Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Early GAA on Television

If you visit the excellent GAA Museum at Croke Park you will see their current exhibition 'Wireless to Wifi' which tells the story of how the media has covered the GAA games since it became the first field sport to be broadcast on radio on 2RN in 1926.

The exhibition lauds the fact that when television arrived in Ireland in 1962, the fledgling RTE covered Gaelic games on television but the history of Gaelic Games on television stretches back further into the early days of television.

In September 1950, the BBC in the midlands of England had cameras and crew on had at Robin Hood stadium to cover the British Hurling Championship game between the local John Mitchels club and the ultimately victorious London's St. Mary's on a scoreline of 4-4 to 2-3. In the newspaper it was described as 'hockey with inhibition' and commentary was provided by RTE's voice of the GAA, Michael O'Hehir. Highlights of the game with shown on a sports round up show the following night.

In New York following the success of the 1947 All Ireland Final won by GAA, the local GAA committee and the authorities in Croke Park attempted to expand the games on the far side of the Atlantic. This included exhibition games similar to the more recent All Star tours and in the early 1950's the National League Final was payed between the winners of the 'Home' final and New York. These games gained widespread coverage amongst the Irish media in New York but also on television when a local brewer provided the sponsorship to have the game televisied. 

In 1948, The Munster Express reported that Waterford played Kilkenny in New York with highlights of the game shown on TV. 

From the Irish Independent July 22nd 1950

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A Century of Irish Radio Reviews

A Century of Irish Radio 1900 -2000

This new book tells the story of how this popular medium with much of its early history centered in Ireland, has revolutionised and changed Irish society more than any other medium.

“An excellent work, this book is a must”, Ian Biggar, The DX Archive (Scotland)
“An excellent read”, Amazon 5* review by Premier Radio
“If you’ve an interest in broadcasting, this book is for you. Well worth the money”, Aidan Cooney Q102 Presenter and former Ireland AM (TV3) host
“Eddie’s magnus opus is the most comprehensive work on the history and evolution of radio in Ireland. Historically important record” Eoin Morgan News4 Newspaper
“A great book”, Ralph McGarry radio presenter
“A superb read” E. Burbage on Goodreads
“A great read” Rob Allen 96FM Cork

This comprehensive story begins when Ireland became the first nation in the world to be declared by radio during the iconic events of the 1916 Easter Rising. It charts the birth of legal radio in 1926 which is shrouded in scandal and reports of corruption with fatal consequences. Irish radio while born in the twenties, the evolutionary 1930's would change how the Irish listener consumed and interacted with the’ wireless’. The book tells why Radio Eireann’s revenue in 1932 was £220 but a year later they reported revenues of £22,000. In the 1930’s you could learn to swim on the radio or listen to commentaries on the International Fishing competitions held on the rivers and lakes of Ireland. You can read about an anti-Jazz movement whose legal ramifications are still felt today and how the Church and State battled both for and on the airwaves. We unravel an urban myth that the first ever radio broadcast of ‘The Saint’ was on Radio Eireann in 1940. The book tells the story of the first man in the world to die on hunger strike, Sean McNeela having been convicted of pirate radio broadcasting. The book acknowledges the real success of Radio Eireann as it transformed rural Ireland on limited resources and offered women a new independence and perspective.

The Irish language was relegated to third place for a time on the official airwaves but the radio battle for our native language to have access to the ether has been long, protracted and eventful. Irish radio has been a conduit for propaganda and has become Americanised with men like Bill Cunningham changing how we consume radio, the giveaways, the profits and even the success and failure of Atlantic 252. The book tells how this nation interacts with the rest of the world through radio and how ironically it was two Englishmen Leonard Plugge and Chris Cary who revolutionised radio in Ireland.

For the first time ever, the book lists and offers station histories of over one thousand illegal pirate radio stations from the first conviction of Michael Madden in 1935 to the commercial successes of the so called super pirates of the 80’s with Nova and ERI. The book examines the impact of political pirate radio in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the troubles and how paramilitary pirate stations brought down a Government and accelerated the end of a major political career. It documents how pirate radio and TV both threatened Government policy and led to dramatic change. As an avalanche of pirate radio stations across the country forced new legislation creating legal independent radio and television, commercial interests would dominate and cause further controversy with stories of fraud and corruption.

Learn about the good and evil within pirate radio, how this illegal activity created today’s radio industry. ‘A Century of Irish Radio 1900-2000’ covers the border blasters, the innovators, the urban myths are dismantled, and we reveal the careers of characters and presenters from Michael O’Hehir and Larry Gogan to Dave Fanning and Andy Preston. The first full comprehensive history of Irish radio in decades is detailed in this 595-page book.

Copies of the book can be purchased here:

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Cavan Online Radio Interview May 2019

On a recent visit to both legal and pirate radio stations in the border region, with thanks to Patsy Sheridan I visited the studios of Cavan Online Radio. Based in an large house at the back of a national school, the signs on the path for 'the men's shed' led me to the studios.

Upon arrival I was greeted by station manager Daniel Downey who filled me on the station's history and future plans. The studios would make many legal stations jealous and is a credit to the volunteers who keep the station alive for an ever increasing audience. It's eclectic mix of programming caters for a wide variety of interests and listeners in far flung fields. A link for the Cavan diaspora, the station allows provides training for those wishing to understand how radio works from in front and behind the microphone.

This is my interview with Daniel.
Cavan Online Radio Interview May 2019

You can listen to Cavan Online Radio at

Check out the stations website at

My thanks to all the staff and volunteers at Cavan Online Radio.

(The broadcast aerial used for the station's temporary licence)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A Century of Irish Radio 1900 -2000

Article of the Book Launch

Book On Sale Here

Ireland, The Coronation and Television 1953

In the mid-1920s before the Irish state broadcaster 2RN took to the airwaves, those who could afford radio sets or were technically proficient to build a crystal set were avid listeners and even though the total with direct access numbered no more than a couple of thousand people, the appetite for radio grew rapidly. This was driven by the overspill from BBC stations on the mainland and from the arrival of 2BE in Belfast.

