Derrygimlagh | A Bog with Two Histories: Alcock & Brown and Marconi | Ireland Travel Guide

This article, a Derrygimlagh Travel Guide, is part of the series of blog posts and video guides exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.

Blog Series

This blog explores Derrygimlagh as part of my Galway to Clare itinerary from Clifden to Derrygimlagh in County Galway and on to the Cliffs of Moher and Doolin in County Clare. Click here for an overview of the entire route.

Summary: The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500km (>1,550 mile) tourist route along Ireland’s Western coastline, from Malin Head in Donegal in the North to Kinsale in the South. It connects significant historic, cultural and geographic features into a manageable road trip from staggering clifftop vistas to golden strands and stunning lighthouses.  

VIDEO GUIDE for this itinerary


Derrygimlagh | Part of the Galway – Clare Itinerary (One Day)

A map of Ireland is shown, highlighting the location of Derrygimlagh

Derrygimlagh, Co. Galway

The Wild Atlantic Way is a great excuse to drive through Irish places I love in my campervan. Then from time to time, I visit somewhere that I have heard of, vaguely. Derrygimlagh is one such place and it’s a ‘signature discovery point’ on this road trip. There is a five kilometre looped walk which takes in some fascinating history.

A sign is shown with the word Derrygimlagh on it. The sign is rusty and stands in front of a green bog.

I travelled from my campsite near Clifden, County Galway, a gorgeous town in Connemara that I know through friends who live nearby in Cleggan. Derrygimlagh takes you a bit off the beaten track as you head towards Ballyconneely on a single carriageway road for a few miles and then, suddenly, there’s a gravel car park that appears from nowhere. There was a charming food van with chatty owners, a scattering of cars and a lack of clarity (in my mind) about what I was looking at.

Patrick's campervan is shown, with a blue bicycle leaning against it.

Some of the Wild Atlantic Way’s discovery points involve driving up, parking and looking at something: a gorgeous strand, or a nearby castle. Others require a bit more effort and Derrygimlagh is laid out as a hike (which I learned from the food van owners). The sites are approached through Derrygimlagh Bog on tarmac path, over gravel and on grass. I’d recommend hiking boots and, if you watch the associated video, a waterproof jacket and warm clothing.

Where do the paths go to? Derrygimlagh is known for two things:

  • Marconi built a permanent transatlantic telegraph station here in 1905, at the time the largest in the world.
  • Alcock & Brown, aviation pioneers, successfully landed the first ever transatlantic flight

Both histories are explored through a number of interpretative stands, which extend beyond photographs and text to innovative and interactive ways of playing music or listening to eyewitness accounts.

Very few people were around or, perhaps like me, were unsure about quite where they were supposed to go (and to what end). With dark clouds overhead, those who were further along the path seemed to be hurrying back to their cars. However, I saddled up my bike and decided it wouldn’t rain (I was very wrong).

A tarmac path through the bog is shown, which is where a railway line once ran.

The path follows along the location of Marconi’s old railway line, long since gone, which ran between the buildings of his wireless station.

Three piles of turf lie at the side of the track.

Three piles of turf lie at the side of the bog. Turf was one major way of fuelling steam-powered engines and was a readily available resource.

Derrygimlagh | Marconi Connection

Why did Marconi set up a listening station on a bog in Derrygimlagh? Two answers might be easily worked out with a little through: proximity to North America and the ready availability of fuel at Derrygimlagh to power steam and heat needs. I did wonder what drew Marconi to this rural bog, a man who was born in Bologna in Italy in 1874.

Marconi’s parentage might offer a clue. His father was Giuseppe, an Italian gentleman and his mother was Annie Jameson, a descendant of the Irish Whiskey Jamesons (I am indebted to this article). When he began work on ‘listening stations’, his transatlantic route was unreliable, the distance between Massachusetts and Cornwall was problematic. Shortening that distance would increase reliability and other relay routes could carry messages further onwards. Thus, Marconi chose a connection with greater proximity, establishing new centres in Newfoundland and Derrygimlagh.

Layout & Surfaces

The site is set out as a looped 5km walk of moderate hiking intensity (some parts may be difficult for wheelchair users). I took a bike and it was able to handle all surfaces: tarmac, gravel and grass path.

