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  • Northside East

Radio museum making waves

Wednesday, 13th June, 2018 7:59am
Radio museum  making waves

The Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum in Howth.

Radio museum  making waves

The Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum in Howth.

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Tony Breathnach

YE Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio is a little-known gem in Howth. 

It is a quirky Aladdin's cave full of exhibits and memorabilia dating from the early days of telecommunications. 

Located in the Martello tower overlooking the East Pier, it is accessed by a pathway opposite the Abbey Tavern. A network of Martello towers was built by the British as defences against a further French invasion following General Humbert's in Killala in 1798.  

The tower has important links with the dawn of telecommunications. The first successful submarine  telegraph cable linking Ireland with the ‘Empire’ came ashore on Balscadden Beach in 1854.

Around the beginning of the 20th century the Martello was used by two famous wireless pioneers. In 1903, American Lee de Forest demonstrated his wireless system to British Post Office engineers. Two years later the Marconi Company did likewise. However, the Marconi Company won the lucrative contract. This is not surprising, as Marconi's mother was Annie Jameson of the whiskey family and she was well connected in London. 

By the 1980s the unoccupied Martello had become derelict. Pat Herbert was looking for a premises to display his vast radio collection, gathered over a 50-year period, and in 2003 was given use of the recently refurbished tower by Fingal County Council. The unusual name of the museum derives from a comment made by the late Seán Lemass during a visit to Radio Éireann when he referred to radio as “the old hurdy gurdy”.

The centenary of Lee de Forest's experiments was also in 2003 and an amateur radio station was set up to commemorate the event. That station still operates regularly from the museum primarily using Morse Code as was used there from 1854.  

The museum, though small inside, is crammed with exhibits. These consist mainly of valve radios, music boxes, gramophones, televisions and other items associated with the history of telecommunications.

Pat is a real character himself and a mine of information. His earliest radio memory goes back to the 1947 All-Ireland Football Final, which was played in New York between Kerry and Cavan. He remembers the neighbours gathered around the only radio in the small Mayo village to listen to the match commentary by Mícheál O'Hehir. The ‘wireless’ was battery operated, as this was a time before rural electrification. Pat was hooked on radio and the result is the wonderful museum we have in Howth today. The museum is not a commercial venture but rather a labour of love. It is a magical place. Visitors receive a warm welcome and are given a personal guided tour. They leave with a sense of wonder and amazement. 

The entrance fee is nominal at €5 and it opens every day in summer between 11am and 4pm. During winter it opens on weekends only. Check out the museum on Facebook or the internet. 

Email: or visit 


There is a marvellous collection inside the museum and it is well worth a visit.

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