Some thirty years later a similar appetite was growing for television. Once again from the early 1950’s those who could afford television sets were tuning into BBC TV signals especially from Welsh transmitters. A domestic television channel would not take to the airwaves until December 31st 1961 when Radio Eireann became Radio Telifis Eireann. One of the few people able to afford a television set were publicans who not only able to purchase the expensive television sets, which had to be imported, but also saw an opportunity to increase revenues by providing locals with pictures from BBC Television.

One of the first big television events to gain extensive coverage in the Irish national newspapers was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday June 2nd 1953. Plans were announced the previous October for transmitters to be opened in Belfast so that the population of the Six Counties could watch the first televised Coronation of a British monarch. But because of the low power of the new Belfast transmitter, the Holme Moss transmitter near Manchester brought in the best signals into the Republic.

According to an advertisement on the front page of the Irish Independent on Friday May 15th
Special arrangements are now being made for a limited number of persons to view the Coronation television programme under, ideal conditions in the Dublin Mountains. All day outing, with transport and excellent catering included in "All-in-Charge," approximately £3-3-0. Please write Immediately for particulars. 

Flavin’s public house in Sandyford were advertising that they were showing the Coronation on the television set and the pub was full for the event. Flavin’s had become renown in the south of the city as the place to watch television. In June 1952 they were advertising that they were showing racing from Ascot with the proviso ‘weather permitting’.  D.P Flavin had purchased what is today The Sandyford House in 1909 and ran a successful business until his death in 1937. The business was continued by his wife Josephine and the pub became colloquially known as ‘The Widow Flavin’. Her daughter married Michael Walsh, who had served his time with the Humphrey family on Moore Street and took over the running of a pub that had become known as the pub of ‘sporting kings’ in 1949. It was Walsh who brought television to the southside venue. The Tuam Herald reported
‘Out at a well-known hostelry at Sandyford in the Dublin mountains, cars were parked hub to "hub, though the television reception was not quite as satisfactory is expected.’

Not alone was their an appetite in Dublin for novelty of television but also for spectacle of a Coronation with all the pomp and ceremony that attends such events this despite the fact that DeValera’s Government was unsympathetic towards the British establishment and that it had been just thirty years since the end of the War of Independence.

In a first for the BBC, this coverage of the Coronation would be its largest outside broadcast project since the channel first aired. Seven and a half hours of live TV coverage with a commentary team led by Richard Dimbleby. According to the Radio Times,
‘It will begin at 9.15 with a sixty minute tuning signal to provide enough time for adjustment to receivers especially set up for the occasion in churches, shops, halls and homes. The broadcast proper will begin at 10.15 and the first pictures will come from mobile units at the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.’
The Coronation itself began at 11.20 at Westminster Abbey and the live broadcast ended at 5.20 after coverage of an RAF fly past over Buckingham Palace.

But not everyone was happy with the Coronation of the Queen being shown on television. Nationalists in Northern Ireland were deeply suspicious of the anglicizing effect the BBC were having on the province especially in Belfast where a specially low powered transmitter was installed especially for the occasion. The Unionists on the other hand were delighted both because the arrival of TV pictures in the province made them fell more part of the Union and the fact that primarily because of their status only Unionists could afford TV sets. Meanwhile south of the border in Dolan’s public-house on Malborough Street shortly after 1pm, with the pub packed with customers, some watching the unfolding events from London amazed at the wonderment of technology, Gearoid O’Brion from New Street in the south inner city, walked into the pub and smashed the set with a hammer. As he walked back out onto the street, he was arrested by two policemen patrolling outside.

On June 16th, the Evening Herald reported
‘I do not Intend to pay any compensation. Mr, Dolan should look to the British Legion for compensation if he wants it" said Gearoid O’Brion, New Street Dublin, a mechanic who was convicted In the District Court today of maliciously damaging a television set in the licensed premises of Hugh Dolan, 97 Marlborough St, on the day of the Coronation.
O’Broin was fined £5 and ordered to pay compensation. Justice O'Donnachada. gave O’Broin a month to change his mind about paying compensation and said a sentence of two months would be imposed if compensation amounting to £27-15-0 was not paid within the time. In an unsworn statement O’Broin said that if there was any criminal offence it was "the Jingoism of men like Dolan."
"As Protest"
" My action,' he said ‘was not taken through malice, but as a protest against the denigrating Influence of this type of thing." The Justice said, ‘You may have such sentiments and feelings, but this is not the way to express them’. Mr. H. Dolan said that on June 2 there were about 150 people in the bar, some of whom were watching the Coronation on the television set at the end of the bar. He noticed the light on the sot go out and saw a man coming down the floor putting something in his pocket.
Called Guards
Witness called Guards who were outside the premises. John Flanagan said that when the set was smashed, he saw something wrapped In newspaper in the defendant's hand. On the way out, O’Brion shouted: "Get out of my way Ireland is still-free.". Det. Officer W. Klrwan said he was on duty outside Dolan's public house. Mr. Dolan came out of the public house and pointed out the accused who was walking down the street. He was arrested and taken to Store Street station and when searched a hammer was found in his jacket.

In the following days newspaper, The Herald had to run a clarification,
"Damage Done to Television Set
In our report of proceeding against one Gearoid O'Broin in our Issue of yesterday, Mr. Hugo Dolan (referred to as '"Hugh Dolan") of 7 Marlborough Street, was reported as having stated in evidence that there were about 150 people In the Bar. some of whom were watching the Coronation on the television at the end of the Bar. Mr. Dolan did not say that anyone was watching the Coronation on the television, and Mr. O’Donoghue, another witness in the case (not reported by us) stated in reply to Mr. McLoughlin. Solicitor, prosecuting, that nothing was to be seen on the television screen. Moreover, the sentence imposed on O'Broin was three months imprisonment, and not two months as reported by us.

