Not many people know that Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), the distinguished Italian scientist who invented the radio, actually had strong links with Ireland. In fact, his mother Annie was one of four daughters of Andrew Jameson of Wexford, the well-known and wealthy owner of the homonymous whiskey distillery. Marconi, who has a closed and reserved character, had inherited from his mother the Irish irreverent "sense of humour" and an undoubted elegance in stylish dress and imposing bearing, which made him fascinating in the eyes of the fair sex.
Maybe it was this latter feature to capture the nineteen-year-old Beatrice O'Brien, an Irish noblewoman, daughter of the 13th Lord Inchquin, a descendant of legendary warrior-king Brian Boru. The wedding was celebrated in St. George's church, in London, on 16 March 1905: the Anglican family of Bea was initially unfavorable to this marriage, but the irresistible charm of Guglielmo soon softened the resistance of his future mother-in-law, who affectionately called him "Marky". The wedding gifts for Bea were a good blend of romance (a diamond tiara) and technology (a bicycle), perhaps much less appropriate was the choice to shorten the honeymoon in Dromoland Castle, the ancestral home of the bride's family in the county Clare ...
Marconi, however, was eager to get back to work and implement his new project, the opening of a new transatlantic radio station in Clifden. Bea gave him three sons: Degna (1908), Giulio (1910) and Gioia (1916), nevertheless the marriage was officially annulled by the Roman Rota after a long bureaucratic procedure, letting Marconi free to marry in 1927 the young Roman aristocratic Cristina Bezzi Scali, who made him the father of Electra (1930).
The staying in Clifden
The opening of the transatlantic radio station in Clifden took place on 17 October 1907, thus fulfilling the ambitious dream of Marconi to establish a regular radio link between the coasts of the old and the new continent. The 300 acreage needed for the construction were purchased in 1905 by the Kendall family of Derrygimlagh. The site was carefully chosen by Marconi not only for its geographical position on the most western edge of Europe on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, but also because of the surrounding bog that provided the energy that powered the station in the form of turf.
Being one of the largest industrial parks in Ireland in those years, the station gave a major boost to the area, creating new jobs. Among the 400 people who worked in the station, the most famous was certainly Jack Phillips, the heroic radiotelegrapher who kept on sending SOS messages until the sinking of "Titanic".
Attacked by the IRA forces in 1922, the plant was badly damaged and Marconi wasn't even refunded by the Government. The station never reverted to its complete efficiency and was gradually dismissed within a few years.
Of the Irish experience of Marconi today are left some photographic evidence in the Station House Museum, the Marconi's Restaurant, located on Main Street and the station area; the Clifden and Connemara Heritage Society are currently planning on developing this site for locals and tourists interested in one of the biggest industrial enterprise of 20th century in Connemara.
Guglielmo and Beatrice in 1910: Fondazione Guglielmo Marconi