Today I attended a "Social Media" course in Wicklow , hoping to upgrade my communication skills and get my new website "out there"! Looking out the window over the rooftops of this old port town, I thought about it's best known former citizen and his role in communication history - Captain Robert Halpin.
When I read his life story, and there is an excellent account of his life on www.countywicklowheritage.org, two things struck me.
Firstly, Robert Halpin signed up for seven years at sea at the tender age of eleven. Eleven - an age when most young males are still considered children and treated as such.
Secondly, he died a relatively young man from gangrene, contracted through cutting his toe nails - a nasty and needless end to a wonderful career.
Robert Halpin could be described as connecting empires and continents through submarine cables and was truly one of the constructors of the Victorian Age of Communication. He was Captain of the largest ship in the world at the time - The Great Eastern, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a cruise ship, and put to work at laying cables.
When the first successful transatlantic cable was laid, America had just come out of the Civil War, Queen Victoria was nearly thirty years on the throne of England, and the Austro Prussian War was underway. Before the cable, news was carried by ship from America and generally took two weeks - imagine the difference the telegraph made.
Captain Halpin is well remembered in his home town of Wicklow. His birth place, an inn down by the harbour, is still trading as the Bridge House and he is commemorated with an obelisk in a triangle in the centre of the town, known as the "Smoothing Iron". He is buried in the graveyard beside Wicklow Parish Church, a distinctive church with a copper dome, and this graveyard has great views over the harbour and the Irish coastline.
Robert Halpin was a celebrity in his own lifetime and was well rewarded for his endeavours. He built himself a substantial mansion - Tinakilly House, in Rathnew, now a smart hotel/country house. Irish people of a certain age may remember television adverts for "toilet tissue", featuring Twink and a character called "Rose Violet" - those adverts were shot in Tinakilly House!
Birthplace of Captain Halpin - a pub in his time, and still a pub today!
Grave of Robert Halpin in the ancient burial ground beside Wicklow Parish Church