Meanwhile the citizens of County Meath on the other hand were reported to have had mixed results when trying to watch the coronation. According to the Maeth Chronicle the reception at Messers McDonagh and Kelly on the Market Square were poor but on the higher ground around Slane, reception was far better. McDonagh and Kelly were advertising at the time that they were selling Pye television sets for £57-10s

Monday, 1 April 2019

The Introduction to 'A Century of Irish Radio 1900 - 2000' by Eddie Bohan on Sale Now


1.               The Introduction
2.               In the Beginning
3.               Rebel Radio
4.               The Fledgling Twenties
5.               The Evolutionary Thirties
6.               The Troublesome Forties
7.               The Flat Fifties
8.               The Swinging Sixties
9.               The Sensational Seventies
10.            The Revolutionary Eighties
11.            The Celtic Tiger Nineties
12.            Northern Ireland Legal and Illegal
13.            Appendix

While every attempt has been made by the author to be as accurate as possible, because of the nature of some illegal radio broadcast activities some of the facts are open to interpretation and are open to correction for future editions. Contact

The history of Irish radio broadcasting in the twentieth century is one of invention, innovation, creativity, world’s firsts, criminality, fraud and death yet with a little sprinkling of humour. From the very early experiments of Marconi, to the momentous events of the 1916 Easter Rising and the first embers of propaganda broadcasting, the playing of the music of the savages, the delivery of local deaths announcements on radio to wartime broadcasts, paramilitary broadcasts and pirate radio, Irelands radio colourful radio landscape has one hell of a story to tell. The following pages is full of political intrigue, state and church interference, law breaking, madness and sadness as the Irish airwaves have created, reflected and reported social, political and economic change in Ireland for over a century.

In times of war and strife it was a consoling constant companion, in peace it helped drive the agenda of change, created debate and as news delivery fragments with a tsunami of technological advances, radio has maintained a unique, dominant position to shape Ireland in the twenty first century at home and abroad.    
From the single goal of independence and the launch of a broadcasting monopoly, this small island nation on the edge of Europe in the Atlantic has evolved into a multi cultural society with a multitude of radio stations. Many of the stories that follow are full of endeavour, hilarity, violent threats and challenges to the state. The ingenuity of using discarded scraps to create living breathing transmitters, the launching of border blasters and the hundreds of broadcasters both legal and illegal who have been contributing to the natural resource of the ether and Irish solutions to Irish problems.

Following the closure of a Dublin pirate radio station, the engineer who built the station’s transmitter had not been paid for his work.  He enlisted the assistance of another pirate broadcaster to recover equipment he believed was rightfully his. As his policeman father waited patiently outside in the car, the two men illegally entered the property to retrieve the equipment. The station owner arrived at the house brandishing a shotgun this despite the presence of a policeman outside his door. In this bizarre scene from a Hollywood movie, the trespassers were eventually allowed repossess the equipment.

The ether of the radio airwaves carry not only news and entertainment broadcasts but this natural resource also allows pilots communicate with Dublin air traffic control, allows ships to safely berth in Irish ports, allows secure Garda communications to keep our nation safe, provides Irish troops with communications to perform their duties at home and abroad, enables house bound citizens to take a moment out of their lives to listen to Mass from their local churches and truckers communicating along Irish motorways on CB radio.

Important Editors Note:
This is the story of the century 1900 – 2000 and does not include the stories of those stations and broadcasters that have aired since 2000 to present
The Introduction

From 1926 until 1989 broadcasting in the Republic of Ireland was a legal monopoly. On January 1st1926 2RN officially went on air in Dublin transitioning over the decades into Radio Athlone, Radio Eireann and as it is today Radio Telifis Eireann following the addition in December 1961 of a single television channel. In 1989 new legislation broke that monopoly with the introduction of legal commercial broadcasting. Despite a seemingly slow route towards deregulation, Ireland in the early part of the twentieth century and mainly due to its location as an island on the edge of Europe was at the forefront of wireless broadcasting. One of the men who was credited with the invention of radio Guigelmo Marconi used Ireland as a hub to make contact with the expanding world of North America. In 1916 Ireland made a failed bid to free itself from British rule but then a subsequent successful War of Independence and a civil war stifled the development of the radio industry and technological advances left Ireland in its wake.

Ireland had fallen behind most of Europe as radio broadcasting and the associated technology advanced. It would be one of the last countries in Western Europe to open its own domestic radio station and use up the resources of the airwaves. This was all the more unusual as Ireland and those who fought for its freedom had shown innovative and foresight when using the new medium of radio to disseminate their message during the 1916 Easter Rising. The station launched by the rebels was in the truest sense the world’s first pirate radio station and it would later be ironic that pirate radio would dominate the history of Irish Broadcasting.

While wounds from a civil war (1922-23) took many generations to heal, a younger nation emerged and this youthful population demanded more from the national State broadcaster but a lack of leadership within and from Government the choice of listening remained static. The authorities relied on the effectiveness of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act to control the airwaves. This Act was used in 1936 to prosecute a Limerick based pirate radio station. During the Second World War, Ireland remained neutral but those opposed to the political settlement with Britain that created the Irish Free State in 1922 sought to aid the Axis powers by declaring war on Britain. The IRA, as their predecessors had done in 1916 sought assistance from Germany and while not officially pro-German the IRA was most certainly anti-British. The Irish Government did not know that German sympathisers were using Ireland as a base to spy on British army and naval movements and that these reports were being transmitted from Dublin to Berlin. The same transmitting equipment was then used to broadcast IRA propaganda to a wider audience. The British were asked to supply detecting equipment and the search for the pirate broadcasters led to the creation of G2 the Irish army’s intelligence department. The broadcasters were caught and imprisoned but one of the men sacrificed his life on hunger strike while in jail.

Technological advances especially after the Second World War allowed experimenters to build cheap yet effect broadcast transmitters. In the late 1950’s political pirate radio stations emerged but these were haphazard and short lived. The freedom of the 1960’s and the creation of global communications made the world smaller but Ireland’s and its leaders especially Eamon DeValera had a very insular protective view of their nation. The grandson of an Easter Rising veteran Ronan O’Rahilly would try to break the dominance of the BBC in the UK with the launch of Radio Caroline. Pop music for the younger generation was now at hand. Inexpensive transistor radios allowed Caroline to go on the move with their listeners while their parents sat around the fireplace with their large Pye or Bush radios afixture in the living room. In the so-called swinging sixties small pirate radio stations began to appear on the Irish airwaves playing American artists rather than showband and Irish traditional music as heard on the State broadcaster. The stations were hampered by a limited radius using homemade transmitters and broadcast sporadically for an hour or two mainly on Sundays.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

'A Century of Irish Radio 1900-2000' Book Launched

A Century of Irish Radio 1900 -2000

This 595 page book tells the story of how a medium with much of its early history centered in Ireland, has revolutionized and changed Irish society more than any other medium.

