I finally got my wish! I coordinated the opening of what isprobably Ireland’s only historical exhibition, dedicated to the development of communications and computer technologies, at the National University of Ireland Galway. The museum is appropriately located at my workplace -the on-campus Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI), which is the world’s largest Institute researching the next generation of the World Wide Web.The exhibition represents a collaboration between NUI Galway and the multi-sectoral ‘eGalway’ group of the Galway City Development Board. Under the chairpersonship of Dr. Chris Coughlan of Hewlett-Packard, representatives of GMIT, NUIG, Galway City Council, state agencies and the local business sector collected an intriguing array of vintage computers, telephones, microprocessors, data storage devices and other memorabilia that collectively illustrate how improvements in communications have dramatically impacted on society throughout the centuries.
This unique science heritage facility, which will be open for one month, tells the fascinating story of key moments in the history of communications. Yet it is designed to be more than just a tribute to the past and a collection of historical artefacts. For it has a central tenet of inspiring today’s youth to consider careers as scientists and engineers by highlighting the importance of ‘innovation’ to human progress and the crucial but oftentimes overlooked contributions of young people and of Ireland to advances in global communications technologies.
For instance, the invention of ‘Radio’ had a very strong Irish input. It was also avidly embraced by young people worldwide and spawned the birth of ‘Teenage Culture’ during the Jazz Age. This association has only increased over the decades leading to today’s digital world where many of the significant inventions in modern technology, from the personal computers to Google, Facebook and YouTube, have been created by innovators in the late teens to late twenties age bracket.
Chris Coughlan says, “a key aspect are the exhibits on IT companies that established significant manufacturing and research operations in Ireland and worked with the Irish third-level educational sector such as Verbatim in Limerick and Apple in Cork. Being based in Galway, we have of course given a special prominence to the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) who became in 1971 one of the first such multi-national entity to establish an export manufacturing operation in this country and in many ways heralded a major shift in Irish economic development. From its Galway plant, DEC provided a range of mini-computers and software that became the backbone of many industrial and engineering plants across Europe. Its presence here acted as a catalyst for numerous other US high-tech and business companies to follow suit by establishing their primary European operations in Ireland.”
There are also exhibits on the development of the portable computer, the printer and the microprocessor. Equipment on display include DEC Vax, Digital Rainbow, Apple 11, Apple Macintosh, IBM PC, Commodore 64, Vic-20, BBC and the Sinclair ZX81
There is one section of the museum though that should be very popular with all those that consider themselves ‘Young at Heart’, namely the computers that allow users to play the legendary video games of the late 1970s, including ‘Pacman’, ‘Space Invaders’ and ‘Asteroids’!