World’s first pirate broadcast on Easter 1916 to be celebrated

25 Apr 2016

At an event in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) tonight (25 April), the centenary of the broadcasting of the Proclamation of an Irish Republic via shortwave radio in 1916 – considered by many to be the first pirate radio broadcast – will be marked.

While the men and women who took part in Easter 1916 were camped out in the GPO and other locations around Dublin, one group involved with the rebellion, led by Joseph Mary Plunkett, wanted to use the latest technology to spread the message of Irish revolt.

Having commandeered the Irish School of Wireless Telegraphy at the corner of O’Connell Street and Abbey Street – where the Grand Central Bar now sits – the group set up a ship’s wireless systems to broadcast a shortwave radio transmission, with the hope that a passing ship near the country would pick it up and report back to the US.

With Plunkett at the controls, the radio enthusiast issued a burst of Morse code that read: “Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising.”

With some reports suggesting the broadcast was picked up as far away as Germany and Bulgaria, it is widely considered one of the first pirate radio broadcasts as, until then, point-to-point transmissions was the most common form of sending messages wirelessly.

‘Ireland has a rich telecommunications heritage’

Unfortunately for the Irish rebels, a British ship based in Dún Laoghaire picked up the radio signal, resulting in heavy bombardment of the rebels’ position and forcing their retreat to the GPO.

To mark this historic occasion, the Connect Centre has partnered with sound artist Jimmy Eadie to present a special sound installation to mark this significant moment in global telecommunications history.

The installation will include the playing of the Morse code message at 5.30pm, which was the time the 1916 message was broadcast.

Commenting on the anniversary, Prof Linda Doyle, director of the Connect Centre, said: “Ireland has a rich telecommunications heritage.”

“The first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid from Valentia in Co Kerry to Newfoundland in Canada, and the pioneer of radio communication, Guglielmo Marconi, established a wireless transmitting station at Rosslare Strand, Co Wexford, and a transatlantic radio-telegraph between Clifden and Nova Scotia. It’s important that we remember and celebrate these milestones.”

Morse code transmitter image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic