Tech is Cool and Content is King

NDW16 Discussion

As  we were last year, Robert and I have emerged from our National Digital Week experience inspired and affirmed and, OK, perhaps just a tiny bit daunted.

Mobile Only World

Affirmed? Because even though we are Boomers and the world seems to be run increasingly by and for Millennials, we’re comfortable with most of the technology we need to cope with our progressively digitised daily lives and to produce a weekly blog.

Daunted? At what’s ahead of us: the Internet of Things where everything is connected; augmented reality where a pair of glasses will supply additional information about anything we desire; the gameification of internet experiences; and increased reliance on high quality video.

Work to do

Looks like we have work to do!

Inspired? Because the takeaway message was so encouraging for people like us who create and produce content week after week – you can have the highest, whiz-bang technology in the world but it’s all a means to an end – and that end is to tell a story.

Humans have an innate social and psychological need for stories and a hunger for knowledge – that message was at the core of much of what we heard on the day we attended, even if the sessions had names like Innovation and Creative Thinking or Perspectives and Insights from an Irish Start Up.

FF with Alan Duggan

Finola with Alan Duggan of Tribal City Interactive, based in Galway

The Irish Start Up under discussion is a group called Tribal City Interactive and they are developing a new game called Runes of Aran. The thing is, it’s all based on Irish mythology, straight from the Leabhar Gabhála, or the Book of Invasions, which tells the story of the successive waves of people who came to Ireland. (See Robert’s post First Foot for more about the Irish origin tale told in the Leabhar Gabhála.) And the game is going to be stunning! Here’s the premise:

A storm has been raging for days.  Navigation is impossible, your ship is being inexorably pulled towards a mysterious island at the edge of the world.  It is a place which exists in the stories of all mariners; it is a place to be shunned.  It is Aran.

The ship is finally dashed ashore at the foot of huge towering cliffs.  Only you get off the ship alive, crawling ashore into a surprisingly calm bay. The cliffs form an impenetrable barrier, except for a cave that frames a massive doorway composed of two tall blue stones, capped by an even larger lintel piece. Standing in the doorway is an old man, dressed in a long grey tunic.  He is Amergin the Bard, and he waits patiently for you.

Amergin explains an old magic has pulled you to this place and now you are trapped, doomed to spend the rest of your days on this lost island. Unless…

Runes of Aran still

This is a still from Runes of Aran, taken from their concept video – now take a look at the video

We were also excited to see Cartoon Saloon here, talking about their projects. We love their animated films: The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea are both based on Irish legends and myths and both were nominated for major international awards. The Song of the Sea also uses imagery directly inspired by prehistoric Irish art. Just look at this screenshot – it manages to combine Boa Island figures with Newgrange-type spirals.


Google has a massive presence in Ireland and Google folk were here in droves. We had booked a one-to-one session in their Digital Garage, where Karl gave us excellent advice (and food for thought) on how to really look at our website and what we might consider doing a little differently.

RH and Karl, Digital Garage

I’ve only given you a tiny flavour of National Digital Week. We met all kinds of people here, from CEOs to hot-shot young programmers to visionary developers to people just like us, working on the fringes of technology and wanting to learn. And all of this in the heart of West Cork.

The old Lady’s Well Brewery repurposed as the Google Digital Garage

A massive vote of appreciation to the dynamic young people who run the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen and who organise this conference- what an amazing job they do. Next year, come and experience it for yourself. Oh – and don’t miss the Wall of Donuts!


Skibbereen – Ireland’s First Gigabit Town!

Ludgate poster

On Friday, the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen was officially launched.

Minister and Field

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and John Field of the Ludgate Board

We’ve been watching the progress of this wonderful initiative since last November when we attended the National Digital Week in Skibbereen. Robert wrote then about Percy Ludgate, the re-discovered computer pioneer, and about the plans for the Ludgate Hub. This week, those plans fell into place and gave Skibbereen the distinction of being Ireland’s first 1Gigabit town.Minister's Speech

The Hub was declared open by Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in front of a capacity crowd that included representatives from some of the e-commerce giants operating in Ireland, such as Google, Vodaphone, Glen Dimplex, and Siro. The cheering section also included many local faces we recognised, all there to celebrate this initiative: John and Sally McKenna, the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, a couple of bishops, our local political representatives, Dee Forbes (newly appointed director of RTE, who’s on the Board), and Lord David Puttnam, Ireland’s Digital Champion, who never misses an opportunity to support West Cork.Board

Lots of people spoke, everyone enthusiastically, about the boon this building would be to Skibbereen. But to my mind, the speech of the day was the one given by John Field. John is the Director of Field’s Supermarket, a beloved and respected local institution. The Ludgate Building was the former Field’s bakery. Although the grocery business was established about 150 years ago, the Field family has been running it since 1935. They are committed to stocking the best of locally produced food and indeed they have a fantastic collection of artisan and locally grown produce that is second to none.

