A NEW wireless telegraph system that had been installed on Rathlin Island by the Post Office authorities was formally "opened for business" this week in 1901, reported the News Letter.
The system had been in operation on the island for some time but, noted the paper's correspondent, the Post Office authorities had wished to "give it every possible test" before finally deciding on its retention and publicly declaring it open for business.
The News Letter was fortunate enough to be one of the first media outlets in Britain to receive a greeting using the system when its Belfast office received a message from their correspondent who had travelled to the island to report on the occasion.
The system, noted the paper, had been developed by Welshman Sir William Preece, the late engineer-in-chief to the General Post Office in London – a man whose "fame in telegraphy is (known] worldwide". Preece had been assisted in developing the "practical and commercial value" of the system by Professor Oliver Lodge, the principal of Birmingham University, and Mr J E Taylor, a member of the technical staff of the General Post Office.
Meanwhile, the installation of the system on Rathlin Island had been carried out by Mr Thomas Patterson, the sectional engineer of the district GPO in Belfast, with the support of Mr J Walby, the superintendent for the North of Ireland in connection with the Post Office, both of whom had "contributed to the success of the undertaking".
It was the first of its kind installed in Ireland and was known as the "electro-magnetic or parallel wire system".
The two points of communication, detailed the correspondent, were the Lloyd's Signal Station which was located on the island and Ballycastle Post Office and consisted of "two parallel lines of wire in a vertical plane, one connecting Ballycastle and Murlough Bay on the mainland, the other connecting Church Bay and the north-east corner of the island".
The interest taken in the new undertaking had been widespread, reported the News Letter, and a large number of invitations had been issued to members of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and "other interested gentlemen" who travelled from Belfast.
Mr H M McGildowney, DL, of Clare Park, Ballycastle, undertook the duty of host and conveyed the party to the island in his steamer, the Glentow. Amongst those present were Mr William Moore, KC, MP, Commander Stewart, RN, Mr Baillie Gage, solicitor to the GPO, Ireland, Colonel Massey Studdert, Colonel Wetherall, Mr J B Johnston, JP, Mr J Walby, district engineer, GPO, Belfast, Mr Thomas Patterson, sectional engineer, Mr R I Calwell, CE, Dr J W Taylor, Mr J E Biggar, Mr J Plummer (London), Mr James Gamble, Mr H A McAlister, and Mr Ernest Andrews.
Meanwhile the members of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners who attended the occasion included Messrs S Lawther, JP, John Andrews Jnr, Samuel Wilson, John Lepper and S B Stevenson, and Messrs G F L Giles, engineer, and Captain Molyneux, the harbour master.
A moderate breeze had been blowing, recounted the News Letter's correspondent, as the party left Ballycastle to cross the sound to Church Bay. The sun shone but the strong tides and wind made "a rather heavy swell" which however did not "inconvenience" many members of the party. Having landed some supplies for the luncheon that was to be held on the island the Glentow sailed along to the coast of the island as far as Bull Point where "a good view was obtained of the myriads of seabirds which make their homes on the cliffs at this end of Rathlin".
When the Glentow sailed into Church Bay to land the party they were greeted by some of the 360 islanders and the owner of the island General Gage. The general, reported the News Letter, had done everything within his power to make the work of the Post Office officials on the island a success. They then walked to the general's home were an excellent luncheon had been prepared for them.
After the repast most of the guests who had travelled to Rathlin, including the News Letter correspondent, sent telegrams using the new system "announcing their arrival on the island". Many of the messages referred to the success of the newly inaugurated system, which were then quickly dispatched to Ballycastle. Indeed, the speed at which this was done was the talk of many of the guests who had crossed the sound from the mainland.
Of the return journey the correspondent wrote: "It was blowing very hard as we embarked for the return trip to Ballycastle, which, after a rather rough passage, we reached in time for the train to Belfast, the guests being well satisfied with the day's proceedings, and loud in their praises of the hospitable manner in which they had been welcomed."