By Harry Warren
Valentia island is located off the Iveragh Peninsula at the southwest tip of Ireland, lying just off the coast along the famed ‘Ring of Kerry’ between Cahersiveen and Waterville. With a rich history and beautiful scenery, Valentia is an off-the-beaten-track gem that is well worth visiting.
Valentia possesses many historical features, but two of them are particularly noteworthy: Firstly, Valentia was home to the world’s first transatlantic telegraph communication between Ireland and America, and secondly, it has some of the earliest fossils in Ireland and is home to one of the most significant fossil discoveries in the world.
Knightstown is the main town on Valentia Island and one of the few planned villages in the country. The 18th Knight of Kerry, Maurice FitzGerald, commissioned Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo to draft a plan for a new village in 1830.
During the 1840s, work began on what was initially named the New Town of Valentia. Today Knightstown still has some surviving original buildings, including The Royal Hotel and the former transatlantic cable buildings on the waterfront.
Among the island’s historical highlights is the site of the eastern terminus of the first transatlantic telegraph station linking Ireland to America. For several years, it was proposed that underwater telegraphic transmission might be feasible – Valentia proved it, launching a communications revolution, as the sole site where the first ocean-wide cable was installed.
Connecting the old world and the new via cable was an incredible technical and engineering achievement. The cable was landed at what is now the Telegraph or Longitude Field in Foilhomurrum Bay in ‘the Kingdom’.
Several attempts had been made to bring cables across the Atlantic. Despite the costly failures of cables which landed at Knightstown in 1858 and Foilhommerum Bay in 1865, the vast undertaking eventually resulted in commercially viable transatlantic telegraph communications in 1866 between Foilhommerum Bay and Heart’s Content, Newfoundland.
The first messages were transmitted on the 16 August, 1858 but it was a short-lived success, Queen Victoria and U.S. president James Buchanan exchanged greetings by telegraph, establishing the first transatlantic cable communications from North America to Ireland.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own