History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Anglo-Irish Cables
by Steven Roberts

Introduction: Steve Roberts has previously written about the Anglo-Irish cables in his Domestic Cables article, but here he describes in chronological order the cables laid by the private telegraph companies between 1852 and 1866, and attempts to resolve some of the conflicting stories about the early cables.

A table is appended with details of the Anglo-Irish cables laid after nationalization of the domestic telegraph companies, which took effect in early 1870.

To read Steve Roberts’ story of the Anglo-Irish Cables in context with the British telegraph companies of the time, see his Distant Writing website.

--Bill Burns

(1852) Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company – Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, to Howth, Ireland (68 miles)

The Company’s engineer, Charles West, surveyed the landing places in Anglesey and Ireland and commissioned an experimental cable of this own design, consisting of four cores insulated with india-rubber covered in spun yarn and armoured with plaited iron wire early in 1852. There were twelve plaits, each of six closely-woven No 15 BWG galvanized iron wires. It had the advantages that it could not untwist or form kinks; its disadvantage was that it could not be coiled but had to be stored in straight lengths. The armour was manufactured by Binks & Stephenson, makers of patent wire-rope, 17 West Ferry Road, Millwall. This was abandoned during manufacture, with 2¾ miles having been produced, and retained by the makers. “West’s Cable”, as became known, was inherited along with the other assets of the Irish Sub-Marine company by the International Telegraph Company and parts used for the short Isle of Wight cable in 1853.

The hyphen in the Company’s title is deliberate. It should not be confused with the “Irish Channel Submarine Telegraph Company”, a title used by the Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland for a short time in 1853, which made cables on the Northern route

June 1, 1852 – R S Newall & Company – Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, to Howth, Ireland (68 miles)

1852 Holyhead - Howth cable
Shore end (above) and deep-sea (below)

With the row between the Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company and Charles West continuing, the contractor R S Newall unilaterally commenced manufacture of a new single-cored cable, insulated by the Gutta-Percha Company in April 1852, to the design of the engineer Thomas Allen, finishing it in the extraordinarily short time of four weeks. It was also extraordinarily light, weighing just 1 ton per mile, compared with 7 tons a mile for the original, successful Dover to Calais cable. It was laid in eighteen hours by the chartered steamer Britannia under Captain Browne, escorted by HMS Prospero, the guard-ship from Pembroke navy yard, under Captain Beechy RN. It was completed from Holyhead to Howth and connected with the Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company’s and the Electric Telegraph Company’s land lines but failed after three days’ operation.

July 18 and July 24, 1852 - Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland - Cable One of Two - Port Patrick, Scotland, to Donaghadee, Ireland (27 miles)

This company, originally known as the “Irish Channel Submarine Telegraph Company”, started to lay the first cable between Scotland and Ireland on July 18, 1852. The steamer Reliance under Captain Edward Hawes RN, accompanied by a steam tug from Belfast, carrying twenty-five miles of underwater cable, successfully laid and electrically-tested seven miles of wire out from Port Patrick on the English coast. Strong sea currents disrupted laying and the cable-end was attached to a buoy; the steamer then returned home.

On Saturday, July 24, 1852 the Reliance returned to retrieve the cable-end, which the crew did with difficulty as the cable had fouled an old anchor. The ends were joined and the vessel continued towards Donaghadee laying a further fifteen miles. It reached Ireland at ten o’clock at night in heavy gales. The cable was tested, found electrically sound and, then as it was not possible to land it, buoyed-off in the sea.

The Ireland company’s cable was described by Charles Bright, working for the competitive English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company in 1854, as being of two copper wire cores insulated with gutta-percha, protected by a thick covering of hemp, without metallic armour. The gutta-percha insulation was made by Christopher Nickels & Company, of Lambeth, who also made the Company’s land-lines. It is not currently known who manufactured the hemp rope covering but W L Gilpin of London was the contractor.

