication across the English Channel. In 1900
the name of the company was changed to Marconi’s Wireless
Telegraph Co. Ltd. And the Marconi International Marine
Communication Co. Ltd. was formed. The ‘four sevens’ patent (no.
7777) for tuning was granted.
It was at this stage that, desperate to get a signal across the
Atlantic Ocean, he was searching for a suitable site for his
masts and he came to Crookhaven. He erected a high mast in the
grounds of the presently named Marconi House, but he didn’t have
any success with it. However, this did not end his connection
In 1902 a telegraphic station was established in the village
using a coherer receiver. Marconi brought wireless operators
from England with him.
In 1904 utilising the network of communications that existed
here already, Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. entered into
a contract with the Commissioners of Irish Lights to put
telegraphic equipment and aerials on the Fastnet. The
telegraphic station was moved up to Brow Head where the
signalling equipment had been used for so long to contact
Messages were sent to the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse by signalling
methods and then relayed to the Brow Head station by wireless
telegraphy for relaying on to the recipients in the U.K. or
Northern European owners.
At first, very few ships had telegraphic equipment on board. 50
messages were considered a great feat, but the development in
wireless telegraphy was gaining pace so quickly that the
operators were never bored. The operators might be in touch with
one ship at a time, but by 1904 they were in communication with
at least 6 ships at a time.
There were six operators. At first they worked in the wireless
telegraphy station in the village but later they had to make the
lonely trudge out of the village and up the hill to Brow Head to
the former Lloyds station. There were three watches – midnight
to 8 am., 8am. to 4pm., and 4pm. to midnight with two operators
on each watch.
In 1904 a ship broke a shaft eighty miles out from Crookhaven.
She was fitted with Marconi equipment and soon hundreds of
messages were streaming back and forth to her as the passengers
contacted their families and friends. Assistance was sent
immediately and she was back on course without mishap. Marconi’s
invention had taken much of the fear out of the sea.
After Marconi had conquered the transatlantic message and more
shipping lines equipped their fleets with Marconi equipment, it
was not necessary to be close to the shipping. It was no longer
necessary to man a station in a remote area like West Cork and
the station closed.
The role of Crookhaven as a communications and provisioning hub
was over and it reverted to a quiet fishing port. However, it
has never lost its cosmopolitan appeal.
In 1998 Elletra Marconi, Guglielmo’s youngest daughter by his
Italian second wife, Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scalli visited
Crookhaven to see for herself the place where her father had
worked at the beginning of the century.