Ireland’s oldest working computer showcased at Technology Museum in NUI Galway

Joe Hurley switches on a 1971 PDP 11 minicomputer
--> A forty three old computer of the type manufactured in Galway during the nineteen seventies formed the centre piece of a major tribute to Ireland’s rich technology heritage that took place last Saturday in the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland located at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics (formerly DERI) in the Dangan Business Park NUI Galway. The event formed part of the national Engineers’ Week  being held from February 9th to February 15th,

As curator of this museum (in my capacity as Insight Outreach Officer), I believe that this PDP 11 minicomputer from 1971 is probably the country’s oldest operational computer. It is the size of a very large fridge but has only a memory capacity of 128k which seems puny in today’s term when one considers that the latest mobile phone can have 64gigabytes as standard. But forty years ago it was the flagship of computing. The PDP was repaired and restored by Joe Hurley of Quicktec. For Joe it was a labour of love as he had worked as a technician at the Galway factory where these computers were manufactured. In 1971 Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), then the world’s second largest computer company, opened its first overseas manufacturing plant outside the USA  at Mervue in the city which produced a range of minicomputers and software that became the backbone of many industrial and engineering plants across Europe. One of the key reasons that the corporation located in Galway was the presence of a university which could provide an ongoing skilled creative educated workforce. This was further reinforced the following year with the establishment of a third level technology college, now known as the GMIT, near to the DEC plant. Not only did it become a major employer for the city and county, but its decision to set up here encouraged other US high-tech companies to follow suit with the result that the Ireland became a leading global electronics hub. New and exciting job opportunities in the areas of science, engineering and commerce for young Irish people resulted, significantly transforming the nation’s economy and society in the process. 

So Galway can rightly claim to be the country’s first and premier ‘Digital City’, building on an unbroken tradition of computing innovation dating back to DEC’s arrival.
During the Open Day at the museum, facilitated by Pat Moran (who joined DEC in 1973) visitors were able to view a full range of the DEC hardware including VAX systems, VT100 terminals, Rainbow microcomputers, PDP 8s and LA printers, as well as equipment manufactured by Northern Telecom (later Avaya) during the 1970s and 1980s; computers associated with the early 1980s Mervue-based Information Sources Ltd (ISL) which was Ireland’s first international digital archiving and cataloguing enterprise; and an 1993 IBM PC compatible microcomputer made by the Irish-owned QTech company. 
Zenith Heathkit computer from ISL (1983)
There was also on display electronic apparati made in Limerick (Wang), Cork (Apple) and elsewhere in Ireland during the nineteenth seventies and nineteenth eighties.
Thanks also to Philip Cloherty and Alanna Kelly for their wonderful stewardship on the day. Alanna has brought the museum into state-of-the art 21st century technology with her demonstrations of 3D printing.
Máire Bean Uí Chonghaile with Pat Moran (Museum Director & ex-DEC)
Galway: Birthplace of Computing in Schools
One of the visitors to the event was  Máire Bean Uí Chonghaile (neé Ní Chonceanainn), who was a founding member of the Computer Educational Society of Ireland (CESI) which was established in 1973 with its first conference being held in Galway. The group grew out of a series of computer courses for teachers that were hosted at University College Galway (now NUI Galway) during the summers of 1971 and 1972 by the staff of its Department of Mathematics.  
Máire was one of the earliest teachers of computing in schools. From 1977, she used a PDP8 minicomputer with two teleprinters provided by DEC Galway to teach Fortran computer language to students at Coláiste Chroí Mhuire An Spidéal

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