The cable was to have armoured shore-ends manufactured by W Küper & Company (soon to become Glass, Elliot & Co.) but these were never made. Although still buoyed in the waters off at Donaghadee and Port Patrick in December 1852 the main length of the hemp-protected cable was said to be sound, but it was never worked for messages.

Before commencing the cable works the Ireland company had already laid a two-core roadside underground cable from Dumfries to the west coast of Scotland. It used Dering’s single-needle telegraph in its circuits.

October 9, 1852 - English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company - Cable One of Two – Port Patrick, Scotland, to Donaghadee, Ireland (27 miles)

The six-core cable was manufactured by the Gutta Percha Company of London and armoured and laid by R S Newall & Company of Gateshead. Twenty-five miles of completed cable were loaded aboard the contractor’s steamer Britannia, of this length four miles were regarded as a contingency. It was to run from Mora Bay in Scotland to Donaghadee Harbour. After an abortive start late in September, laying commenced on October 9, 1852 in severe weather, after paying-out sixteen miles the contractor was forced to cut the cable as the seas threatened the safety of the steamer.

R S Newall returned to Port Patrick with the Britannia in June 1854 and, overcoming immense difficulties, recovered the sixteen miles of old cable over a period of four days. It was found on testing to be electrically sound.

May 23, 1853 - English & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company – Cable Two of Two – Port Patrick, Scotland, to Donaghadee, Ireland (27 miles)

1853 Port Patrick - Donaghadee cable

The six-core cable was once again manufactured by the Gutta Percha Company of London and armoured and laid by R S Newall & Company of Gateshead. The contractor’s steamer William Hutt was accompanied by the tugs Conqueror and Wizard acting as guard boats, and successfully laid the twenty-four miles of cable from a point two miles south of Donaghadee to Mora Bay, a little to the north of Port Patrick. It cost £13,000 to complete.

The William Hutt laying the 1853 cable

The Magnetic company also was constructing an underground roadside six-core circuit from Carlisle to Dumfries and Port Patrick in May 1853, to connect the cable with the rest of England and Scotland.

The Submarine Magneto Electric Telegraph between
Great Britain and Ireland – Terminus near Donaghadee

November 21 - 26, 1853 – Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland – Cable Two of Two – Port Patrick, Scotland, to Donaghadee, Ireland (27 miles)

Engineered to the unusual standards dictated by the amateur electrical engineer G E Dering, this single-core wire was manufactured by Robert Cocker & Company of Aston, Birmingham, and covered with tar at Belfast. It was to be laid by the contractor, W L Gilpin of London, using the steamer Albion between Ballycopeland Bay near Donaghadee and Port of Spittal, south of Port Patrick, escorted by HMS Asp, a survey vessel. There were 28 miles of wire on board, this broke several times during paying out between November 21 and 26, 1853 and was abandoned after twelve miles had been laid.

The two-core underground cables that the Ireland company successfully laid from Port Patrick to Dumfries in Scotland and from Donaghadee to Belfast and Dublin in Ireland were abandoned in 1856.

June 2, 1854 – British Telegraph Company – Port Patrick, Scotland, to Donaghadee (Whitehead), Ireland (27 miles)

The six-core cable was manufactured by the Gutta Percha Company of London and armoured and laid by R S Newall & Company of Gateshead to the same pattern as that used by the Magnetic company in 1853. The steamer Monarch, chartered from the International Telegraph Company by R S Newall, accompanied by the tugs Wizard and Conqueror, successfully laid the twenty-seven mile cable from Port Patrick to Whitehead, near Donaghadee, on June 2, 1854.

Cable images courtesy of Eddie Vowles

6 copper wires, No. 16 gauge,
covered with gutta percha,
to No. 2 gauge, served with 12 iron wires, No. 2 gauge

British Telegraph Cos Cable
from Portpatrick Scotland to White-Head Ireland
Laid Across June 2, 1854
Length 27 Miles
Weight 180 Tons

To connect with its domestic network the British Telegraph Company laid an underground circuit from Whitehead to Carrickfergus for Belfast, and another to Stranraer and Ayr for Glasgow in 1855. The connection to Dumfries for London was not completed until March 1855. It used Highton’s single needle telegraph in its circuits.

