by W (Bill) H Boyle
"Where" asks the rookie "Is Crookhaven, and what's to do about it anyway?" - not realising that it was Crookhaven and its sister station Malin Head that added to the I.O.W.T. vocabulary the traumatic words "Isolated station". Time was, when to decline to take one's turn (3 years) at one of these stations, was to forego any chance of over joining the Coast Wireless Service.
Where is Crookhaven? It is about midway between the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse and the Mizen Head fog Signal Station in the southwest tip of Ireland and about ten miles from each. Landwise it is 30 miles from the rail head of the Cork/Skibbereen railway (now defunct), and 15 miles from the terminal of the Skibbereen/Schull tramway (now also defunct). The remaining 15 miles to Crookhaven had to be covered by a privately hired jaunting car, for at this time (1914) motor cars were not yet a normal form of public transport (there's a thought). The distance to most of our homes was such that only one trip per year was made out of Crook and the eleven months were spent spent.
Life at Crook
Our house (known as the "Barracks") was at the wireless station end of the village and was over a mile from the station. The house was provided by the department as was also the kitchen staff. For this we each paid 3/- per week. The staff took monthly turns at caterer ordering meat and groceries by post, but odds and ends could be purchased from the three small stores that comprised the local "shopping centre". By present day standards "the Barracks" was rather spartan, no hot or cold, indeed no laid on water at all. Our water supply was what flowed from the roof into concrete tanks (and of this there was plenty). A charcoal filter was employed to make this acceptable as drinking water but for those who held that this was an insult to an honest thirst the local "shopping centre" could save the fruit of the vine or John Barbecom (I hasten to add that not once in my experience were these delectable commodities indulged in immoderately).
The wireless station stood on a plateau high up on the cliffs. It was approached by an unmade cart track which in the wet weather was amply supplied with well filled pot-holes. Because of the heavy rain and wind during the winter months we were all equipped with fisherman's oilskin overcoats, souwesters, leggings and start boots. As Crookhaven is in the fog prone zone (hence Mizen Head Fog Station) fog could persist for as long as 40 hours huring which time flashes and booms punctuated the passing day.
Life was not, however, all boom and gloom - far from it. It was here that not only did "spring its earliest visits paid, and Summers lingering blooms delayed" but winter almost bye passed us altogether. The merest token gesture of snow or frost was all that we could expect, hence the Winter gathering of birds from colder parts.
We had a couple of shot guns and as rabbits abound (!) in the burrows a mile away we could always count on knocking off a couple at a visit to supplement out routine menu. Curlew were always around for those with time and patience to pursue those wiley birds. We also had the use of a boat with oars and sail so that we became handy enough at handling a boat. It was also fairly routine to go to the harbour mouth at dusk just when the Fastnet began its revolving light, then we could haul in course fish a plenty. Plaice, sole, lobsters, crabs and crayfish we could obtain from the villages at little cost. Our relations with the locals were excellent on Christian name terms, and we were free to roam over hill and dale without let or hinderance. Our rambles were usually taken in twos and threes which probably explained the cameraderie which was an after effect of life at Crook.
So relatively few ships were fitted with wireless that we knew by first name the operators who passed regularly - Cunard and White Star and some of them even visited us. We knew their dates of sailing and when approximately we would first be in touch. As we were the most Westerly station it was our privilege to wish them au revoir as they went West and our Caed mille failte on their return.
The wireless station was housed in an old
Martello tower (a watch tower built to withstand Napoleon's
cannon). The ground floor was occupied by the batteries,
our only source of energy.
The first floor was our operating room and also the landline room. The landline room was of the physical dimensions and design of our present day telephone kiosks, but with far less glass and more upholstery. The upholstery was not for our comfort but so that the key clicks and sounder clicks would not interfere with wireless reception! This kiosk stood in a corner of the main room which measured 12' x 10' and about a quarter of this was stoutly wired off for safety. It contained the mushroom spark gap 5kW contained in a sound proof box (which was anything but soundproof), a bank of oil filled condensers, a sliding inductance and a jigger coupling. At the operating bench stood a multiple tuner, a formidable looking combine of teak and ebonite. Also a magnetic detector with its slowly travelling band and its whispered indication that it was functioning. This was out stand-by and a very insensitive one at that. The normal rectifier was a zinzite/bornite combination later to be replaced by a carborundum/steel, and still later by a 4 valve bright emitter. The emergency transmitter was a 10 inch coil that spluttered and zig zagged across the gap to produce a dying duck note. With this we used to communicate to the Fastnet Lighthouse and they would reply by similar means.
Above the operating room was the second floor used as the O/C's room, the store room, and two bunk beds that were available for use of the evening staff if darkness or mist, or wind made it hazarhous to go home.
In my revisit as I drove down towards the village there stood the barracks much as it had been more than half a century ago with the windows where I sat plugging away at French and German, and the years melted away. In front of the little boundary wall where we used to take out our gramophone and play to the still waters of the harbour and across to the steep craggy amphitheatre beyond. The "Green Isle of Erin" (alas no everyone's cup of tea, but that too will pass) and "Where are the Boys of the Old Brigade", how lustily and how mindlessly we used to chorus the singer. But today where are THOSE boys of THAT brigade? Not one of those who passed through Crook in my time is around. Well might I say "I feel like one who treads alone some banquet hall desperted, whose lights are fled garlands dead and all but he departed."
Now there remains only a few old grey beards - a few withered leaves on a wintry bough - Frank Yelland, Syd Corrin, Dickie Knight to lower the blins and draw the curtains on a facit of wireless grown ups that was contemplated with grave foreboding and remembered with warm nostalgia. My own nostalgia is of a deeper order, for it was from hereabouts I took away the most loving and beloved of wives the most devoted and selfless of mothers to be my dearest companion through 45 happy years. R.I.P.
last page edit - 06 March 2000