Memories of the Early Days of Irish TV Recalled

By James Reddiough

Padraig Jones, a radio and electrical engineer in Connolly Street, in Ballina was the first man to bring television to Ballina, Co. Mayo, and the programme was a cricket match from England via the Belfast transmitter – this was back in 1955, seven years before RTÉ came on the air for the first time.

The All-Ireland Semi-Final of August 1967 between Mayo and Meath has been referred to as the television semi-final for two reasons: these were the early days of the Telifís Éireann in the west and transmission broke down during the game. When it broke down the game was going in Mayo’s favour but on the resumption of coverage Meath had scored two goals and went on to win the game to meet Cork in the final.

Then in another scene Mayo in the early 1970s, a group of people sat around the TV in a local house and watched Mohammad Ali box Joe Frasier and this would have been a major social and sporting event in the week for them.

PYE and Bush were popular makes of TV in 1970 and Marsh TV rentals of Ballina that year were hiring or renting TVs at 10/6 per week and this rental rate would be reduced after six months, the ‘Western People’ ad tells us. The options were to hire, rent or buy out a TV set and they were becoming common at the time.


These two examples show what an impact TV has had and continues to have on the people of Ireland and the rural areas of Mayo in particular. It brought life in off the streets and boreens to people’s homes, and ended the rambling houses and other traditions associated with the Ireland of former times.

Television first came to Ireland in 1962 and there was only one channel from 1962 until 1978 and then in 1996 an Irish language channel was added and another channel, TV 3 came along two years later.

Television really came along to most homes in the hinterland of Ballina in the 1970s and the children of that era, including this writer, were reared on TV from an early age. The TV guide in 1970 appeared in the Teen Scene section of the ‘Western People’ and programming commenced at 11.15am and ended at 11.30pm with the playing of the National Anthem.

Television is broadcast 24/7 now, but this was not always the case and indeed TV was only on from 5.30pm until the 12 am mark and this was one channel, but this service expanded and developed over the years with the introduction of RTÉ 2 and the Irish service and TV 3 and then the Saorview digital television service was introduced in 2012, and that marked a new phase in the provision of free to air services since the early days of 1961/62.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, there were very fewer TV sets and people either bought them or hired them out. Then there would be one house like the rambling houses of old where people from the townland would gather and watch the soap or the match and then have a chat about it afterwards.

One funny story from north Mayo tells of a man who was watching a boxing match with his neighbours, when it was over they had a chat and then headed home. The news came on and the highlights from the boxing match were naturally reshown for the report. The man told his neighbours the next day that they were no sooner out the door than the two men started fighting again! Happy and innocent days in the early years of television indeed!

The television revolutionised the way people lived in Ireland of fifty and more recent years. The rambling house was gone and the people no longer talked as much as they sat and followed the fortunes of the characters on the screen and this was the topic for conversation.

It changed the way people received news and information too from the broadcasting of current affairs and the weather forecasts. Politicians no longer had to stand and speak at the church gates, they could get their messages across on the screen, and there was the popularity of westerns too and the films in general.


The return of the Den to RTÉ TV is a welcome development for those who remember it from the early 1990s. It is good to see Zig and Zag and Dustin the turkey of Eurovision fame again. There is something uplifting about it in these dark Covid days. It reminds the older people among us of the many children’s programmes that have been screened by RTÉ TV over the years.  Although there were less viewing hours, RTÉ covered a reasonably broad range of programmes and it was pleasurable viewing for the long winter evenings especially.

My great grandfather loved to watch showjumping and the many boxing bouts that were shown on TV then. The All-Ireland finals were also shown live on TV each September and they attracted a huge following. These are just some of my nostalgic recollections of the TV of former times on RTÉ. God be with the days!



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