2013 – what a year!

Well here we all are on the last day of 2013 and what a year it has been for those of us involved in the Tower at Howth. My colleague and I who are completing the cataloguing project at the museum have been busy with not only our own day jobs but also with our work at and for the museum!

Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio – Howth

So I’ve decided to do a quick rundown of the events we’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with as part of the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio…

The year started off with the creation of this blog as another way of highlighting the collection and the events that Pat and the lads get involved in. Whilst we were focusing on collecting the data and the images of the collection that is currently stored in the basement of the Martello Tower… Pat was working on the important anniversaries to mark in 2013.


Marconi tests at our Martello Tower in 1905

First up was International Marconi Day on Saturday 20th April – the lads welcomed many amateurs to the tower to be involved in celebrating the day where for 24 hours radio enthusiasts celebrate the birth of Marconi on 25th April 1874. Not content with a busy Saturday – on Sunday the 21st April Pat and the lads were at the Vintage Fashion & Decor Fair that took place at the Burlington Hotel. This was the first event that we joined them at – assisting visitors to the Fair in understanding the collection and some of the artefacts we took out of the museum to celebrate the history of communication. It was a busy and interesting day, interacting with the audience, seeing the wonder on children’s faces when they played with the ‘dial’ telephone; explaining the difference between the styles and the development of radio & telecommunication.

 'Have you the Endurance - Explore Dublin, past and present.'

‘Have you the Endurance – Explore Dublin, past and present.’

April was a very busy month for us! As the following weekend we held our Endurance Tour of Historical Dublin. We took a group through the streets of Dublin as we walked we discovered the history of Dublin from the Vikings to the Napoleonic Wars and finishing off in 1850 after the famine. This tour came about via a chance Twitter conversation about Tom Crean and the lager with his name brewed by the Dingle Brewing Co. We decided to call it Endurance – as on the route we would take in pubs that had Tom Crean’s Lager on tap and… to go through the walking tour you had to have Endurance. We began at 130pm at the Brazen Head and finished at 9pm in Kennedy’s on Westland Row. Whilst the tour finished at 9pm… the celebrations and chat didn’t end til closing. However, it wasn’t all about the drink… friendships were formed and connections were made on the walk – we had an international gathering for the tour from Brazil, Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy and even a few Irish thrown into the mix. This tour was created in order to highlight the history of Dublin and how it related to the building of the Martello Towers and their importance in Irish history.

July was the next big event for us with the celebration and commemoration of the Kingstown Regatta. This was a joint event Kingstown poster 4conducted between the Hurdy Gurdy Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. During the day, communication was established between the two sites and the unique call signs EI115MAR and EI115KR were utilised throughout the day. Throughout the day we also had The Transmission Project recording at the tower and you can see the fruits of their labour here. On the weekend of the 27th July I conducted a ‘tweetup’ on #MartelloTowers exploring the history behind the towers construction not only in Dublin but across the globe during the Napoleonic Wars. In July, I also began to share my photographic exploits as I documented the accessible Martello Towers here in Dublin. During the August bank holiday weekend I took a trip to Bere Island to explore the military archaeology of the island and photograph the two extant Martello Towers. The balmy summer months that we experienced in 2013 also saw the J24 Worlds come to Howth in August. A very exciting few days both in Howth itself and out on the water. Here in the tower we also had a brief interaction with those taking part – a key factor in Marconi’s development of radio was his interest in serving the maritime community. Radio and mariners have had strong links from the start. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to suffer a mishap whilst at sea understands only too well the importance of the lifeline that their radio is.

Culturenight2013Not content with a busy and balmy summer… Pat was then approached by Julian Clancy and asked to provide a ‘pop-up’ museum based in the ground floor of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for Culture Night 2013. We were delighted to be asked by Pat to assist on the night alongside the team from the Hurdy Gurdy, in explaining the various artefacts that Pat had chosen as highlights of his collection. Everyone from the team enjoyed the night – engaging and interacting with the many people who visited the Broadcasting Authority on Culture Night 2013. Pat also brought along his Ediphone cylinder recorder which definitely caused a stir amongst those present who were fortunate enough to hear it when played to illustrate the importance of the work of the National Folklore Collection.