This comprehensive story begins with Ireland became the first nation in the world to be declared by radio during the iconic events of the 1916 Easter Rising. It charts the birth of legal radio in 1926 which is shrouded in scandal and reports of corruption with fatal consequences. Irish radio while born in the twenties, the evolutionary 1930's would change how the Irish listener consumed and interacted with the wireless. The book tells how Radio Eireann’s revenue in 1932 was £220 but a year later they reported revenues of £22,000. In the 1930’s you could learn to swim on the radio or listen to commentaries on the International Fishing competitions held on the rivers and lakes of Ireland. You can learn about an anti-Jazz movement whose legal ramifications are still felt today. How the Church and State battled both for and on the airwaves. We unravel an urban myth that the first ever radio broadcast of ‘The Saint’ was on Radio Eireann in 1940 and acknowledges the real success of Radio Eireann as it transforms rural Ireland on limited resources and offers women a new independence and perspective. The book tells the story of the first man in the world to die on hunger strike having been convicted of pirate radio broadcasting. The book .

The Irish language was relegated to third place for a time on the official airwaves but the radio battle for our native language to have access to the ether has been long, protracted and eventful. Irish radio has been a conduit for propaganda and has become Americanized with men like Bill Cunningham changing how we consume radio, the giveaways, the profits and even the success and failure of longwave station Atlantic 252. Discover how Ireland interacts with the rest of the world through radio and how ironically it was two Englishmen Leonard Plugge and Chris Cary who revolutionized radio in Ireland.

For the first time ever, the book lists and offers station histories of over one thousand illegal pirate radio stations from the first conviction of Michael Madden in 1935 to the commercial successes of the so called super pirates such as Radio Nova, ERI and Kiss FM. The book examines the impact of political pirate radio in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the troubles and how paramilitary pirate stations brought down a Government and accelerated the end of a major political career. How pirate radio and TV both threatened Government policy and led to dramatic change. As an avalanche of pirate radio stations across the country forced new legislation for legal independent radio and television, commercial interests would dominate and cause further controversy with stories of fraud and corruption.

Learn about the good and evil within pirate radio, how this illegal activity created a fledgling radio industry, created border blasters, frequency hijackings, the characters and the presenters from Larry Gogan to Gerry Ryan to Andy Preston leaders in personality driven radio. 

Click on this link to order your copy.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Northern Ireland Pirate Radio 1969 - 1975 Lecture

The following is an except from a 2019 lecture I delivered on Northern Ireland pirate radio 1969-1975.


This is a lecture on the Northern Ireland pirate radio stations 1969-1975. My name is Eddie Bohan and I am a broadcast historian involved in the Irish Pirate Radio Archive and I have published two books ‘Rebel Radio, The Easter Rising Broadcasts’ and ‘A Century of Irish Radio 1900-2000’. This lecture is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and I will make the slides available on the University website.


By the late 1960s the demand by the Catholic/Nationalist community within the six counties of Northern Ireland for electoral, employment, housing and social equality with their Protestant/Loyalist neighbours brought protests out onto the streets of the major cities of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.

In October 1968 a Civil Rights march through Derry was attacked by the police who were seen by many Catholics to be doing the dirty work of the Unionist led Northern Ireland Government based at Stormont. Marches in Belfast ended in rioting and police baton charges. Between August 12th – 17th 1969 serious rioting took place across the province which was both political and sectarian. The Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill who had been attempting to appease the communities was replaced by James Chichester Clark and on August 14th he requested assistance from the British Government in London and British troops were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland in support of the police force the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) for the first time. Catholic homes and business were targeted and burned down forcing Catholics to flee many towards the border where the Irish Government of Jack Lynch had set up field hospitals and refugee camps. The IRA who had been dormant since 1962 re-emerged and Loyalist paramilitaries encouraged by the incendiary rhetoric of Reverend Ian Paisley attacked each other and both in turn attacked the British Army.

The result of the instability and the violent discrimination was the creation of no-go areas in Belfast and Derry with the famous white gable wall in Derry proclaiming that ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’ with the Catholic areas barricaded offering a sense of both isolation and independence. The two major cities were polarized into Catholic and Protestant areas with each barricading themselves from attack by the opposite community and by the police and army. The situation was tense and fluid and information was hard to come by.

News was often nothing more rumour and conjecture, falsehoods creating fear and misinformation causing tension across the island of Ireland. For most people access the news was via newspapers and the radio and television. Newspapers were often slanted towards one side of the other and when the rioting began newspaper production and deliveries were badly disrupted. Locals turned to the radio for updates, often simply to discover if it was safe for them to leave their homes to venture to the shops to buy much needed supplies.

Their reputed listenership was in excess of 70% and they were often the sole outlet for news. They gave voice to the oppressed, they challenged the Government’s official positions, they provided morale boosts, they rallied their foot soldiers into action. They were the pirate radio stations of Northern Ireland 1969 – 1975. Who were they? What was the impact on their communities and the course of the Troubles? Why was there a vacuum that required their existence? How extensive were their operations and how did the Government attempt to tackle the issue?

As the ‘Troubles’ began in 1969, The BBC Northern Ireland controller Waldo Maguire said that the ‘BBC should modify the presentation of news in a way to avoid extreme provocation’. The news from the BBC would appear to have been sanitized from the very early stages of the Troubles.  In an editorial in the Nationalist Newspaper on August 29th 1969 it said ‘inaccurate reporting has made the BBC at times akin to a purveyor of British propaganda’. Access to news was limited. Northern Ireland was served by BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Television Northern Ireland who operated an opt out facility for short news bulletins after the main BBC News programmes and some limited programme production from within the province. The commercial IBA[1] franchise was Ulster Television and it too provided limited programming from within the province relaying the main ITV networked programming instead. BBC Radio and TV NI provided eight news bulletins for the entire day each totalling five minutes in duration and UTV added two more often overlapping with their BBC counterparts. For those able to receive RTE Radio and Television from south of the border had access to 25 news bulletins each day[2]. By the end of 1969 as the violence escalated RTE opened a news office in Belfast. There was a void for up to the minute news and news that was aimed not generically but at specific communities and this void was about to be filled by illegal, clandestine pirate radio stations that would have a major impact on the direction of the Troubles over the following years. 


