‘Back to the Future’- 1980s Galway city was so 21st century


An invitation is being extended to those who were employed in electronic manufacturing companies such as Northern Telecom, Information Sources Ltd(ISL) and Digital Equipment Corporation, as well as to those who had worked or studied in information technology, telecommunications and computing retail sector in Galway, during the 1970s/1980s, to attend a gathering at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics of the Data Science Institute, NUI Galway in the Dangan Business Park at 8pm on Tuesday June 11th. The purpose of the event is to connect with people that helped make Galway the country’s first ‘Digital City’ and one that was uniquely cosmopolitan during this era, in order to tap into their expertise, memorabilia and stories for the benefit of the national Computer and Communications Museum based at the Data Science Institute.

According to Brendan Smith Public Engagement Officer at Insight and curator of the computer museum, “21st century Ireland is defined in so many ways by technology-related issues such as cloud computing, social media, robotics, artificial intelligence, youth coding clubs, online digital media, video conferencing, computing gaming, a government focus on investing into science subjects, developing third level centres of scientific research, promoting the country as a high-tech global hub for foreign direct investment, attracting in skilled workers from overseas, as well as on the dark side by concerns over hacking and the negative influences of modern devices on family life and wellbeing.

Amazingly these issues were also symptomatic of Galway during the 1980s. The city was a key European manufacturing plant for Digital Equipment Corporation(DEC), then the world’s second largest computer company and for Northern Telecom, a global pioneer in the development of telecommunications products. Attracted by high tech jobs and a better quality of life, people came to work in Galway from the Americas, Asia and the European continent who had no Irish ancestry as well as from the Irish Diaspora in United States and Britain. As early as January 1981, all second-level schools in Galway city and county were equipped with Apple computers. The university was providing coding workshops for teachers; and ‘Coderdojo’ type clubs, aimed at children and their parents, were operating in city centre locations. Eleven city schools benefitted from ‘cloud-computing’ technology for mathematics and programming applications. Thirty years before Facebook, many teenagers took advantage of this online network connecting schools to communicate with each other for meet-ups, dating and other social engagements! Households in Galway were using digital devices via telephone lines to access online services for emailing, shopping, banking, hotel reservations, airline reservations, news, weather and information services. From 1984, robotics was taught at the Galway RTC (GMIT). UCG (NUIG) was renowned for its’ research on computer-aided manufacturing.  In 1985, a young boy invented Galway’s first computer-controlled robot. Two years later, an employee at DEC Galway produced probably Ireland’s first online newsletter by emailing news stories to colleagues working in DEC plants across the globe. As a prelude to Google, a Galway-based company(ISL) in 1982 was developing a digital search engine for American libraries.  The first satellite link between Ireland and North America, that allowed transatlantic business communications including video conferencing, was launched in 1987 at the Telecom Éireann (Éircom) headquarters in Mervue. 

We want to record these fascinating stories from this innovative era and make them known to the wider public.  Furthermore there is a huge repository of technical expertise amongst people from that generation who could form a veteran ‘digital makers’ club to pass on their vintage computer repair skills to younger museum volunteers.  Some individuals may be able to source key Galway-made or associated equipment absent from our museum collection or to volunteer as tour guides for a technology heritage and learning facility that is the only one of its type in Ireland and which could become an important element of Galway 2020 in promoting our unique digital cultural heritage.”

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