Valentia Island: Inspiring Innovation for More Than 150 Years

"As Garry prepares to participate in the Valentia Island Lecture Series 2022, he reflects on the importance of this cable and the bravery, creativity and relentlessness of the 1858 pioneers and compares it to those building the equivalent in 2022."


This week I have the pleasure of speaking at the 6th Valentia Lecture series at the historic Cable Station at Valentia Island, home of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. The event theme of “Globalisation – Our Interconnected and Interdependent World” is a very relevant topic for today. With many misperceptions in Ireland about data centres and how they fit into the digital infrastructure ecosystem and economy, it is important to look back and see that data centres are merely the latest in a long line of such advancements here in Ireland.


In 1858, Europe and North America were connected via the underwater transatlantic telegraph cable that reduced communication times from weeks to minutes. It was an achievement now considered to be the 19th-century equivalent of putting a man on the moon. The first message transmitted over the 3,000-kilometre cable was a note of congratulations from Queen Victoria to US President James Buchanan, sent from Valentia Island in County Kerry to Newfoundland, Canada.


Instant communication became a reality – and Ireland was at the centre of the revolution where modern globalisation began. Communication technology has evolved rapidly since that first transatlantic message in 1858. Throughout the last six decades, Irish companies have played an important role in supporting some of the biggest ICT companies in the world. From mainframes in the 1960s to world-leading software exports via floppy disk in the 1990s to data exports via data centres and fibre today. All of which continues to translate into an economic benefit for Ireland that serves to attract inward investment into the country.


When I think about Cyrus West Field, the American financier credited as the driver of the transatlantic cable project, I think of two particular things. The first that comes is Nelson Mandella's quote, "It always seems impossible until it's done." When you consider the enormity of effectively weaving a thread across an ocean without the technology we are all very dependent upon today, you get a strong sense of the challenge and enormity of the task at hand.


I also think about a theme we focus on quite often at Host In Ireland – the need to be brave, creative and relentless to meet the challenges of our time. The physical task of the transatlantic cable project certainly required bravery. The coordination and diplomacy no doubt called for creative solutions. And the tenacity to continue with the project after many missteps and eight years of trying to make it happen is the prime definition of a relentless effort.


So when I look ahead to the challenges we face both here in Ireland and abroad, I believe Valentia Island and what was accomplished here more than 150 years ago is a great place to get inspiration. I look forward to the panel discussion and the distinguished guests that will be joining me this Friday night.

 

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