Saturday, 28 July 2018


At Midnight on December 31st 1987, the new Wireless Telegraphy Act came into force and began to regulate the chaotic Irish radio airwaves. It brought about an end to a golden era of pirate radio in Ireland that ultimately had created a radio industry that still flourishes today. According to the latest JNLR figures (July 2018) 3.1 million Irish people listen to the radio everyday for an average of 4 hours per day. That's 85% of the entire population of Ireland listening to the radio.

From the very earliest radio experiments by Marconi which were conducted in Ireland to today's State radio and legal independent radio sector Ireland has a colourful radio history. During the 1916 Easter Rising the rebels led by Padraig Pearse launched their own wireless station and they began to broadcast communiques declaring the Rising had begun and that a new Republic had been declared. Ireland had become the first nation in the world to be declared by radio, by pirate radio.

Throughout the decades up to 1988 Ireland officially had a State broadcaster originally known as 2RN, the Radio Eireann and as it is today allied with a television service Radio Telifis Eireann (RTE). To compete with this monopoly and to cater to an emerging younger, liberal and rebellious population from the late 1960's, pirate radio began to fill a void.

From 1960 to 1988, thousands of pirate radio stations went on air in every city, town, village and even parish. Some were hobby in nature, some were community orientated while many began known as the super pirates, with powerful clean signals playing a diet of pop music and commercials making many of them quite financially successful.
The South Dublin County Library 

Many of these stations are now just pleasant memories but their paper and audio trails still exist and are an important  part of Ireland's radio and social history. They demonstrate a changing society and how the illegality of pirate radio can sit sometimes very comfortably with state institutions such as Revenue, Unions such as the NUJ and politicians.

Pirate radio has at times being of a political nature and the first man to die on hunger strike following his conviction for pirate radio broadcasting Sean McNeela died in 1940 having operated a station that broadcast IRA propaganda. Sinn Fein stations in the 1980's contributed to the election of a number of Maze hunger strikers which prevented a Charles Haughey led Fianna Fail government getting back into power.

RTE, TV 3 and some of the commercial and community sector are awarded grants from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to conduct archiving and it would be remiss of us as a nation to allow the wealth and depth of the pirate radio archive to be lost for future generations of scholars and radio listeners.

In May 2018, after months of gathering materials I launched the Irish Pirate Radio Exhibition at the South Dublin County Library to show some of the memorabilia and to let visitors discover the history of pirate radio (and television) in Ireland. The exhibition includes pop up banners, rate cards, car stickers, mugs, court summons and even an FM pirate radio transmitter built by Sean McQuillan in a biscuit tin for the writer Pat McCabe (The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto) for his station Radio Butty.

The Waterford Central Library

The exhibition then traveled to Waterford Central Library and is currently on at Dungarvan Library on the Quayside. On August 7th it will move to the Granary in Limerick City. The hope is to create real interest in the history of Irish pirate radio and to create momentum for the creation of an archive and perhaps most importantly for any project to generate funding whether through grants or donations.
The Dungarvan Library, Waterford

Stay tuned to our facebook page 'Dublin's Pirate Days' for details of the exhibition visiting somewhere near you.

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