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The walled city of Galway.
There's nothing between here and North America, but sea...
An ocean of sea.
In the 19th century, wave upon wave of emigrants trusted their luck
crossing the Atlantic, to flee poverty and famine in Ireland
for a new life in a new world.
But this special relationship with America
goes back further than you might think.
90 million years ago, what's now Ireland and North America
were joined together.
Then, they began to drift apart...
..and the world's second biggest ocean emerged -
It dominates life on the Irish coast,
yet the Atlantic remains full of mystery.
We know more about Mars than we know about the oceans
and the reason for that is the vastness of the oceans.
They take up most of the planet.
They're really deep. A huge body of water.
I've joined James Ryan, from Galway's Marine Institute,
and we're out here to check on this.
It's a scientific buoy
that's processing a constant stream of information about the ocean.
Battered by the waves, occasionally,
it requires a little loving attention.
Oh, there we go.
A more physical life than I imagined for most scientists.
It is! This is the bit I really like -
get away from the desk and the computer.
Hanging below the buoy are data probes, to monitor temperature,
salt content, wave motion, nutrients
and even the dolphins' comings and goings.
So what do you have to do now that we're out here?
I just want to raise up the sensors,
-which are down at the bottom of this big pipe.
In order for us to check them, we have to haul them up.
'The underwater sensors need a clean to keep them working reliably.
'It means scientists can now study the Atlantic
'without ever leaving their desks.'
So it's sending its information out?
Sending the information, 24/7. It's sending data all the time.
'There are plans to install a network of these buoys,
'to track the progress of global warming.'
This is one buoy here on the edge of Ireland.
There are other equivalent buoys all around the world,
all very new technology.
They are, I suppose, like the heart monitor on a patient.
We are checking the physiology of the oceans here and monitoring it
at a time when it's really vital for the planet.
We're finally learning to cherish this precious ocean,
that previous generations saw as territory to be conquered.
Past the Slyne Head Lighthouse, our journey continues on to Clifden.
The first people to see this view from the air were the pioneering aviators, Alcock and Brown
who completed the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, by landing here in 1919.
But a few years before, this was home to another transatlantic breakthrough.
Dick Strawbridge is searching for its remains.
In its day, this was the world's biggest communications hub.
The brainchild of an Italian entrepreneur.
Just over 100 years ago,
this man, Guglielmo Marconi,
the pioneer of radio, brought his men here
to set up the world's first wireless telegram service.
We want to discover how Marconi did it. And why did he come here,
to this isolated peat bog on the Irish coast?
When Marconi arrived, his challenge was immense -
build the most powerful transmitter the world had ever seen.
Good to see you, sir. If you just want to swing around that way.
'I've assembled a team of experts who'll try and generate a radio signal
'with the same technology that Marconi pioneered here in Ireland.'
You want to try and align those two insulators with these two vertical members here.
'We've got electronics engineers from the Galway
'and Mayo Institute of Technology, supported by radio experts from the Irish naval service,'
and they're all here to unpick the puzzle that Marconi cracked in 1907.
Just to confirm, we have arrived at the Clifden site
and we're going to conduct the Marconi exercises, over.
Clifden's one of the closest points between Ireland and North America.
From here, Marconi planned to send and receive radio signals
a staggering 1,900 miles across the Atlantic.
He built a sister station at Glace Bay in Nova Scotia.
This was years before it was possible to transmit voice messages.
So he used Morse code, electronic pulses that correspond to letters of the alphabet.
Marconi sent the first transatlantic radio message from Poldhu at Land's End.
But six years later, to set up as a business, he uprooted to Ireland.
Marconi proved radio communications at Land's End, didn't he?
So why did he come to Ireland?
Poldhu radio site for Marconi wasn't large enough
for the type of antenna structure he was experimenting with.
Marconi was building big.
Here at Clifden, there was room for a huge antenna suspended on poles 200 feet high.
All that's left of the mighty structure are dozens of concrete anchor blocks for the masts.
To get some sense of the scale, I've asked our guys from the navy to act as markers.
See the far lad there, he's only about a third of the way?
Absolutely, that guy at the very top there of the hill,
he's one third of the way of the entire antenna.
This was a ginormous antenna.
You could say, the biggest in the world at that particular time.
Nothing like this had been seen before -
an antenna over half a mile long.
It would need up to 300,000 watts of power to send messages all the way across the Atlantic.
So Marconi had to generate lots of energy on site.
That's why he built a power station in the middle of a bog.
