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Displaying items by tag: telephone
The Pakenham-Mahon family of Strokestown Park were enthusiastic adopters of new
technologies. In the 1890’s Henry Pakenham Mahon converted a room off the Gentleman’s
Study into a darkroom and laboratory. This is where he conducted elaborate experiments
involving colour and light and indulged his interest in amateur photography. These rooms are
currently not accessible to the public but may be added to the tour in the coming years.

Visitors to Strokestown Park will, however, have spotted the unassuming wooden
wall-mounted telephone located in the corridor connecting the formal dining room with the
galleried kitchen. This modest box telephone is an example of a style that was gaining
popularity in businesses and more well-to-do private homes in the early 1920’s.

The Strokestown Park Telephone

This Magneto battery powered set pre-dates the installation of electricity at Strokestown Park.
The caller would turn the hand-crank on the side of the box which created enough power to
speak with the operator, who would then connect the call. Numerical dials did not become
commonplace until the later 1920’s and even then this style of phone continued to be used in
some homes right up until the 1970’s, when the telephone exchange system was finally
phased out.

With the advent of the telephone network, the younger male telegraph operators often took
on the role of connecting phone calls. However, there were frequent complaints from the
public that the phone operators were playing pranks and had an impatient manner with

The first female telephone operator, Emma Nutt, was hired in 1878 in Boston. She proved so
popular with the public for her professional and courteous manner, that by the 1920’s female
operators were the norm on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact working at the telephone
exchange eventually came to be seen as a respectable job for young women with a modest
level of education.

A respectable female profession

The placement of Strokestown Park’s telephone in the area bridging the formal rooms
occupied by the Pakenham-Mahon’s and the functional rooms where the servants carried
out their duties, suggests that this was considered a useful piece of household equipment
rather than a status symbol to be proudly displayed. It was often the responsibility of the
Butler or the Housekeeper to make and take phone calls.

In recent years a visitor to Strokestown Park who had been a guest of the Pakenham-Mahon’s
as a child, recalled an incident when the phone was newly installed. Olive Pakenham-Mahon,
the last resident of the house, had been out running errands. On her return she asked the
Butler had there been any phone calls, he replied, pointing to the phone “It invited you to
dinner next week.”

Despite the speedy adoption of the telephone by the upper classes there was still much
confusion over the proper way to use it, as illustrated by this Punch caricature.

Punch Magazine 1922

In 1882, just six years after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone,
The Telephone Company of Ireland was established to deal exclusively with Irelands
growing network. Management of the Irish phone network went through several iterationsbefore coming under the banner of The Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1922 with the establishment of the Irish Free State. At that time there were 194 telephone exchanges with 19,037 lines and 553 call offices.

The first public telephone box was opened on Dawson Street, Dublin in 1925. Form and
functionality were considered of equal importance when it came to public amenities and
The Irish Times reported on the event saying the new public telephone boxes were
“designed so as to present a pleasing appearance and be in harmony with the surrounding

Public phone boxes being installed in 1932

Today with the omnipresence of mobile technology, not only are public phone boxes
disappearing but the presence of a household telephone is quickly becoming a thing of
the past. With each passing year the rudimentary wall mounted ‘landline’ at
Strokestown Park becomes more of a quaint curiosity.

Thankfully mobile technology has advanced past the pioneering designs that were being
proposed as early as 80 years ago. This example of a mid-20th century mobile phone
doesn’t even appear to have a built in camera or wifi!

Mid-20th Century mobile phone

by Colleen O'Hara
Published in Strokestown Park Blog

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