Between 1969 and 1975 when sectarianism was at its ugliest and deadliest, local communities of Protestants and Catholics relied on their local pirate radio station to provide news and occasional entertainment. The stations also reinforced the feelings in both communities that they were under attack from the opposite side. These stations broadcast mainly in Belfast and Derry. Their diet of propaganda caused incitement to violence and the authorities battled to get them closed down. These stations were illegal and broadcast as pirates, but they were more specifically clandestine stations as were political pirate radio stations. Clandestine stations are classified as either black or grey. Grey radio refers to stations operated by dissident groups within a country. Black stations are broadcast by one side disguised as broadcasts by the other.

Almost as soon as the barricades went up along the Shankill Road and the Falls Road, two pirate stations were broadcasting to their respective communities. The Irish Independent reported on August 26th
‘While there is a lull in the rioting, a propaganda battle is raging in Belfast. Broadcasting from behind the barricades in the Falls area ‘Radio Free Belfast’ is sending out a stream of anti-Government propaganda interspersed with patriotic songs and pop record requests. ‘Radio Free Ulster is conducting an equally vigorous campaign for the other side from the Shankill area. Both stations operate on very similar wavelengths and at time deliberately make attempts to interfere with one another, by cutting in during transmission.'


Radio Free Belfast was located above the Long Bar on the Falls Road utilising a homemade medium wave transmitter began broadcasting on 244m before jamming forced it to move to 300m. In a memorandum prepared by An Garda Síochána for the Department of Justice on events in Northern Ireland on 5 September 1969 it reported.

‘Radio Free Belfast, The Radio of Revolution, was on the air on Friday night; it had been operating for two or three days previous to this. This is a pirate radio station operating on 240 to 245 meters on the Medium Wave Band. The radio is on the air twenty-four hours a day. It has been set up by the Peoples' Democracy and the Belfast Citizen's Defence Committee. The transmitter is situated in the Catholic, Falls Road area and has a radius of about 4 to 5 miles. At times it is blotted out for long periods. The announcer said that it was set up to boost the morale of the men manning the barricades and urged them to make the barricades higher and thicker.

It plays requests for these men and appeals for food and necessities. Radio Free Belfast makes four demands off the Stormont Government
(1): To release the men interned in Crumlin Road Prison and revoke the Special Powers Act.
(2)  To disarm and disband the 'B' Specials.
(3) Disarm the R.U.C. and sack its Senior Officers.
(4) Suspend the Stormont Government.

The radio dwells mostly on the interned political prisoners and states that there are about 30 in Crumlin Road Prison. The requests played are a mixture of 'Pops' and 'Patriotic Songs', i.e. 'Sean South', 'Boys of Wexford, etc. The radio also transmits messages such as the numbers of privately owned police car's operating in the area with the names of the police officers in same. It gives details of property lost and found and transmits messages to parents and relatives of refugees in the South. It is manned by an English Disc Jockey at night and by men with Northern accents in the daytime.

On Saturday evening, 23/8/1969, there was a message read over Radio Free Belfast from the National Solidarity Committee, Gardiner Place, Dublin. It called on persons from all walks of life in the 'Free State' to force the 26 County Government to take further action in regard to the problems in the Six Counties. There are two other pirate radios operating in the Belfast area at the moment. There are "Radio Peace" and "Radio Ulster". They are believed to be in operation in the Protestant Shankill area and are very amateurish in comparison with Radio Free Belfast.’


In a further ‘secret’ document in September 1969 from the Department of Justice to the Taoiseach Jack Lynch it stated that,
"The Long Bank", 59 Leeson Street, where Radio Free Belfast was in operation, is a Licensed Premises. The Station which was manned by a staff of eight (8) - six (6) men and two (2) girls - is used ' to announce any developments to the residents in the locality. Between announcements record requests are played for those persons manning the barricades. This station was on the air for twenty-one (21) hours of the 24. It goes off the air from 9am to 12 noon. daily, to give the equipment an opportunity of cooling. There is a notice to this effect on the 'wall of the studio.'

It also band scanned the Belfast airwaves revealing the following station information
NAME                        FACTION                   LOCATION
 (1) Voice of Ulster                 Protestant                    Barnsley Park, Shankill Road.
 (2) Radio Orange                   do                                do
(3) Radio Shankill                  do                                "The Hammer" Shankill Road.
(4) Radio Sundown                do                                do
(5) Radio Free Belfast            Catholic                     "The Long Bank" 59 Leeson street.
(6) Radio Peace,                     Neutral                        Springfield Park off Springfield Road.

John McGuffin was one of the main men behind the station said that the station broadcast ‘from behind the barricades’. The station would later move frequency due to British Army jamming to 300m.
Radio Free Belfast delivered a message to their loyal listeners
“The Protestant workers are the poor dupes of the junta of effete aristocrats and hard-faced capitalists that have for fifty years divided our country and have divided the working class on a sectarian basis.'
On the opposite side was Radio Free Ulster (often referring to itself simply as Radio Ulster) on 242m MW also began broadcasting in August 1969 with DJ’s named Lord Orange, Roarin’ Meg, Sad Sam, Cameronian Kid and Orange Lil. They galvanised the stereotypes of the Catholic community that the loyalist paramilitaries were promoting. Radio Free Ulster was one of a number of Loyalist pirate radio stations including Radio Orange operating as the ‘Troubles’ began.



Another loyalist station was Radio Shankill or alternatively known as Radio Ulster began broadcasting with a transmitter built by Johnny Doak from Tigers Bay in Belfast. The station’s broadcasts added to the tension in the city and threats were directed at ‘the Republicans of the Falls Road’ and jeering that Catholic owned public houses had been targeted and destroyed by loyalist mobs.