He had a lake, which he needed for water supply for his DC generators,
which were right here beside us. That's the remnants of the DC generators over there.
Amazingly, the generators were driven by a steam engines which burnt a traditional Irish fuel.
Everywhere you look, what do see? Energy - turf peat.
-They used peat for fuel?
But Marconi still needed a way of storing the electrical energy
from his peat-fuelled generators - and releasing it rapidly.
The solution was to construct a capacitor, or condenser.
We're trying to build one like Marconi did, from steel plates.
Adding plates increases the electrical energy a capacitor can store.
Unlike a battery, it can be charged up quickly and discharged in a split second.
This was the key component that enabled Morse code to be received loud and clear 1,900 miles away.
-This is huge.
-That may look huge today, but compared to Marconi,
this condenser, this is minute!
Look, have a look at that picture.
Have you seen this?!
This is a man here.
We're talking about each panel being 12 times bigger than that?
The panels at the bottom were about 12 feet, which would be
about three of these sheets wide,
and about 30 feet tall, which is between seven and eight times...
-25 times the size?
-And how many did he have?
-You'll not believe this. He had 1,800 sheets.
This condenser housing was 350 feet long and 75 feet wide!
We've built a Marconi-style steel plate condenser, but what about generating the radio signal itself?
The man with the biggest collection of early radio equipment in Britain is Bob Smallbone.
He's arrived with a rare and crucial bit of kit, that dates right back to Marconi's time.
That's cast iron, weighs a ton.
-1910 rotary spark gap.
-We're ready to go.
Get it connected, good man.
In 1907, powering up such a rotary spark gap was no mean feat.
Marconi's peat-powered steam engine drove his generators.
We're using petrol power.
We should be getting, what, about 230, 240 out, 230?
But our generator's output is too low.
-I should have been expecting 220.
After some tweaking, it's all systems go.
-That's on top.
-That's it. That's 220,
So we're happy with that.
Just one more part of the circuit to complete.
-Bob's brought along a Morse key.
-An absolute replica.
-So that's exactly what they used 100 years ago?
-Here in Clifden?
-Here in Clifden.
-There you go, no expense spared today.
-Let's get it wired up.
Marconi was an astute entrepreneur. He wanted to make communications
by wireless telegraph more accessible
and create a big market for his ground-breaking service.
-Here's an advert of the time, Dick.
'By making messages more compact, they'd use up less air time and so it'd be a lot cheaper.'
Marconi's Wireless Telegraphic Code book.
You just use one word and he gives you a whole sentence.
-And those aren't real words?
-No, they're not.
-Cracking word! "Bankrupt stock will realise large amount".
-That's a very long sentence for one word.
-That would cost me eight pence?
We're getting a feel for the challenges Marconi faced here in 1907,
trying to generate his revolutionary transatlantic radio messages.
Now, the ultimate test...
Frank has now got a live feed. Is anybody else worried?!
If you touched the steel plates now, you'd become part of a 6,000-volt circuit and almost certainly die.
The condenser's all wired up, which means we can store lots of energy.
So we need to get everybody safe, flip the switch,
and we'll be sending Morse a long way using our condenser.
-Do you want to do a quick safety check for me please, sir?
-Clear the danger area, please.
-Can you confirm the danger area is clear?
-Thank you. On my mark...
Five, four, three, two, one, mark.
You're in control.
CRACKLING AND BUZZING
Whoa! We like that! We like that!
We're looking good.
CRACKLING AND BUZZING
The high voltage sparks are jumping across a tiny air gap between the stud contacts.
When these rotating contacts line up and the Morse key is pressed, the spark creates a signal.
Marconi's rotary spark gap was five feet in diameter and the sound
of the sparks could be heard over half a mile away.
As well as making audible sound waves, the sparks are also creating invisible radio waves.
Even without connecting our scaled-down model to an antenna,
it's so powerful, it's actually transmitting through the air.
This is a radio that'll pick it up?
Conventional radio, set to long wave. We should be able to pick it up.
-If we head off, can you send us a message of some description?
-I can indeed.
SIGNALS BUZZ ON RADIO Isn't that a beautiful clean spark!?
We've got 100 watts in there.
This is still going.
-And there's no antenna?
-Marconi had something like 100,000 watts.
'Our signal could be picked up almost half a mile away.'
Over a century ago, when Marconi launches his transatlantic wireless telegraph service,
it heralded the dawn of a new era of high-speed communications.
A big idea that made the world seem a little smaller.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd