CAPE Clear residents have been celebrating their first fully connected Christmas – thanks to the huge community effort which brought mobile and broadband coverage to the island.
Islanders often had to travel to the other side of the island to make calls, while businesses and tourists were left unconnected.
But after discovering how well an amateur radio antenna worked on the island’s highest point, locals seized the initiative, with help from the Vodafone store in Skibbereen, which offered to help install a mast at the same spot.
In a massive engineering challenge, five cement lorries were barged from the mainland as locals prepared the groundwork for the structure which is revolutionising the way they live and work.
The Cape Clear Island connectivity project was carried out by Vantage Towers under their Towers For Good programme – aimed at connecting rural communities, encouraging development and enabling job creation.
‘We really suffered due to a lack of mobile signal – driving to another part of the island to make a phone call was a way of life for some people,’ said Mairtín Ó Méalóid, chairman of Comharchumann Chléire Teoranta, the Cape Clear Co-operative.
‘I can now make a call from my house, which is something that I could never do.
‘There is a certain resilience which comes from island life, but something like this reduces our sense of isolation.
‘It also enables businesses, such as the glamping site, to offer connectivity to tourists, as well as providing service to parts of the mainland and Sherkin Island that were previously isolated.’
The new installation is a massive boost to the community, according to Vantage Towers Ireland managing director Brian McHugh.
‘It significantly improves mobile and data coverage, not only to Cape Clear Island itself, but also to the neighbouring island communities of Sherkin, Heir and Long islands,’ he said.
‘It will also have a positive impact on residences located in difficult-to-service areas dotted along the coastline between Baltimore and Crookhaven.’
Fishing and leisure boat users on the waters between Crookhaven and Baltimore, as well as islanders, will also now be able to contact the emergency services, if needed.
Seamus Ó Drisceoil, founder and manager of Cape Clear Island Distillery, said that picking up and losing coverage around the island was a way of life.
‘We had to adjust our business as a result and accept that we would lose opportunities due to lost calls,’ he said.
‘I now have a mobile phone signal in my house for the first time in 25 years – and I am getting a 5G signal at home and at work.’
The sustainable community partnership saw Cape Clear islanders reuse an existing structure with services in place and build the base of the tower at Quarantine Hill, using concrete sourced in Skibbereen. Islanders also helped in the dismantling of a former wind turbine pole at the site, which will be recycled. The tower, which will go live with the Vodafone signal but be open to all service providers, was manufactured in Ireland by Carlow firm Delmec, who co-ordinated the complex transportation logistics.
Vodafone Ireland network director Sheila Kavanagh emphasised the company’s commitment to enhancing network infrastructure in the most rural areas of Ireland so that all communities can benefit in the digital society.
‘From the initial engagement with residents on the island, everyone was very supportive of the proposals to develop this unique telecommunications infrastructure,’ she said.