When a twenty-three years old Protestant Jack Todd was shot dead from a speeding car on September 7th, the underground Protestant pirate station urged loyalist vigilantes to move against Roman Catholics. Belfast seemed to be on the brink of outright civil war. On Sunday September 7th tensions at the interface between the two communities were heightened. The Irish Independent reported
‘The action of the army only angered them more and in a short time they gathered again; this time the crowd swelling by several hundred. Then the Shankill pirate radio, station broadcast a message calling on every able-bodied man to report to Percy Street where, the- broadcaster said, an attack was being made on "the Fenians." "Will all units please report immediately," said the announcer, as if there was a prearranged plan. "This is a republican plot. The British troops are guarding the Falls. We are asking for the Royal Ulster Constabulary to man our barricades. This is no reflection on Her Majesty's troops. " We plead to all loyalists not to be provoked by retaliation against Her Majesty's loyal forces. 'This is what the Republicans want. Don't fall into the trap."
The Fermanagh Herald reported that on the night of Friday September 12th
‘A crowd, estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000, massed at Boyne Bridge menacing Durham Street with ten truckloads of soldiers separating them from a small crowd at the bottom of Albert Street. The Sandy Row crowd turned out after a call over " Radio Ulster " the Shankill Road station for " loyalists " to come out and defend their homes. During the night broadcasts by Radio Ulster resulted in crowds gathering in Protestant districts at several points. At one time a woman, broadcasting over Radio Ulster was declaring that the Irish Republican Army, with Tricolour in front, was advancing on the Shankill Road.’
One writer described the output of the Belfast pirates as
‘From Free Belfast’s eloquent political homilies full of wit and passion alternating with passionate witty folk songs to Orange Lil tongue snared bluster alternating with the Sash and God Save The Queen repeated like an incurable stammer.’
The equipment was crude and the transmitters often cobbled together from ex-army transmitters. A turntable and a microphone and these stations were on the air. They were breaking the Wireless Telegraphy Act and liable to a £400 fine for a first offence or £400 per day on air if discovered by the GPO detection inspectors. A raid by the Army in October 1969 netted the authorities the transmitter for Radio Ulster on the Shankill Road.

Not every commentator believed that the pirates in Belfast had any influence. Justin Hale in his book ‘Radio Power, Propaganda and International Broadcasting’ said
‘Both the IRA and Protestant extremists are an amalgam of fragmented group who would find it hard to maintain a consistent line of propaganda. But above all the radios are on the fringe because there is no essential need for them. Other means of communication exist, the area is small, the aims of the participants are widely known even if the tactics sometimes need some explaining to the faithful and the outsiders alike.’


Across the province at 7.02pm on January 10th 1969, Radio Free Derry broadcasting on 1388khz medium wave came to life. The Derry City station broadcast with a 25watt transmitter originally operated by the Socialist Resistance Group control later passing to the Official IRA. With studios and transmitter located in the Rossville Street flats, one of the main movers behind the station was the socialist campaigner Eamonn McCann who would later become a member of the Stormont Assembly. In his book ‘War in an Irish Town’ McCann wrote about the radio station

It was installed in an eighth-storey flat in Rossville Street with the aerial on the roof. We began broadcasting, describing ourselves as ‘Radio Free Derry, the Voice of Liberation’. The only people more appalled than the government by the situation were the leaders of the CAC. They had never intended barricades. But blood was up and there was nothing they could do about it. By chance the radio transmitter had been presented to Dermie McClenaghan and me. We used it to make propaganda encouraging the people to keep the barricades up and the police out and to ‘join your vigilante patrols’. We were perhaps erratic. On one occasion Tommy McDermott, who believed in the revolutionary potential of underground music, was left alone with the transmitter, an opportunity which he used to treat the populace to two hours of the Incredible String Band interspersed with whispered injunctions to ‘love one another and keep cool’. But for the most part we played rebel songs, and White, McClenaghan, Melaugh and I and some others delivered regular harangues. Reception was good, the listening audience vast.

Radio Free Derry nightly bombarded the area with pleas to ‘keep up the resistance’. We failed to swing the population round completely to this point of view, which possibly was not a bad thing because at the time we had neither the organization nor the means to put such resistance into effect. By the end of the week nervousness and uncertainty had replaced the excitement of Sunday night. The CAC had kept on the side lines. Late on Friday night Hume, Cooper, Canavan and a few others descended on the area and with a series of perfectly pitched and brilliantly timed speeches convinced the vigilantes that the barricades ought to be dismantled. They were gone by the morning. Any attempt to re-erect them would have been a frontal challenge to the CAC, and the revolutionary disc-jockeys of Radio Free Derry were in no position to do that, most of them, after all, being members of that body. (Citizens Action Committee)


The radio transmitter, now operating from Eamonn Melaugh’s house in Creggan, was pumping out Republican music and exhortations to ‘keep the murderers out. Don’t weaken now. Make every stone and petrol bomb count.’ The police were making charge after charge up Rossville Street. In a 2010 interview on BBC Radio Ulster, Jimmy Porter remembered his involvement in Radio Free Derry and said that while the station was located in the flats, the transmitters was put into the lift shaft meaning the station drifted in and out as the lift moved up and down fooling the British Army engineers into believing that the station was on the move possibly in the back of a van.

Radio Free Derry was joined on the air by Radio Saoirse operated by the Provisional IRA based on Rathlin Drive in the city. The station also air checked as The Voice of The Second Battalion. In September 1969 another station appeared on the medium wave calling itself ‘Radio Bogside’ and operated by the Citizens Defence Association.

Radio Free Derry was back on the air on August 23rd 1971 and according to the Socialist Resistance Group who set up the station it was using a 180 watt transmitter located on the southside of the border in Donegal but audible as far as Strabane.



The Stormont Government met on September 9th 1969 to specifically discuss the issue of pirate radio and how to put them off the air. The consensus was that if the British Army, who were now patrolling the streets, and the RUC forcibly entered that had become no-go ghettos the spectre of violence and bloodshed was all too imminent. The following day British Army engineers began to jam the broadcasts of the three main stations in Belfast, Radio Shankill, Radio Free Ulster both Protestant stations and the Catholic Radio Free Belfast. What followed was a cat and mouse game as the stations moved up and down the medium wave band, this also caused interference to the legal broadcasters in the province and they often ended up jamming each other’s frequencies. This had an affect and while the stations continued to broadcast their signals were almost inaudible.

