31 December 1961: Radio Telefís Éireann [RTE] was launched on this day. It was originally intended that the first Live broadcast would be on Christmas Eve. However Eamon Andrews (of This is Your Life fame) who was at the time the Chairman of the Radio Éireann Authority, gave everybody a break over the Christmas so the initial broadcast (on Channel 7) went ahead on the last night of the year. The station launched at 7 pm and President Eamon de Valera was the first person to address the Nation on RTE to officially launch the Station.
He gave a cautious welcome to the arrival of television in Ireland, and expressed the hope that the new media would provide sources of recreation and pleasure, but also information, instruction and knowledge. However, he admitted to being somewhat afraid, as "Never before was there in the hands of men an instrument so powerful to influence the thoughts and actions of the multitude."
He believed that the new medium, like Atomic power had the ability to do incalculable good or irreparable harm and that he felt it was the viewers would ultimately decide what kind of programs they got to see.
The President was followed by the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal d'Alton, who also sounded a note of caution regarding how things might develop. The latter part of the first night was a live concert from the Gresham Hotel in Dublin and featured the Chairman of the Radio Eireann Authority, Eamonn Andrews, Patrick O'Hagan, the Artane Boys Band and the voice of Micheal O hEithir who was the commentator on the night’s proceedings.
While a limited numbers of viewers had been able to pick up poor quality TV signals from the BBC and UTV up until then, this event marked the real birth of the Television Age in the Republic and within a few short years nearly every home had a TV set as a central part of their household.
However the rapid growth of television viewing in Ireland during the 1960’s helped to transform the nature of society in way’s that did not always meet with everyone’s approval!
Photo: Eamon Andrews [1st right] & President Eamon de Valera [2nd right] at the launch of RTE.