Re-enactment of World's First Pirate Broadcast from Easter Rising 1916

Irish Rebel operating wireless transmitter, Easter Week, 1916 (Drawing: Helen Caird)

World’s First Pirate Broadcast: Re-enactment of the 1916 Wireless Transmission by the Irish Rebels.
In recognition of the historical role that the Irish rebels played in the history of global wireless communications, there will on at 7.30pm tomorrow  (Monday April 25th) in the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland, located at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in NUI Galway, be a re-enactment of the radio transmission of April 25th 1916 which became the world’s first pirate broadcast.

Museum members John-Owen Jones and Frank McCurry will send Morse code transmissions using the high voltage spark technology as operated by the rebels in which induction coils (as invented by Irish physicist Nicholas Callan of Maynooth College) were used with a Morse telegraph key.

The event is free and all are welcome to attend. However advanced booking is required and can be done by contacting museum curator Brendan Smith at

The 1916 Easter Rising, when Irish rebels rose up against British rule and declared an Irish Republic, was the setting for probably the world’s first radio broadcast. 

Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the rebel leaders and a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, was a keen advocate of the new developing technologies of wireless telegraphy. He established a special wireless unit within the Irish Volunteers.  In the lead up to the Rising, Plunkett developed an technologically ambitious plan to use radio to coordinate national and international communications, to provide information on the movement of weapons into Ireland and to spread the news of the rising across the world. One of the first steps was to make radio contact with the German government in order to relay messages onto Roger Casement who was organizing the purchase and transport of weapons to Ireland. This process was to be facilitated by rebels taking over the wireless and telegraphy station in Caherciveen Co. Kerry on the Atlantic coast. But as it turned out, neither the arms-ship the Aud nor the submarine that was bringing Casement back to Ireland were equipped with wireless.

Through republican sympathizers working at the nearby trans-Atlantic telegraphy station on Valentia island, the Kerry operation would also allow the sending of progress reports on the Rising to Clan na Gael and other supporters in the United States. Caherciveen would be used as a two-way wireless station with the rebel headquarters in Dublin. With the cutting of land-line telegraph and telephone cables from Dublin and the occupation of the main hub of tele and postal communications hub in Ireland, namely the General Post Office on Sackville Street, it was hoped that it would be the Irish rebels that would have the upper hand in the battle for control of electronic communications in and out of Ireland. Unfortunately one of the two taxis hired to take the four Irish volunteers to Carherciveen from Killarney rail station on Good Friday crashed on its way killing all occupants. So no two-way wireless system was established from the Atlantic coast to Dublin. 

On the first day of the Rising (Easter Monday) seven volunteers under the command of Fergus Kelly left the rebel HQ at the GPO to take possession of the nearby ‘Irish School of Wireless’ to establish radio contact with Cahirciveen. Though radio was banned under the Defense of the Realm Act which came into operation once World War One began in 1914, nevertheless the school was still used as a training centre for wireless operators.  The spark transmitter was made ready and the dissembled rooftop antenna was re-erected on the roof with the aid of commandeered cabling and in spite of firing from British snipers. However as the receiver’s batteries were past repair, they never knew that the Atlantic station had not been activated and would not therefore re-transmit messages from Dublin.  Yet the Morse code message sent at regular intervals into the atmosphere was in fact received by radio operators in a number of countries. The world’s first pirate broadcast was picked up in Wales, Bulgaria, Germany and by ships. 
Written by James Connolly and sent out by volunteer David Burke, the message was message was, “Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising.”
Transmissions ended when the volunteers had to abandon the building on Easter Thursday as a result of heavy British shelling.

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