Science Week 2013

November was filled with science – we had started our winter opening hours as usual but for Science Week we were open daily and we had free admission alongside our tours. Science is a key component of the history of communication from the discoveries and work of Volta, Faraday, Hertz, Lodge, and Tesla. To the developments and work of De Forest and Marconi – so not only our Martello Tower but the collection itself – is well placed to explain the importance of science in our daily lives. The team at the tower welcomed visitors and delighted adults and children alike with their tours that illustrate the history of communication not only in Ireland but across the globe. November also saw us back again at the Vintage Fair – this time in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire. Pat had created a display again to illustrate key items from his collection. One thing I’ve encountered frequently with our visitors is the emotional impact of some of our artefacts. Time and again through discussions with visitors and enthusiasts alike, people are transported back to their childhood, visiting their grandparents parlour to listen to their ‘valve radio’ or watch the telly in an aunt’s drawing-room. Fond memories are explored. Something as ubiquitous as a radio or an old telephone, can stir up strong feelings and impact not only our visitors but ourselves alike. It is one of the humbling aspects of our role with the museum and with the collection.

All in all it’s been a fascinating year for us involved with the Hurdy Gurdy, we’ve had lots of visits from our Twitter friends as well as from those on a day trip to Howth who just happen to discover us whilst exploring the Howth environs. We’re looking forward to another busy year, more anniversaries to celebrate with the coming of 2014… the Howth gunrunning for one! My colleague and I will continue our cataloguing project, we’re in this for the long haul. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Pat and the lads at the tower as well as all our visitors and those that have interacted and supported us during 2013. Onwards to more wonderful endeavours in 2014 from all of us at the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio based in Martello Tower North #2…


The radio collection of Pat Herbert collector and curator of the museum, covers all aspects of radio and the history of communication in Ireland.

Philips Radio

Philips Radio – First FM set in Ireland

Here we will attempt to illustrate the wide range of radios within the collection – featuring well known models such as Roberts, Bush, Pilot, Philips, Pye, Cossor, Osram and Opus.

There are also handmade radios – which illustrate the ingenuity and interest of radio lovers here in Ireland during the early years of the Irish state when imports were scarce.

How do you eat an elephant?

How does one eat an elephant? – this was a poignant question posed to me today.

How do you eat an elephant?

The context? I have been allowed the mammoth opportunity to catalogue a tower full of treasures. How did this come about? Well, the good people at the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio have let me in, to document as much of their vast collection as is possible. The contents of the Martello Tower, over looking Irelands Eye island in Howth Co. Dublin is comprised of all manner of communication devices spanning decades and even centuries.

The collection is a lifetime compilation of the museum’s curator, Mr. Patrick Herbert. Pat gained access to the historical tower which was used by Marconi’s communications company since 1905 and had its first broadcast in 1903. It’s the ideal site to house this collection. Even though Pat and his band of volunteers have provided this museum service for the past ten years, the collection had not been catalogued. As this venture is not for profit and purely for the love of radio, I asked if I could create a catalogue of these much cared for items.

So, where to start? I first needed to check if the museum had the basics which, we or at least I, very much take for granted these days: broadband and a functioning computer. Phew, it was all there.

Now I had options. My initial research into collection managment systems (open source of course) lead me to create a local server. I began this process, but the deeper I got into it the more cons there were than pros. I looked at “Collective Access” and other such systems. Testing the Apache server proved too slow on my computer. For this reason, I felt that any excessive drain on the museum’s computer was not an option, so I looked to the cloud for another solution.

Luckily web 2.0 offers a wealth of options. My favourite and chosen tool is Omeka.net. Here a free collection management space allows 500MB which is ample for this project, as can hold up to 5000 items if the photo size is reduced significantly.

In order to failsafe against account losses or other incidents, I also decided to create a local Access database. This database will hold a back-up list of all items in the Omeka space.

So how do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time…

Originally composed in June 2012