The internet in Ireland is 20 years old today!

15 May 2012

As Facebook – just a baby at eight – hurtles towards one of the most momentous IPOs in tech industry history, it almost went unobserved today that the internet as we know it in Ireland, at least, is 20 years old today.

Ireland’s first ISP Ireland On-Line was formed out of Barry Flanagan’s house in Galway on 15 May 1992. Flanagan, as he outlines in his blog, had no working capital except his credit card and nine months worth of dreams.

He recalls: “The aim was as simple as the name suggests – I wanted to put Ireland online. To bring the world to Ireland, and Ireland to the world.

“The internet was as yet unheard of except within the hallowed halls of academia, but I was convinced that this global network had the potential to transform this country, and would ultimately affect every aspect of our lives and businesses, and allow a new generation of Irish to remain in Ireland yet enjoy the benefits of a global economy and opportunity,” Flanagan said.

He says the Ireland of 1992 was vastly different from the place it is in 2012. “Looking back 20 years later, I am amazed at how much of what I predicted and imagined has come to pass. We live in an Ireland today which, although beset by some short-term setbacks, has been transformed in terms of our ability to transcend our borders and small population. Our opportunities are global, and our reach infinite.”

When Flanagan began Ireland On-line he had the honour of leading and shaping an entirely new industry. The only rule was: there were no rules.

Barry Flanagan

Barry Flanagan in the early days of Ireland On-Line

“The only certainty was continuous change. We made it up as we went along, but we did so with a conviction that this was important and long lasting and so wanted to do it right. Our belief in what we were doing, and that it was bigger than any of us, kept us going and pushing forward when few others shared our vision.”

Determination to succeed

In the decade that followed the establishment of Ireland On-Line, the company remained the largest ISP in the country with 60pc marketshare.

In 1997, An Post bought Ireland On-Line for IR£1.5m and two years after that Denis O’Brien’s Esat Telecom for IR£115m.

Just one year later BT Group plc acquired Esat Telecom for an estimated €1.9bn.

Flanagan recalls the heady early days of Ireland On-Line and its growth in Ireland which despite “ferocious competition” was made possible through the strength of his team, which included internet entrepreneur Colm Grealy, and a shared determination to succeed.

“It was an amazing, magical and exhilarating time and I am immensely grateful to have been a part of it, and to have shared it with the incredible people who made Ireland On-Line what it was.

“While the brand Ireland On-Line as been neglected and allowed to wither by the to-and-fro of the corporate world, it leaves a legacy of which I am immensely proud,” he said in his blog.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years