A series of 7 interpretative signs can be found along the loop, pointing out areas of interest. The majority of these relate to Marconi. Try out the metallic instrument which is a helpful tutorial in sound waves as well as the crystal radios built into one particular sign. The remains of buildings lie in the landscape, including concrete slabs or partial foundations.

This is ‘big sky’ country. Derrygimlagh is exposed to Atlantic weather patterns, including the very heavy rain I encountered on my trip. One or two of the interpretative signs offer a little covered alcove to hide in!

Marconi: The Power House

The most obvious remnant of the Marconi era at Derrygimlagh is the location of the old Power House.

I believe the rusted remains you can see in the photograph above are an original part of the generator machinery.

The signage provided at the site is genuinely helpful. It’s also lovely to see it in both Irish and English.

I don’t know why I look so perplexed. Although it looks sunny, I was drenched AND it was cold at this point!!

Derrygimlagh | Alcock & Brown: First Ever Transatlantic Flight

A few years later, on the morning of 15th June, 1919, Alcock & Brown cemented their place in aviation history as the first people to successfully fly continuously across the Atlantic. To some extent, many stars aligned to make their mark on history, after they put down in Derrygimlagh Bog in spite of the many failures of their aircraft.

The pilot, John Alcock was responding to a competition with a substantial prize to be awarded to the first transatlantic aviator. Competing against the clock and working with his navigator, Arthur Brown, they took off from Newfoundland on 14th June 1919. In a journey of more than 16 hours, flying at an average 120 mph, the two men had to endure freezing temperatures when their heated suits gave up, severe fog and a damaged airspeed dial.

They mistook Derrygimlagh bog for a field and crash-landed, while their plane started to sink. The workers at the Marconi telegraph station had tried to wave them away from the bog. In a fascinating turn of events, the Derrygimlagh Marconi station sent out the following message, allowing Alcock & Brown to claim their place in history as the first transatlantic aviators: “Vickers Vimy aircraft landed Clifton 8.40 GMT from Saint John’s. Alcock” (source).

The New York Times

Alcock’s account was published by The New York Times:
“LONDON, June 16. (By telegraph from Clifden, Ireland.) We have had a terrible journey. The wonder is that we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them” (source)

The Flying Knights

The news was so historic, it broke quickly and Alcock & Brown were lauded around the world. Within a short time, they collected a £10,000 prize from the Daily Mail, and their other prizes and laudations were crowned by being knighted by King George V the following week.

Memorial to Alcock & Brown

Two things stand out about the memorial to Alcock & Brown at Derrygimlagh. First, I did love this unique circular contraption that allows you to imagine the sight of the biplane sinking into the bog in 1919. It’s a simple device but it’s very effective.

Second, all the photos above show the white cairn memorial. It is inscribed with this legend: Alcock and Brown, landing site, 500 meters. As you look out across the now-barren and still bog, it’s hard not only to imagine the incoming plane, but also the buildings and railway track of the Marconi Station with its workers rushing out to wave caution to the airmen!

Time to Eat

Despite the seeming warm sunlight in the pictures, it did pour with rain while I was there (see the video for some of that!). I was cold and wet and, it turned out, hungry!

Back at the Derrygimlagh Car Park, the food truck was still there and they had made a fresh batch of chips. This looks like a giant portion, because it is, heaped with garlic mayonnaise. It was exactly what I needed before the next part of my trip, the long drive towards the Cliffs of Moher. Check out the next blog in this series and please do watch the accompanying video. It’s a lot of fun!

Find the accompanying video for this article below:

where can i stay?

I camped at Doolin, County Clare in my campervan the Cliffs of Moher. Not tempted to camp? There are multiple options to stay nearby.

Check out options in Doolin if heading South, OR around Clifden if you’re heading North on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Further recommendations are below.

RECOMMENDED HOTELS

Cliffs of Moher Area

High-End, full of character

Ballinalacken Castle Hotel, Co. Galway

Better Value, Local Charm

O’Leary’s Lodge B&B

Excursions in the Connemara Area

 

Unmissable Experiences

Discover new journeys, destinations and ways to travel with Planet Patrick