Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Annie Jameson, of the Irish whisky distillery family. Inspired by the work of Heinrich Hertz on the properties of electromagnetic waves, Marconi filed the patent for ‘wireless technology’ in 1896.
Kemp & Glanville
In May 1898, Lloyds Insurance of London financed an experimental wireless link to test signal reception at Ballycastle from Rathlin. Marconi made a preliminary survey but the work was given to his right-hand man, George Kemp, who hired Edward Glanville, a Trinity College Dublin graduate, to assist him. They in turn hired islander Johnny Cecil as a labourer.
Kemp and Granville strung a 25m aerial from the top of Rathlin’s East lighthouse (an aerial was also stretched from the spire of the Roman Catholic church). In Ballycastle, after failures at various other sites, a 50m receiving aerial was hung along the cliffs at a house called Kenmara – now a B&B.
On July 6, 1898, Kemp received the first Morse signal from Glanville on Rathlin. The transmission was a repeated letter V. Improving reception, the pair were soon able to report the passage of ships through Rathlin Sound, following their transatlantic crossing, the result Lloyds had been paying for and the world’s first commercial wireless signal.
On August 21, 1898, Glanville (a keen amateur geologist and bird-watcher who was often seen chipping away at rocks along the coastline) fell to his death from the cliffs at Rathlin. Johnny Cecil recovered his body which was shipped to Ballycastle where the young man’s father met it to take it home to Dublin. Marconi attended the funeral service in Dublin, then came to Ballycastle for four days when he made a brief visit to Rathlin (paying his respects at the site of Glanville’s fall).
Marconi left Ballycastle, after the Oul Lammas Fair, on September 2, 1898, with Kemp packing up all the equipment and leaving two days later.
Kemp and Marconi had stayed at the Antrim Arms Hotel in Ballycastle. One of its staff was Mary McCormick, who later married Johnny Cecil.
Note: Many thanks to Lynne Nelson for clarifying the date of Edward Glanville’s death.