As the violence escalated across the province and the two sides became more entrenched more stations emerged often using transmitters previously used. Radio 3 Belfast was located on the Falls Road, the station mimicked the fact that there was already a BBC Radio 1 and 2. Broadcasting to the nationalist community the station lasted a couple of weeks in October 1970. On the opposite side was Radio Orange on 242m MW which began broadcasting in September 1970 and the rhetoric included announcing
‘loyal citizens of Belfast buy nothing from the Republic, no Kerrygold, no Donnelly’s bacon, no Gateaux cakes, no perri crisps.’
After serious rioting in Belfast in October 1969 with Radio Orange inciting the Loyalist communities to attack Catholics the station was raided and closed by the British Army. In June 1970, the station was back on the air and this time the British Army jammed its signal.

 A call ' for the silencing of pirate radio stations was made in a blunt editorial in the "Belfast Telegraph". It said that this was a new and sinister factor in the conflict that now smouldered in Belfast, and the authorities had chosen to turn a blind eye to it for too long. In Derry "prompt action might have stamped it out at birth, but the authorities clearly did not recognise its influence' on events ". In Derry opposition was minimal and largely ineffectual, the paper said, but in Belfast the freedom of the airwaves had led to an unprecedented state of propaganda which had shown that it could influence people and events. The paper went on to ask: "Who can doubt that much of the dangerous build-up of Protestant feeling that took place in the Shankill and Sandy Row yesterday was the result of a hysterical call to arms through the Protestant radio? At the same time the naming of members of the B Specials over Radio Free Belfast is highly inflammatory." Stating that the military and police had a difficult enough job to do without interference calculated to make it more difficult still, the "Telegraph" said: "The radios must be silenced or someone will have a lot of explaining to do for refusing to act in time"


Armagh Resistance Radio on medium wave was believed by the British Army to be located in the Slieve Gullion area of Armagh and began broadcasting at Christmas 1971. The station was reported to be broadcasting advice to listeners about the ‘Rent and Rates’ strike that was taking place as a form of resistance to British rule in Northern Ireland at the time.  The station was picked up in many of the border counties and included requests for Republican internees.

One of the bigger stations in Loyalist Belfast was Radio Free Nick on 244m MW. The station opened in 1972 with a twenty watts transmitter operated by the Ulster Defence Association, the station was often ID'ed as The Voice of the UDA. Their transmitter had a range of twelve miles and broadcast for up to 16 hours a day. A house on Ceylon Street off the Shankill Road was raided by the British Army and the stations equipment confiscated. No arrests were made.

The station was one of the most listened to in Belfast at the time for the loyalist community as they broadcast coded messages and calls for people to man barricades in their area. The station became required listening and while much of their broadcasts were anti-Catholic and anti-Nationalist, they kept their own local community informed. In July 1972 most Protestants and especially Loyalist paramilitaries were getting all their information from Free Radio Nick. At one stage it told all UDA units not to move from their areas until further notice as it announced that an alleged statement asking units to move to Legadoon was false propaganda. The station broadcasts a mix of appeals for Protestants to join the UDA and music including Loyalist songs such as The Sash and Our Flag interspersed with music from the likes of Jim Reeves. One female presenter known on air as ‘Our Sal’ urged Catholics to ‘take in your tricolours and put out the flag of Ulster, you are daughters and sons of Ulster too.’


On Saturday July 22nd the newspapers reported that an IRA pirate radio station had reported that fifteen IRA active service members had been killed, ten of them in Belfast. The station added that 58 of their men had been injured. This newspaper report of the pirate stations claims came the day after what became known as Bloody Friday in Belfast when the IRA exploded nineteen bombs in 90 minutes that killed nine including five civilians. While according to Sean MacStiofan, who masterminded the bombing offensive, the intention of Bloody Friday was to damage infrastructure and not to cause loss of life but now with the loss of life the IRA in the eyes of its supporters needed to reclaim the moral high ground and to emphasize that this was not an attack on civilians but part of an all-out war. The pirate stations claim was that these IRA men were killed since the ending of a short-nlived IRA ceasefire that lasted from June 26th – July 9th.  In the aftermath of the bombs, 2000 British soldiers began raiding houses in Belfast arresting 58, the same number as used in the broadcasts to claim the number of IRA members injured.

July 1972 became one of the deadliest months of the trouble with 96 deaths. 1972 was the worst year of the troubles with 476 deaths including 249 civilians, 149 security forces and 78 paramilitaries.  Sources on the casualties for that month show that from the time of the end of the ceasefire and Bloody Friday, the IRA lost 4 men to British army fire while in the same period the security forces lost 12 men. The truth was becoming a casualty of war. 

Some of the short-lived stations in Belfast included Raidio na Phoblachta on 208m MW that made Marxist broadcasts while Radio Northern Ireland on 194m MW broadcast Unionist propaganda. Radio Saoirse on 246m MW was first heard in August 1971 broadcasting to Republican areas of Belfast with the station playing a selection of republican songs that announce called for the support of a ‘Dáil Uladh’, a provisional government for Ulster and said that they called ‘on all bodies representative of the area to commence a campaign of civil disobedience and declare the area an independent territory.  When the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment entered the Whiterock area of Belfast early on the morning of August 11th to locate the pirate station and to dismantle barricades, the IRA opened fire and a two-hour gun battle followed which left three men dead.

The unusually named Gnomes of Ulster on 1556khzAM was located in South Belfast. GNU opened on June 20th 1972 and the name referred to Dutch Orangemen known as ‘Kabouters’. This station seemed to have no political motivation the operators of the station found the name for the station from a Dutch anarchist group. Also known as GNU Radio. Radio Ajax on 247mMW was a Pro-Unionist Belfast station of the early seventies as was also known as Radio Big Jim on 227mMW and went on the air after BBC Radio One went off the air from a location in Belfast.