Old and new technology

Before it was Field’s bakery, the building was a cinema: the projector is a nod to its historic past

John’s words were simple and direct – we already have excellent local business, but we need to attract and retain more entrepreneurs and young families to West Cork. We can’t do that unless we can provide the most up-to-date technology, and nowadays that means the highest possible broadband speeds. The Ludgate Hub provides exactly that  – a 1000MG fibre-optic connection, to be exact. Lightning speed! They provide single and group work spaces, state-of-the-art video conference rooms that can utilise Google Hangouts, and a variety of meeting and presentation facilities.

Ludgate front

You can’t miss the Ludgate Hub! Below: the colourful entrance, with an informal meeting space above it; Grainne Dwyer, the Hub Project Director, and Robert chat in the coffee room

We attended a talk by the photographer John Minihan in the Hub earlier this week, where we had a first-hand demonstration of the kind of digital presentations possible now (enormous screens that you touch to advance!) and we hope to use a hot desk ourselves in the future, as we develop our ability to produce 3D images of rock art. The local Coderdojo club has been welcomed into the Hub – their Facebook page has a great image of the kids working on a Minecraft project in one of the conference rooms.

Clockwise from top left: Oliver Farrell (Chairman & Co-Founder of Vilicom and a Board member) shows us the desk area; John Minihane, photographer, gives a presentation during the Skibbereen Arts Festival; an informal seating area beside the servers; a conference room;

The building itself is inviting and colourful – in the best West Cork tradition. The staff is young and helpful and energetic. If you’ve ever wanted to live in West Cork (and who wouldn’t!), but needed excellent connectivity, wait no more. Come on down, meet the Ludgate folks, and drive by some of those properties you’ve been drooling over on those online property sites.

Bill Brown

At the opening we met Bill Brown. Bill has a security firm with offices in Belfast, Naas and London but manages to live in West Cork using the Ludgate Hub to provide the connectivity he needs to his business

Oh, and sign up for National Digital Week. Yes, they’re doing it again, in November!

Below: Percy Ludgate beams benignly down on visitors to the Hub


Gigabit town

Digital Skibbereen!

The Digital Week programme has appeared all over town...
The Digital Week programme has appeared all over town…

Who has ever heard of Percy Ludgate? And who would have thought that a man born in 1883 in a little West Cork town was a computer pioneer?

Early ‘computing’ – Percy Ludgate (top left); a conjectural diagram of his invention; the Schicard calculator (known as Napier’s Bones), arguably the first mechanical calculator and created in 1623; the very first Apple computer (above)

In Skibbereen, now, everyone knows about him – because he has given his name to a new initiative which has swept the town. And – breaking news – National Digital Week has just taken over this modest community, doubling its population for a few days and bringing innovation and promise of much needed life and work opportunities.

Skibb busy street

21st century Skibbereen

Skibbereen has become one of the first towns in Ireland outside Dublin to create for itself a ‘Digital Hub’: a centre where businesses will have access to high-speed fibre broadband – something which is long overdue in rural Ireland. We all remember the promises rolled out in the Celtic Tiger years that every last corner of the island would be given access to state-of-the-art phone and internet connection so that businesses could operate competitively from small communities, thus ensuring their economic survival… Well, two decades later, this ‘last corner’ here in Cappaghglass is still waiting: our broadband is always slow and ‘down’ as often as it is ‘up’, and a mobile phone signal is non-existent – politicians take note, please! And this is not uncommon in all the remoter fringes of this land.

Everything that can be digital

All the more reason to applaud the initiatives now happening in Skibbereen. It’s only twenty minutes up the road from Cappaghglass, so perhaps there is hope that once real high-speed connectivity reaches that town some of its potency may dribble down the lines to us…

Finola and

Finola was particularly impressed that there was a day dedicated to female leaders in digital media – women who are ‘making the impossible possible’... Here Finola is mentored by Denise Brown, an Account Manager at Google

Skibbereen’s initiative is being led by local businessmen and women who want their own families – and the whole younger generation now growing up in rural Ireland – to have the opportunity of a viable working future without having to migrate to the cities or abroad – which is currently the norm. And they have no doubts that the future is digital; it is possible to run any sort of business nowadays online, and to compete in national and international markets from anywhere in the world, provided that the place is digitally ‘connected’.

Robert and Giacomo

Robert at a one-to-one clinic with Google’s Giacomo Gnecchi-Ruscone

Ireland has a long-running association with the digital world, probably for the very same reason that it’s now important for communities in rural Ireland to embrace it: we are a very small country with a tiny population trying to survive and make our mark in the huge world economy. Giants like Apple and Google have long had a big presence in the Irish Republic – partly because they get good tax deals but also because Ireland’s working community has made itself good at being digital.

google dublin

Google has a huge presence in Ireland: the Dublin office

Skibbereen’s John Field comes from a family which has made its mark on the town: the local central supermarket – still always called ‘Fields’ – thrives because it focusses on local producers and also provides a very good friendly shopping experience. John believes that West Cork producers are central to the new ‘Irish food culture’. Now he is a prime mover in the digital initiative and has donated a premises – that used to be the town’s bakery (one of the oldest in Ireland) – as the first Digital Hub to be fitted out. By chance (or not!) this premises is just around the corner from where computer pioneer Percy Ludgate was born.


