The Telegram

It was a summer evening, I was about 5 years old and standing on a chair at the sink in the back kitchen beside my mother at the sink, she was preparing a salad for our tea and was showing me how to peel the shell of the boiled egg and we were laughing as I sometimes pushed the spoon handle to hard and pierced it instead of carefully peeling it off. Suddenly she stopped talking and I looked up at her and she was staring out the window at a man getting of his bike, she looked a bit frightened and lifted me to the ground and told me to go into the living room and wait there and she would be back in a minute and we would finish the salad, but we never did finish it.


The man at the door had just delivered a telegram. Her sister Peggy had died
suddenly aged 41 in Co. Meath, I had never seen her crying and my father was comforting her and brought her into the sitting room. I was shocked myself but, my brothers assured me she would be ok in a while.


But it wasn’t all bad news the telegram brought, telegrams were read out by the best man at weddings years ago to congratulate the young couple, also they were sent to announce the birth of a child.


This was the way information was communicated quickly before the arrival of
the telephone, or mobiles or texting.


Telegrams were sent using Morse code, Samuel Morse is thought to have sent the first message by telegram wires using his system of dots and dashes in the Summer of 1844. A transatlantic steel wire encased cable ran across the floor of the Atlantic from Valentia in Co .Kerry to Newfoundland. The Morse Code was translated by people who were specially trained in understanding it, The first official telegram to be sent was from Queen Victoria to the newly elected President James Buchannan in 1854. Before this time letters were sent by ship and depending on weather it could take months before they were received by the recipient, but with the arrival of the telegram it meant a family would receive the news on the same day.


The service started in Ireland in 1870 and was operated by the post office. The G.P.O. had a large number of telegraph staff and messenger boys. In the film “A night to Remember” which was the original film about the Titanic we see the Captain using Morse Code to alert other ships near him and the White Star Line about the ice berg. A telegram could be sent from Clare at 3pm and reach its recipient in Dublin at 4pm same day. Telegrams ceased as a service in the 70s in Ireland.

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