Our First Radio

Do you remember the good old days, wherever they have passed
They’ll never be the same again as things are changing fast.

When I reflect on times gone by, these words come to mind of one of the songs that we used to listen to on the radio in the kitchen all those years ago.  I think it was on the Walton’s sponsored programme on the then Radio Eireann. The very first electrical appliance that my father purchased after he got the electricity installed was a Pye Radio, which he bought in Kilnaleck.  This immediately brought the world into our little kitchen.

The year was 1959 and I have a recollection of a group of workmen arriving in their trucks with long poles which they promptly put standing up in Reilly’s field next to our old house. They had large coils of wire which they proceeded to unroll and connect up to the top of the poles which were located at a suitable distance from each other across the neighbouring fields. They then installed a wired connection from the pole to the gable wall of the house.

Inside was installed a meter and a fuse board with little white fuses- which regularly blew, usually at an inconvenient time.

 The tilly lamp and candles which had been in constant use for lighting until that time became a thing of the past and was only used again whenever there was a power failure. The kitchen and rooms which had been dark and full of shadows were suddenly illuminated in glorious electric light.   In comparison with today’s electrical installations  it was very basic. Two or three light sockets, switches, and a plug socket with round holes was the sum total of the installation. Soon my father had improvised with a double adaptor connected into the kitchen light and a wire running out the window into the shed so that he could have an infra red lamp for the new born pigs. This made a big difference to their survival as they could soon be separated from the sow and prevent her from lying on top of them.

Soon the Pye radio arrived and was installed on shelves in the corner of the kitchen. My father took control of it and figured out its operation such as tuning in to Radio Eireann from Athlone, also how to get Radio Luxembourg.  More importantly he figured out how to fix it when it developed an intermittent fault and restore the service.   When the radio first arrived into the house my parents used to have it on at night and my granny who was in her mid eighties and in the final years of her life could not grasp the concept of the radio. She thought that it was people coming into the house telling stories and playing music after she went to bed and I recall that she was a bit frightened by this.

The world as it was in the early sixties was brought vividly into our home. We listened with anxiety to the threats of war posed by the Cuban missile crisis, with shock to the horrific news of the Congo massacre of Irish troops and with great sadness when John F Kennedy was assassinated.  We delighted in listening to comedy shows with Maureen Potter, music from the Ceili House programme and other plays and comedies. All great entertainment.

In June 1963 Pope John 23rd died after a lingering illness for over a week and I was delegated to bring daily progress reports on his condition to our neighbour Maggie Fox culminating with sad news of  his death which was greeted with much sorrow.

I soon found out when there would be GAA matches being broadcast and I became an avid follower through listening to the match commentaries. Listening to the matches but not being able to see them helped me develop a vivid imagination as I visualised the actions as narrated by the iconic voice of the legendary Michael O’Hehir.

In a way the radio was to us children what the internet and smart phones are to the present day kids.  I recall while listening to GAA matches being “encouraged” to turn it off  and to give a hand out with work on the farm. Of course I was reluctant and resisted- things haven’t changed that much when I hear of present day kids being addicted to their smart phones and watching videos on the internet.

There is no doubt that the arrival of electricity to rural Ireland made a huge difference and it is true to say that it is responsible for the Ireland we know today. Gradually over the years my parents added to the electrical appliances, an electric iron, a cooker, a TV, and washing machine followed as we progressed onwards through the 20th century. But I don’t think that any of these had the same impact or excitement as the Pye Radio arrived in the door and started to broadcast.

Brendan Smith, Ballinacree, August 2018

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