The Magnetic and British companies merged in 1857 to form the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company, the combined firm then possessed two cables from Port Patrick to Donaghadee, with three magneto circuits and six galvanic circuits. This capacity gave the new company a virtual monopoly of traffic to Ireland for several years as the competition had only two circuits to the city of Dublin (see below).

Further information on this cable

September 4 & 5, 1854 - International Telegraph Company – Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, to Howth, Ireland (68 miles)

The Electric Telegraph Company bought out the Irish Sub-Marine Telegraph Company and its rights for the direct cable to Dublin on September 25, 1852, and commissioned its subsidiary the International Telegraph Company, that worked the underwater lines to Holland, to complete the project, connecting its English circuits with Dublin.

The first successful Holyhead to Howth cable was supervised by Edwin Clark, chief engineer of the Electric Telegraph Company. It was a single-cored circuit insulated with gutta-percha and was to be armoured with iron wire by R S Newall & Company, who, through pressure of work, had to subcontract the armouring to the competitive wire-rope makers, Fenton, Hyde & Company. It was lightweight, weighing two tons to the mile, and was laid in September 1854 by the International Telegraph Company’s cable steamer, Monarch.

June 13 & 14, 1855 - International Telegraph Company – Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, to Howth, Ireland (68 miles)

A second cable to Ireland to deal with the volume of business direct to Dublin was almost immediately required. Edwin Clark was again the engineer, and the cable specifications were unchanged from the previous year, however R S Newall & Co. undertook the armouring themselves. Once again the Monarch was used to undertake the works.

The two Holyhead to Howth cables failed in 1859

1861 - Electric Telegraph Company – Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, to Howth, Ireland (68 miles)

The Electric company was in no great hurry to replace its Holyhead to Howth cable; for several years from 1854 the company had only one office in Ireland, in Dublin city; only extending into the rest of the island in the mid 1860s. The bulk of the Irish business was in the hands of it chief competitor, the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company.

It delayed for two years and even then resorted to the expedient of using the single core lightweight cable salvaged from its Orfordness to Scheveningen (East Anglia to Holland) circuits that Monarch had raised in 1859. The recycled material had a single core and had been manufactured by R S Newall in 1854, weighing two tons per mile, as with the two cables it was to replace.

Cable Bay, Rhosneigr
Postcard image courtesy of Tony Davies

It was laid by their ship Monarch in 1861 from Balscaddon Bay at Howth, near Dublin, to Rhosneigr on the west coast of Anglesey. The change of landing place in Wales was intended to avoid anchor damage from steamers entering the busy harbour at Holyhead. The Dublin end was buoyed in the bay to warn ships of its presence. Neither of these changes worked; the Rhosneigr end had to be repaired due to abrasion in November 1862 and the Howth end in the following year. It finally failed completely in 1865.

March 1862 - The London & South-of-Ireland Direct Telegraph Company – Abermawr, West Wales, to Wexford, Ireland (62 miles)

This cable, running from Abermawr in Wales and Greenore Point, near Wexford, was promoted by the Electric Telegraph Company, who was to work it, to connect with the towns of southern Ireland and with the cable end of the Atlantic Telegraph to New York. It was a four-core cable, insulated with india-rubber by S W Silver & Company of Silvertown, London, and armoured with iron wire by Glass, Elliot & Company of London, who laid the cable from the chartered steamer Berwick. Silver also provided their patent ebonite insulators for the overhead land lines. Its engineer was Nathaniel John Holmes, his first cable project.

The South-of-Ireland company erected sixty-miles of overhead wires from Wexford to Cork and from Abermawr to Milford in South Wales, where they connected with circuits on the Great Western Railway to London. As part of its Wexford to Cork line the company ran short cables across Blackwater Harbour at Youghal and across Cork harbour to Queenstown. It also worked a separate marine telegraph from Roche’s Point in Cork harbour to collect news and cargo information from passing steamers to forward by its Abermawr cable to Liverpool.