A digital image of Field’s old bakery converted to the new Hub

Percy Ludgate was convinced of the importance of mathematical computing devices, and came up with his own design for an ‘analytical machine’ in 1909. He was well respected and lectured universities and learned societies in the early part of the twentieth century. He knew the work of Englishman Charles Babbage (1791-1871) who had built programmable calculating machines using a system of punched cards. Ludgate took a different approach: his design had all the elements of a modern computer – data storage, programmable data input, a printer, and an ‘operating system’. In theory, Ludgate’s automated engine would multiply two 20-digit numbers in under 10 seconds, and take two minutes to determine the logarithm of a number. It would also solve algebraic equations and geometric problems. It was to be powered by an electric motor, and the device would be ‘portable’ – a cube measuring about two feet on each side. Sadly, Ludgate did not live long enough to complete a prototype: he died from pneumonia at the age of 39. It’s great, though, that this whole 21st century digital project carries his name.

Mobile best practice

Last week’s venture involved a series of conferences and workshops designed to introduce anyone who wanted to attend to the concept of the Digital Hub – and to give insights into how the use of the superspeed technology could benefit all businesses. We attended – partly because we wanted to be in the know on the whole venture – but also because we could see how it would help us in producing this blog – and in getting it seen by more people! As with any business, it’s important if you have something to promote (in our case) or to sell (in the case of a producer), you need to know how to get your message across in the most accessible and attractive way. You also need to know that the message is getting to where you want it to be. This is where ‘Analytics’ come in. We already knew it was possible to see how many people were reading our blog and – more or less – where they came from. Now we have discovered that it’s possible to analyse a whole lot more about where our work is reaching, and who looks at what and for how long. This could be sen as frightening, I suppose, in a ‘Big Brother’ context, but it’s all anonymous and – in the end – it’s all just data. Anyone in commerce nowadays who has a command of that data will be best placed to make sure that their own business will offer what the markets seem to be looking for – and that’s what a thriving economy is all about.


A special mention has to be made of the many young people involved in this venture. In the digital world it seems that it’s the youth who are mentoring the not-so-young! Think – who are the most computer-savvy members of your family? Important faces here include Project Director Gráinne Dwyer and Corporate Development Director Callum Donnelly, seen here (far right and far left) with the rest of the team at the launch of the Ludgate Centre:

NO REPRO FEE Pictured at the 'sod turning' launch of the Skibbereen's Ludgate Hub at the old fields bakery on Friday 7th August 2015 Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
The ‘sod turning’ launch of Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub at the old Field’s Bakery, August 2015 (Emma Jervis Photography)

One of the many great things about Ireland is that there’s always a creative side and a human side to every venture. So – after every day’s lecture sessions and masterclasses – it was time for relaxation and social activities. Skibbereen came up trumps, thanks in no small measure to one of the town’s most treasured human assets – Declan McCarthy. Declan runs the world-renowned Baltimore Fiddle Fair every year and also organises a whole raft of first class musical events in West Cork: with the help of many others during Digital Week he ensured the smooth running of quite outstanding evenings to turn minds away from digital matters. On the first night we had Jessie Kennedy’s Carbery Songs; then, on Friday, what could have been more inspiring than an evening in the Skibbereen Town Hall with our favourite traditional music makers Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Kevin Burke? And this fabulous concert was broadcast live online right across the world! The following evening we were royally entertained again, this time by Sacha Puttnam, son of the renowned film maker Lord David Puttnam (remember Chariots of Fire – The Mission – the Killing Fields – Midnight Express?). Both Puttnams live here in West Cork (why would they live anywhere else?), and Sacha – ably accompanied by some local young musicians – gave us some superb renderings of film music from his father’s movies on the Skibbereen Town Hall grand piano (which, incidentally, was donated to the town by the family, having been played previously in 10 Downing Street amongst other venues). Behind it – on the big screen – we could watch stills from the movies – and there were orchestral accompaniments all synchronised digitally: again, everything was broadcast live to the world over the internet.

Puttnam and friends

Worldwide web broadcasts from Skibbereen: Burke, Hayes and Cahill (above) and Sacha Puttnam and friends (below) – anyone recognise the scene from War of the Buttons?

David Puttnam (below), who holds the honorary title Digital Champion for Ireland, is the chair of Atticus Education, an online education company based in Ireland which delivers interactive seminars on film and a variety of other subjects to educational institutions around the world. The Puttnam involvement in Skibbereen’s pioneering digital venture is therefore most apt.


Keynote statement from Ludgate@Skibbereen: Digital will negate the conventional disadvantages of working and living outside cities; creating real jobs, real commerce while real people enjoy the superior lifestyle option of living in rural Ireland.