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Ludgate brings West Cork and technology full circle

August 22nd, 2015 5:10 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Pictured at the launch of Skibbereen's Ludgate digital hub at the former Field's bakery building last week were members of the Ludgate Steering Group with Minister Alex White (centre). From left: Callum Donnelly, Adam Walsh, John Field, Sean O'Driscoll,

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WHEN Marconi sent the first wireless signal from the UK to Newfoundland in the early 1900s, via our own Brow Head, he inadvertently sounded the death knell of many small businesses in the nearby village of Crookhaven.

Until then, the busy harbour was the location of several companies, including a Lloyd’s of London agency office, due to its strategic location for transatlantic shipping and communications.

But the communications revolution came full circle last week when Ludgate was launched, in a bid to encourage businesses back into West Cork – ably assisted by advances in communications technology.

‘The digital economy is driving sweeping change,’ said Communications Minister Alex White, at the launch, adding that it now represents more than 5% of the economy, and 100,000 jobs. ‘And that will really grow when we have the impact of the likes of Ludgate,’ he said.

Ludgate puts great emphasis on its links with the West Cork diaspora, he pointed out, explaining how similar projects, if developed around the country, could allow rural businesses to thrive once more.

Ludgate expects to create 500 jobs, with 1,000 more indirectly created. ‘With the talent and drive of the people behind Ludgate, I am sure that will grow,’ he said.

He was referring to one of most impressive collections of business people to come together under such an initiative.

Ludgate boasts the likes of Sean O’Driscoll (Glen Dimplex ceo), Dee Forbes (Discovery Networks, Northern Europe president), Anne O’Leary (Vodafone Ireland ceo), Lord David Puttnam, and several other ‘heavy hitters’ on its steering group.

Tech entrepreneurs, former Dublin Digital Hub chairman Leonard Donnelly, Kevin Buckley of Spearline Labs and Oliver Farrell of Vilicom are also backing the project, and lending both their time and expertise to the project.

John Field has kindly donated Field’s former bakery on Townshend Street for office space – with 75 hot desks targeted by November, and impressive artists’ sketches showing a high tech hub that any capital city would be proud of.

Adam Walsh, general manager of Field’s, is also on the top committee, and full-time staff are Grainne Dwyer and Callum Donnelly.

Grainne Dwyer, herself a recent college graduate, told the launch how 35 of her 45 classmates were now working abroad and she felt privileged to be able to work at home. The idea of Ludgate was to provide an environment where many more young people could do the same, she said. It will have a ‘swing door’ policy, she said, so the community was encouraged to engage with it, at any time.

She explained that the project takes its name from Skibbereen man Percy Ludgate, who was the ‘Bill Gates of his time’, having invent the prototype for the first ‘laptop’ computer, around 1907.

What Ludgate’s impressive steering group have in common today is that they are all based here, or born here, and are passionate about wanting to show off what West Cork has to offer – in both business, and lifestyle, terms.

Vodafone’s Anne O’Leary is married to local man Nick Walsh, and they have a holiday home near Cunnamore outside Skibbereen.

Dee Forbes, a native of Drimoleague (as is Sean O’Driscoll), commutes from Glandore to London every Monday.

Ms O’Leary, a native of Blackrock in Cork, said she hoped the Skibbereen project could be used as a template for other towns in the future.

She was delighted to be working with so many local people who had ‘vision’ and ‘ambition’ and, with the help of the local community, Ludgate could be a huge success, she said.

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