June 1866 – Electric & International Telegraph Company – Port Patrick, Scotland, to Donaghadee, Ireland (27 miles)

With the failure, once again, of its route to Dublin from Anglesey (see below) during 1865 the Electric company finally adopted the Northern Route from Britain to Ireland. Early in 1866 it announced at its annual meeting the construction of a cable from Port Patrick to Donaghadee. In the event, in June 1866 its cable steamer Monarch laid a massive six-core cable weighing ten tons to the mile from Killantringan in Wigtownshire, near Port Patrick, to Whitehead, near Donaghadee in County Antrim. It connected with the Electric company’s circuits on the Portpatrick Railway to Dumfries and Carlisle, hence into England.

View Larger Map

Cable landing sites: Whitehead and Donaghadee, Ireland,
and Lairds Bay, Killantringan (Portpatrick), Scotland

This was the last domestic cable laid by the telegraph companies between Britain and Ireland and lasted into the 1890s.

A bill to nationalize the domestic cable companies was introduced in Parliament on 1 April 1868, and after passage the date of nationalization was set as 1 January 1870. The Post Office having failed to meet this deadline, the takeover was finally effected as of 5 February 1870.

Following the takeover, all subsequent domestic cables were laid and maintained by the Post Office, although international cables remained the responsibility of private companies.

As can be seen from the many cables laid on various routes in the early years of the submarine cable industry, Ireland was an important destination. As all the early Atlantic cables landed on Ireland's west coast, the onward connection to the British mainland became even more significant after 1858.

Details of the cables laid after nationalization may be seen in the extracts from Bill Glover's Cable Timeline below. Entries highlighted in light green are sections of transatlantic routes, owned and operated by private companies as noted above.