The Voice of Free Belfast broadcast on 213m MW and was operated by the Socialist Alliance of Peoples Democracy with a 25watt transmitter from Anderstown, Belfast. Workers Radio on 232m MW (later 242m) opened Sunday April 2nd 1972 operated from the Falls Road Belfast by the Official IRA. Just two weeks later the station was closed when members of The Provisional IRA raided the house where the station was located and the man and woman on air were warned not to interfere with the transmitter destruction or they would be shot. The Official IRA claimed the house was owned by a pregnant woman. Another station was Radio Ronnie on 546khzAM and Radio Peace who broadcast for five hours per night from 11pm. A spokesman for the station Geoff Harden said that while the other Belfast pirates were sectarian their aim was ‘to provide something therapeutic to take peoples mind off the situation. Our role is spreading an atmosphere of calm.’ The theme tune for the station was ‘Give Peace A Chance’ by John Lennon. Geoff Harden (8th July 1943 – 4th September 2006) was a journalist, broadcaster, recording engineer and folk music promoter. Born in Kent, Harden moved to Belfast in 1966. He became well-known on the music scene in Belfast after setting up the Sunflower Flower Folk Club on Corporation Street, and consequently for his work as a folk music columnist in The Belfast News Letter and as a presenter on and contributor to numerous local radio stations.



Radio Sunshine according to Danny Morrison[3] who would later become a major force in the Sinn Fein organisation, this station was run by a ‘Dave’ and ‘Heather’ and was located near Belfast University. The station would go on air after BBC Ulster closed down. The GPO engineers began to track down the station and one Sunday evening their equipment and were getting ‘hotter and hotter’ and were disappointed when they discovered the station was located unattended in a telephone kiosk with a cheap homemade transmitter and tape recorder with the power source coming from the light fitting in the roof of the kiosk. Sunshine came on the following Sunday poking fun at the engineers.

Two songs both made the charts in part thanks to the Belfast pirate stations. Harvey Andrews ‘Soldier’ charted in 1973 after one of the Shankill stations continually played the tune. The song banned by the BBC and RTE, was based on the true story of Sergeant Michael Willets who was killed as he shielded children from a bomb thrown into the Springfield Road Police station. Andrews spoke later about the influence pf the song on the Loyalist community despite the fact that the song was not written to encourage sectarianism,
‘It seems that it was taken to be a pro-Loyalist song, which was never my intention. Years later it was released as a bootleg single by a Loyalist band and I have been told it was sold in pubs and out of car boots at Ibrox the home of Glasgow Rangers to raise money for paramilitaries. I was strongly opposed to this but was powerless to stop it. A song I had originally intended to once again mirror man's inhumanity to man has somehow become a vehicle for more of the same, something I regret’
The British Ministry of Defence advised their soldiers not to sing the song in pubs where it may incite strong emotive behaviour.

On the opposite side Paul McCartney’s song ‘Give Ireland back to the Irish’ was released on February 1972 and recorded with his then band Wings. It too was banned by the BBC and Radio Luxembourg but it did not stop it reaching No.11 in the British charts and No.21 in the USA. The song was written as a response to the events in Derry on Bloody Sunday. McCartney said,
‘From our point of view, it was the first time people questioned what we were doing in Ireland. It was so shocking. I wrote "Give Ireland Back to the Irish", we recorded it and I was promptly 'phoned by the Chairman of EMI, explaining that they wouldn't release it. He thought it was too inflammatory. I told him that I felt strongly about it and they had to release it. He said, "Well it'll be banned", and of course it was. I knew "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" wasn't an easy route, but it just seemed to me to be the time to say something.’



Not every station took to the airwaves to air sectarian propaganda but took advantage of the authorities’ concentration on closing sectarian pirate stations. Harmony Radio was set up in Belfast by Good Vibrations Records founder Terri Hooley as an entertainment alternative to the hardcore vitriol of the political pirate stations. Then Radio 99 on 199mMW opened in April 1971 and set up by four friends to broadcast a non-political content with a diet of country and western music. The station was originally located in a disused house just inside the County Fermanagh border and was on air three hours Saturday and Sunday nights from 9.30pm opening each night with their signature tune Slim Whitman’s ‘What’s the World a Coming To’.

The station provided a postal address for requests of 6, Millbrook, Clones, County Monaghan but after just a couple of weeks on air the station was closed by loyalist paramilitaries who intimated the young broadcasters forcing them to close and move their transmitter south of the nearby border.

The station operators moved to Dunsrim near Scotshouse in County Monaghan with studios now housed in a caravan. The transmitter was built by Clones man Sean McQuillan using an ex-army transmitter. The station had three small transmitters two located south of the border and one north of the border across the River Finn.

 They periodically broadcast over the next four years with a name change to Radio Caroline North but it would all come to an end on November 21st 1975 when the Gardai raided the station. Three men Owen Smyth (aged 24) Charles Smyth (23) both from Knox, Scotshouse and Andrew Slowey from Cootehill, Cavan were found guilty of illegal broadcasting and each fined ten pounds each.


A TV repairman by profession, McQuillan would maintain an interest in pirate radio and would assist Pat McCabe in 2006 to set up Radio Butty for a local festival with that station located in a VW van.  North of Belfast was Radio Antrim    on 1395khz AM. Test transmissions from this Belfast station began in July 1973 broadcasting on 215mMW with D.J. Richard Black introducing the station to the listeners of Belfast. A sixteen-watt transmitter broadcast non-political, non-commercial radio with a music format and local news and although it was not sectarian much of the news related to loyalist matters. After some initial successful broadcasts, the station went off the air only to return in 1974 using a Solihull, England mailing address. The station added a new voice to the airwaves, Paul Hamill and the station broadcast a mix of top twenty and C &W music. The station moved frequency to 224mMW and often relied on pre-recorded programmes. The station never achieved a sufficient level of support to stay on the air and the final broadcasts were heard in November 1975.


In April 1974, close to the border with the Republic was Radio Free Newry broadcasting nationalist propaganda. Radio Woodvale was a loyalist paramilitary station linked to the UDA which was raided and closed by the British authorities in December 1974.


Thank you

[1] The Independent Broadcasting Authority
[2] This included 5 ‘Nuacht’ bulletins of between 1minute headlines and a 10 minute bulletin in Irish at 9.45pm

(c) The Irish Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2019