By Michael Larkin

Making the Right Connections, published by Bookhub Publishing, is the title of a new book due to be launched towards the end of this month. The book reminds us of a time when ‘twitter’ referred to the chirping sound of birds in the trees, rather than today’s social networking site, when ‘spam’ referred to tinned ham, rather than an unsolicited message and the input of a telephone operator was required to transact a telephone call.

Following the invention of the telephone by Alexander G. Bell in 1876, the American public remained sceptical for a time, deeming his new invention to be little more than a ‘gadget’ that would never achieve commercial success.

Even the U.S. President at the time, Rutherford B. Hayes, was unimpressed when he reportedly stated “That’s an amazing invention Mr. Bell…but who would ever want to use it?”

Thomas Larkin, one of the early Telephone Pioneers of America and the central character in the book, also encountered such resistance from parents, especially mothers, who feared that ‘messenger boys’ would become unemployed if Bell’s new invention ever gained traction.

Thomas Larkin was born in the townland of Derrew, Ballyheane, Co. Mayo on July 4th, 1874. Similar to thousands of other young Irishmen and women he made that perilous voyage across the Atlantic ocean to the New World, simply to find employment.

His ‘American dream’ became a reality when he secured employment with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, and as one of the early Telephone Pioneers, he helped to create many of the essential ‘connections’ necessary for the transmission of the sound of a human voice over a wire. When Bell confidently predicted, “The day is coming when telephone wires will be connected to houses, much like water or gas and friends will be able to converse with each other without leaving home”, many people, including some of his associates, failed to comprehend that such a transformation was about to happen.

In the old Larkin homestead in Derrew, similar to most Irish homes from this era, on the mantlepiece over the fireplace small black and white photographs of family members, many long since deceased, signified a link to times past.

On the walls, a much larger picture of the Sacred Heart, with its permanently-lit red lamp beneath, a picture of Pope John XXIII and a similar sized picture of President John F. Kennedy signified the strong Catholic faith and connectivity through emigration to the USA and Canada. However, of even greater significance in the context of this book were some rare and special items of memorabilia relating to Thomas Larkin’s career as a Telephone Pioneer of America.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own