Skibbereen the Digi Hub of West Cork

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | August 8, 2015 1

SkibbmainstIn the heyday of The Eagle the place we call Skibb was a real hub, a port, a railway hub and a crossroads and not too far away on Valentia Island was the first connection with American when Mr. Marconi opened the first permanent telegraph link from Foilhommerum Bay to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland in 1866. Now the dynamic little town where the Eagle kept its Eye on the Czar of Russia and other despots is once again to be a hub!

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Telegraph Field, Valentia Island: Foilhommerum is the site of the first permanent communications link between Europe and the Americas.

An old bakery building in West Cork will be converted into Ireland’s first “rural digital hub” for tech startups. When open for business in November, the 10,000 sq ft complex in Skibbereen will be able to house up to 75 technology and scientific outfits. The building, which will be renamed the Ludgate Hub, was made available by local businessman John Field for the non-profit group, which was brought together by Glen Dimplex CEO and west Cork native Seán O’Driscoll.

It was named after Skibbereen-born accountant Percy Ludgate, who in the early 1900s designed an analytical engine in his spare time. While Ludgate died in 1922 and the prototype was never built, it was a blueprint for what would have been the world’s first portable computer.

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Percy Ludgate, accountant by day, computer designer by night!

Percy Ludgate was born in Skibbereen Co. Cork and studied at Rathmines College of Commerce, where he was a gold medal student, before joining a Dublin firm of accountants. From 1903 he spent his spare time designing his analytical machine. Possibly this first portable computer — more “table top” than “laptop” — was designed around 1907, although it was never built. He presented the details to the Royal Dublin Society in 1909. This brought him to international attention, and in 1914 the Royal Society invited him to lecture in Edinburgh at a special conference on mathematics and computing. LudgateStore

Ludgate’s analytical machine was programmable, yet small enough to be portable, and it had all the elements of a modern computer: a) a mechanism for storing data, b) ways to input data and program the machine (using pre-punched ‘formula’ tape and/or keyboards), c) an ‘operating system’ of sorts, and even d) a printer, all of which Ludgate designed himself.

Ludgate’s machine had two especially innovative features: it could be stopped at any stage in a calculation to add new variables, and it could do subroutines. (Ludgate’s approach to calculations was also unusual: for multiplication he developed a technique using partial products; for division he used a table of reciprocals and a rapidly converging series using subroutines.) His method of implementing multiplication was referred to at the time as “Irish logarithms”. For a copy of Ludgate’s paper to the RDS and more background see:

http://www.cs.ncl.ac.uk/research/pubs/articles/papers/390.pdf

Ludgate worked as an auditor until his death, with the firm of Kevans and Son in Dublin. Percy never married and was described by his contemporaries as a “very gentle, a modest simple man” who “possessed the characteristics one usually associates with genius, and he was so regarded by his colleagues on the staff…”. Little is known about Ludgate’s life, as his only records are his scientific writings. Ludgate died of pneumonia in 1922 aged 39, after returning from a Swiss walking holiday.

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Impression of the interior of the renovated bakery Ludgate@Skibbereen

The Ludgate Hub, or Ludgate@Skibbereen, will allow entrepreneurs to work alongside one another in a facility that combines office space, a state-of-the-art video conference room and access to fast fibre broadband, as well as the chance to link up with academic partners and their research.

It follows the model of other successful centres in Ireland’s cities like Dublin’s Digital Hub, which is currently home to the local operations of hot international startups like Slack as well as dozens of local firms. Former Digital Hub chairman Leonard Donnelly, who is one of several tech entrepreneurs on the new hub’s steering group, said: “Our formula at its simplest is a fusion of global business experience with first generation entrepreneurs and scientists.”

Communications Minister Alex White said the plan will create 500 direct jobs in the area over the next five years and hopefully serve as a blueprint for other rural areas to become part of “our fast-growing digital economy”. The main contribution Mr. White’s Government could make would be to roll out the Rural Broadband Programme which is miles and years behind schedule with rural digital businesses crying out for high speed fibre connections. Not to mention the businesses of the future which cannot be created because of the absence of fibre in small towns.

Meanwhile the biggest little town in Ireland leads the way. Skibbereen, we’ll be keeping an Eye on this and Percy Ludgate’s legacy to computing.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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