Bell, Bulb and Clock.
"Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae" are the opening words in Latin of the 'devotion' commonly known as "The Angelus" which was tradionally recited three times daily at 6am, noon and 6pm in Roman Catholic churches, convents and monasteries, as well as by some individuals at home or in public. Some Anglican and Lutheran churches have also used this 'devotion'. The Angelus is usually accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell which serves as a call to prayer. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that "The history of the Angelus is by no means easy to trace with confidence, and it is well to distinguish in this matter between what is certain and what is in some measure conjectural". The Angelus 'devotion' was already well established 700 years ago originating with the 11th-century monastic custom of reciting three 'Hail Marys' during the evening bell. The first written documentation stems from the Italian Franciscan monk Sinigardi di Arezzo who died in 1282. Franciscan monasteries in Italy document the use in 1263 and 1295. The Angelus is included in a Venetian 'Catechism' from 1560. In 1269, St. Bonaventure urged the faithful to adopt the custom of the Franciscans by saying three 'Hail Marys' as the evening bell was rung.
Ideas for the broadcast of the Angelus prayer surfaced in Irish religious and Government circles in about 1948 and centered around discussions between the Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, Leon Ó Broin, and the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. John Charles Mc Quaid. The director of Radio Éireann at the time, Charles Kelly, however, was not in favour of a spoken transmission and eventually the suggestion of a bell was agreed by all three. Despite the simplicity of using a gramophone or tape recording, Dr Mc Quaid brushed aside the problems of traffic noise, cawing crows and wind noise and insisted that it be broadcast live from Dublin. At first the chief engineer of Radio Éireann, J.D. Ferguson, having inspected the Franciscan Church on Merchant's Quay, concluded that it was the obvious place as it had an electronically operated mechanism which would avoid the problem of erratic timing by human bell-ringers. However Secretary O'Broin let it be known to the Director that Dr. Mc Quaid was in favour of St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral and due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time, it seemed pointless to go against the archbishop's wishes and as the bell at the cathedral had a suitable tone and pitch, as reported by Mr. Ferguson and another engineer, Mr. Lyons, it was a matter of having the electrically timed hammer mechanism designed and built. This was to prove no simple task as Dr. Mc Quaid laid down the sequence and timing of the bell: three, followed by three, followed by three, followed by nine strokes, to compliment the saying of the Angelus prayer. Furthermore he insisted that the clapper should be actuated precisely on the hour of 6am, midday and 6pm although only the last occurance would be actually broadcast, at least for the first 18 years. Other difficulties lay with the placement of the microphone, to shield it from wind and rain and to avoid the mechanical sound of the hammer operating mechanism.
The Irish Press daily newpaper reported on August 1949 that the Angelus bell would be broadcast live from the Pro-Cathedral once daily at 6pm from January, but delays in the delivery of the electronic striking mechanism meant that it was heard over the airwaves for the first time on August 17th 1950, starting precisely at 6pm thereby replacing the six short bursts of audio tone which would have hitherto been transmitted as the time signal, known in both Radio Éireann and by the wider public as the "pips". The 'blessing' of the new mechanism had been carried out by the archbishop three days previously, with a large attendance by Radio Éireann staff, officials from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the paparazzi of the day, but the Minister, James Everett, was absent due to official business in Strasbourg.
The secret of the precise timing of the initial hammer strike lay with the chronometer at Dunsink Observatory. By an electronic connection, this accurate device controlled the master clock in the GPO which in turn was responsible for generating the "clock pulses" supplied to all other clocks in Radio Éireann. This 'master clock' was also the means by which the aforementioned pips were caused to be broadcast at the required precise time. It's possible now to understand how the striker mechanism at the Pro-Cathedral could be coordinated with both the 'pips' and all the studio clocks at the GPO. The striker mechanism itself consisted of a 50 kilogramme drop-hammer raised by a half horse-power electric motor and allowed to fall on the perimeter of the bell which itself weighed two and a half tons. An audio circuit would be needed to transmit the output of the microphone and its amplifier at the cathedral back to the main control room at Henry St., and it is this underground audio cable that would also be used, in what is called a phantom configuration, to deliver the required timing code pulses to the mechanism at the bell. The arrangement worked well initially but after a couple of frosty winters despite being housed in a weather-proof wooden box the less robust parts of the equipment began to seize-up and starting failures became more frequent, the large rubber drive belt being a particular problem. However this was partially solved by the installation of a permanently lit 60 Watt electric light bulb in the containing box.
With the beginning of extended broadcasting hours in 1968, the Angelus would in future be heard on the wireless at both noon and six. Exactly five minutes before transmission, a time-switch in the clock room of the GPO brought the audio amplifier to life at the cathedral and the duty technician in the main control room would listen for the sound of traffic and bird noises coming through to 'Control Position One' and reproduced on his BBC LSU 12 loudspeaker. A reassuring message was conveyed verbally (usually shouted) through the open door to the Continuity technician who sat in the adjoining room. The detection of 'city skyline' did not however guarantee that the striking mechanism would always operate, especially when the previously mentioned 60 watt bulb had failed during frosty weather. So as a precaution a standby tape was always lined up and at the ready. This of course would also be needed in case the preceding programme overran which was a very rare occurrence indeed, unlike the situation pertaining today. After doing the timing calculations, a quick message from the Continuity announcer, to "kill the Angelus" would prompt the operator on the other side of the glass to place the first in a line of three electro-mechanical switch keys on his control panel into the 'up' position, thereby closing off the audio circuit from the Pro-Cathedral. He knew then that he would be required to roll the standby tape. And so the Angelus would be broadcast as usual, although a little later than scheduled. As a matter of interest, the other two switch-keys on the control panel were for 1000Hz 'line-up' tone and the time signal.PGR