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The iconic lighthouse on Loop Head. Photograph by John Kelly.

Unravelling the Loop Head code

A group of amateur ham radio operators will wind back the clock at Loop Head Lighthouse this weekend, when they attempt to communicate via radio and Morse code with hundreds of radio clubs throughout the world.

The Limerick Radio Club, which features members from Clare, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary, will broadcast non-stop for 48 hours from the West Clare lighthouse as part of the 17th International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend (ILLW).

During the broadcast, from midnight on Friday to midnight on Sunday, visitors to the popular tourism landmark will be able to listen into communications with some of the other participating ham radio operators, broadcasting from 400 other lighthouses and lightships in 65 countries.

Last year, the Limerick Radio Club successfully made contact with lighthouses and lightships as far away as Brazil, Australia, Tonga, French Guiana, Asiatic Russia, Ecuador, The Azores and The US Virgin Islands. The majority of all radio contacts were made with operators in the United States (200), Germany (155) and Italy (76). Sixty-one per cent of overall communication was conducted via radio, with the remaining 39% being conducted via Morse code.

The group also attempted to communicate with its twinned club in South Jersey, using Earth-Moon-Earth communication, also known as moon bounce. First developed by the US Military after World War Two, the radio communications technique involves radio waves travelling from one transmitter to another using the moon as a reflector.

Clare County Council, along with the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL), is facilitating the broadcast from Loop Head Lighthouse, while the Limerick Radio Club has also received approval from Ireland’s Communications Regulator, Comreg.

“Thanks to Clare County Council and the CIL, we will once again be basing ourselves on the edge of the Loop Head Peninsula, at the lighthouse, in an effort to open long-distance communications with regions in Asia, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe,” explained Simon Kenny of the Limerick Radio Club.

Mr Kenny said Loop Head Lighthouse is particularly suitable for long-distance radio and Morse code communications attempts, due to its isolated location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the lack of radio interference in the general area.

“A special QSL Card (confirmation of communication) has been designed to mark the event. The club will operate two stations, one of which will be at the entrance to the lighthouse so members of the public can listen to some of the transmissions,” he explained.

The 19th-century lighthouse was opened for a fourth successive season in late April and will remain open to the public each day from 10am to 6pm, until the end of September. More than 8,000 people, 43% of whom came from abroad, visited the lighthouse during May, June and July.

“We are delighted to be able to facilitate members of the Limerick Radio Club, who have helped to further raise the profile of Loop Head Lighthouse through their conversations over the airwaves with fellow ham radio operators internationally,” commented Ger Dollard, director of services, Clare County Council.

“The International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend is a wonderful mechanism for connecting and promoting the shared maritime heritage of countries throughout the world,” he added.

Loop Head Lighthouse, located at the mouth of the Shannon Estuary, is steeped in history and rich in maritime heritage, with its origins dating back to the 1670s. The existing tower-style lighthouse was constructed in 1854 and was operated and maintained by a keeper, who lived within the lighthouse compound.

In January 1991, the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation, and today is in the care of an attendant and is also monitored by the CIL.

Further information on the annual International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend (ILLW) is available from www.limerickradioclub.ie and www.illw.net. Visit www.loophead.ie or www.clare.ie for more information on Loop Head Lighthouse and the Loop Head Peninsula.

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