On 5 August 1912 Joyce went to Clifden to see Marconi.
Joyce and his family were staying at Bowling Green in Galway during the summer of 1912. On Monday 5 August, Joyce cycled from Galway to Clifden in an effort to see Guglielmo Marconi, or at least to visit his wireless transmission station at Derrygimlagh Bog, a short distance from Clifden.
While on holidays, Joyce took the opportunity to write articles for the Piccolo della Sera newspaper in Trieste. He had already written ‘La Città della Tribù: Ricordi Italiani in un Porto Irlandese’ (‘The City of the Tribes: Italian Echoes in an Irish Port’) which was published in the Piccolo on 11 August, and followed it with ‘Il Miraggio del Pescatore di Aran. La Valvola dell’Inghilterra in Caso di Guerra’ (‘The Mirage of the Fisherman of Aran. England’s Safety Valve in Case of War’), published on 5 September.
Joyce obviously thought that an article of the Nobel Prize-winning Marconi and his transatlantic transmitter would be of interest to readers in Trieste, but his trip to Clifden was a waste of time: he neither saw Marconi nor, apparently, was he allowed access to the transmission station. Instead, he had to write to Marconi House in London, probably asking for permission, and nothing more came of it.
Marconi himself was a great-grandson of John Jameson, founder of the Jameson whiskey distillery in Dublin – doubtless a particular point of interest for Joyce! Marconi lived for a while in Montrose House, now part of the site of RTÉ in Dublin, which was owned by his Jameson relatives.
Born in 1874, Marconi became an inventor and was particularly associated with the development of long-distance radio transmission. In the early 1900s Marconi set about establishing wireless transmission across the Atlantic. He sent his first transatlantic radio message in 1902, and by 1907 he had established a regular radio-telegraph service between Europe and North America, competing with the transatlantic cable. In 1909 he shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with Karl Braun for their work on developing radio technology.
In 1905, Marconi built the transmission station on Derrygimlagh Bog in Clifden as part of his transatlantic transmission service. It linked a similar station in Nova Scotia with another in Cornwall. The power station for the transmitter at Clifden was powered by peat from the local bog. Alcock and Brown, who made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1919, landed on the bog next to the Marconi station from where they sent a message to the New York Times announcing their safe arrival. The station was badly damaged by fire in July 1922 during the Civil War, and was finally closed in 1925.
Joyce makes reference to the Marconi Station in Finnegans Wake: “as softly as the loftly marconimasts from Clifden sough open tireless secrets (mauveport! mauveport!) to Nova Scotia’s listing sisterwands. Tubetube!” (407.20).
Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Sexton, Michael: Marconi – The Irish Connection (Broadcasting and Irish Society Series), Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004.
More information on this area of Galway here.