13th September – The Use of Wireless in the Rising including Skerries

Eddie Bohan
Eddie Bohan

by Eddie Bohan
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – September 2016)

The Use of Wireless in the Rising, including Skerries

Now that summer is over Skerries Historical Society is back in Keane’s The Bus Bar every second Tuesday of the month. Naturally this year has produced many talks on 1916 but Eddie Bohan’s ‘The Use of Wireless in the Rising including Skerries’ managed to bring some new and wonderful stories to light.

The British authorities were not keen to let uncensored reports out and had banned the use of private wireless. Sets were hard to come by but Cumann na mBan member, Grace O’Sullivan, solved this problem. A couple of weeks before the Rising she smuggled a dismantled wireless from London to Dublin by strapping the various components to her body, under her clothes. The components were delicate and she could not risk damaging them by sitting down. So she stood for the entire journey by train and boat. The boat was delayed due to U-boat activity in the Irish Sea so she must have been truly exhausted by the time she got her precious cargo to safety.

John ‘Blimey’ O’Connor’s Cockney accent was so strong that Irish-born volunteers barred the door against him, believing he was a British Tommy. He pointed out that a man from Donegal had a different accent to one from Dublin but both were Irish. John, a second generation London Irishman, said he was as Irish as anyone else and he had his orders. They eventually let him in.

His task was to erect a radio antenna on top of one of the buildings across the road from the GPO so news of the Rising could be broadcast. Under heavy sniper fire ‘Blimey’ succeeded in erecting 30 feet of the 60 foot aerial.

Radio messages were usually transmitted to a specific receiver but the leaders of the Rising didn’t know who would be listening so they ordered that the news ‘Irish Republic declared in Dublin today…’ be ‘broadcast’ i.e it would be sent to whoever could hear it. And so the first ever pirate radio broadcast was made from O’Connell Street in 1916!

The news was picked up by Sydney Cave, a reporter for the US owned International News Service. He transmitted his story across the Atlantic, by wireless, so that the first report on the Easter Rising, ‘Wireless Tells Story of New State’, was published in the ‘Newcastle News’ in the state of Pennsylvania.

Skerries has its own wireless story of course. The rebels planned to take over the ‘Y’ station which had been erected on the Mill Hill at the outbreak of the First World War as a wireless listening station to locate German submarines. 200 men of the North Staffordshire regiment were landed at Skerries to protect the station and a Red Cross hospital was set up in the Carnegie Library in Strand St. In the event the field hospital was not needed as the rebel attack was never made.

Report by Oona Roycroft