Anglo-Irish Cables 1870-2010
Year Route Manufacturer Company or Operator Cable Ships Notes Band-
1870 Port Kale - Donaghadee, Ireland Telcon supplied the core. - R.S. Newall & Co GPO Monarch (1) - Blazer (2) Last submarine cable made by R. S. Newall & Co.  
1879 Knock Bay - Whitehead, Ireland ? GPO ? Four conductors  
1880 Blackwater, Ireland - Abermawr, Wales ? GPO ? Four conductors
Cable abandoned 1922/23
1883 Fishguard, Wales - Blackwater, Ireland India Rubber Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works GPO Dacia Four conductors  
1886 Aber Geirch, Wales - Newcastle, Ireland No 1 ? GPO ? Four conductors  
1888 Port Kale, Scotland - Whitehead, Ireland ? GPO ? Four conductors  
1892 Aber Geirch, Wales - Newcastle, Ireland No 2 ? GPO ?    
1893 Port Kale, Scotland - Donaghadee, Ireland No 2 Siemens Bros. GPO Monarch First telephone cable to Ireland. Four seven-wire conductors, teredo tape, 16 armouring wires  
1894 Dover Bay, Nova Scotia - Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England - Le Havre France Siemens Bros. Commercial Cable Co Faraday (1) System 2161 nm.
In 1926 this cable and the 1905 cable were diverted into Quidi Vidi Harbour by CS John W. Mackay.
1897 Knock Bay, Isle of Skye - Whitehead, Ireland 2 ? GPO ?    
1898 Aber Geirch (Nevin), Wales - Newcastle, Ireland Telcon GPO ? Telephone cable. The third cable on this route, the first two being telegraph cables.  
1900 Waterville, Ireland - Western super Mare, England Siemens Bros Commercial Cable Co Anglia    
1901 Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England Telcon Commercial Cable Co Anglia    
1902 Trecastell (near Rhosneigr, Isle of Anglesey) - Howth (Ireland) No 2 ? GPO ?    
1910 >Waterville, Ireland - Weston super Mare, England >? >Commercial Cable Co >?    
1913 Aber Geirch - Howth 1 Siemens Bros GPO Monarch (2) System 64 nm. Four-conductor loaded telephone cable insulated with gutta percha.
Completed in December 1913. Aber Geirch is near Nevin/Nefyn, Caernarvon, Wales.
1918 Valentia, Ireland - Porthcurno, England Telcon Western Union Telegraph Co War Simoon    
1922 Port Kale - Donaghadee No 3 ? GPO ?    
1923 Valentia, Ireland - Whitesands Bay, Sennen Cove, England Telcon Western Union Telegraph Co Stephan - T. W. Stuart    
1929 Blackpool, England - Port Greenhaugh, Ireland Siemens Bros GPO Faraday (2) - George George laid the Blackpool shore ends. Continuously loaded paper insulated telephone cable  
1937 Port Kale - Donaghadee 4 & 5 Submarine Cables Ltd GPO Faraday (2) Paragutta insulated telephone cables  
1937 Aber Geirch - Howth No 2 Submarine Cables Ltd GPO Faraday (2) Paragutta insulated telephone cable  
1938 Aber Geirch - Howth No 3 Submarine Cables Ltd GPO Faraday (2) Paragutta insulated telephone cable  
1942 Ballyhornan - Port Erin, Isle of Man No 3 Submarine Cables Ltd GPO ?    
1947 Holyhead - Dollymount 1 & 2 Submarine Cables Ltd GPO ? Coaxial cables insulated with Telcothene. CS Ariel inserted 2 repeaters in each cable in 1953.  
1950 Port Kale - Donaghadee 6 & 7 ? GPO ?    
1988 Holyhead, Wales - Portmarnock, Ireland 1 Standard Telephones & Cables Ltd BT - Eircom ? System 130 km unrepeatered 6 x 140 Mb/s
1989 Portpatrick, Scotland - Donaghadee, N Ireland ? BT ? System 35 km. 6 x 560 Mb/s
1992 LANIS: England - IOM - N Ireland - Scotland NKT C&W Seaspread System 300 km all buried. 6 x 565 Mb/s
1993 Girvan, Scotland - Larne, Northern Ireland ? BT ? System 83 km 565 Mb/s
1994 CELTIC: England - Ireland ASN BT - Eircom ? System 275 km. 2.5 Gb/s
1999 ESAT 1: Whitesands Bay, England - Kilmore Quay, Ireland Pirelli 261 km Esat Telecom. Company bought by BT in 2000 and renamed BT Ireland Communications Ltd Wave Sentinel System 259 km. MV Seaworker laid the shore ends 80 Gb/s
1999 ESAT 2: Ainsdale Sands, England - Dublin, Ireland Tyco 247 km As above Sovereign System 240 km. Sovereign laid the shore ends 80 Gb/s
2000 SIRIUS: England - N Ireland - Ireland ? NTL ?    
2000 Peel, IOM - Ballyhornan, N Ireland ? BT ? System 59 km. 12 x 40 Gb/s
2000 Whitesands Bay, England - Ballygrangans, Ireland: Ballinesker - Crooklets, Rngland ? Global Crossing ? System 495 km. 2 x 40 Gb/s
2001 HIBERNIA: (Formerly 360 Atlantic) Northern: Southport, England - Halifax, Nova Scotia: Southern: Southport - Dublin, Ireland - Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax - Boston, USA Tyco SSI Hibernia Atlantic purchased the system in 2003 Vercors - Iberus - Nordic King - Teneo - Dock Express 20 - Global Mariner - Atlantida System 12,200 km. Commissioned in 2000 and in service April 2001. Vercors laid segment D3 3293 km  
2010 Project Kelvin: Dublin - Drogheda - Dundalk - Castleblayney - Monaghan, Ireland - Omagh - Strabane, N. Ireland - Letterkenny, Ireland - Londonderry - Coleraine, N. Ireland: Monaghan - Armagh - Portadown - Belfast - Ballymena - Coleraine, N. Ireland ? Hibernia Atlantic ? Landline with a connection to Hibernia's southern cable at Dublin and a connection to their northern cable via a branching unit and cable to Coleraine  

Last revised: 21 March, 2019

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