Mayo’s Unique Transatlantic Connections


Two leading academics in the field of Irish American studies made a very special visit to Co. Mayo to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution made by Thomas Larkin in the early 1900’s, to the development of the telephone network in the American Mid – West. 

Dr. Matthew O’Brien, Pittsburgh, Prof. of History at Steubenville University and Dr. Timothy McMahon, President of the American Conference for Irish Studies (A.C.I.S.), were both accorded a Civic Welcome by Castlebar Municipal District Council, on the occasion of their visit to the county. 

Thomas Larkin, born in 1874, in the townland of Derrew, Ballyheane, Co. Mayo, was just one of the thousands of Irish immigrants, who hoped that the promised ‘American Dream’ would at least in part, become a reality, as he made his journey westwards to the ‘New World’.

When he first stepped onto American soil, little did he realise that in time, his future career pathway with the Bell Telephone Company in Pennsylvania, would lead to him being acknowledged and recognised for his role in the delivery of the telephone network into the American Mid – West. 

Following the invention of the telephone by Alexander G. Bell in 1876, there was much scepticism and doubt regarding its practical everyday use. Even U.S. President at the time, Rutherford B. Hayes, was not impressed when he stated “That’s an amazing invention Mr. Bell, but who would ever want to use it?”

Thankfully, some of the memorabilia relating to Thomas Larkin’s career with the Bell Telephone Company has survived, including the original certificate conferring life membership of the Telephone Pioneers of America, presented at the AT&T Headquarters in New York. The engraved copper cup, with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania insignia, is another artifact bearing testament to a distinguished career. 

During their short, yet very significant visit to Co. Mayo, professors McMahon and O’Brien visited some of the County’s iconic landmarks, including the Foxford Woollen mills, Michael Davitt Museum, Martin Sheridan sculpture Bohola, Ballintubber Abbey and a very special visit to the ancestral homestead of Thomas Larkin. 

Pictured at Mayo County Library with the Pennsylvania Cup, left to right; Councillor Henry Kenny, brother of former Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D., their late father Henry was a member of Mayo’s 1932 football panel, Professor Timothy McMahon, Caitriona Doyle, Professor Matthew O’Brien, Councillor Martin McLoughlin, Cathaoirleach (Mayor) of Castlebar Municipal District Council and Michael Larkin, grand nephew of Thomas Larkin.

A visit to Mayo County Library to view the the magnificent Pennsylvania Cup, which was presented to the captain of the Mayo Senior Football team on the occasion of their trip to the USA in 1932, was also significant. 

Initially as a telephone lineman, and later in more senior management roles, Thomas Larkin ensured that many ‘new connections’ were created through the use of a device that was capable of transmitting the sound of a human voice over a wire. 

As an example of transatlantic connectivity, his emigrant journey and career with the Bell Telephone Company, is symbolic of that unique and special connection that exists between lreland and its diaspora throughout the world. 

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