Could Killala become County Mayo’s new Silicon Valley?


An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with, from left, Nicholas Hegarty, CEO, AquaComms; Greg Varisco, Chief Operating Officer, AquaComms and Peter Hynes, Chief Executive, Mayo County Council as they view a map of the route the cable will take between New York and Killala.
?An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with, from left, Nicholas Hegarty, CEO, AquaComms; Greg Varisco, Chief Operating Officer, AquaComms and Peter Hynes, Chief Executive, Mayo County Council as they view a map of the route the cable will take between New York and Killala. ?Pic: Maxwells

Could Killala become County Mayo’s new Silicon Valley?

Aqua Comms announcement ‘massive vote of confidence in Ireland’

Áine Ryan

WITH the north Mayo seaside town of Killala about to become the landfall site for the high-speed fibre-optic network between New York and the west of Ireland, the sophisticated infrastructure will soon be in place to create the opportunity for a state-of-the art data hub in the county.
Last week’s announcement that Aqua Comms, a Dublin-based firm has agreed a $125 million (€116.5 million) loan with Nomura International, now the global banking giant, ensures the ambitious project has the funding to proceed.
The initial phase of the project will cost €281 million while there are plans also to bring the cable onward to the European mainland. It is expected that construction will begin this summer and will be completed by December. Its advancement was ensured when earlier this month, Mayo County Council granted conditional planning approval for a cable landing station at Tawnaghmore, near Killala Business Park.    
This will be the first fibre connection between Ireland’s western seaboard and the US and, crucially, will provide key infrastructure for data centres and cloud computing investments in the western region.
Reportedly, AEConnect will span more than 5,400 km and will use CeltixConnect –  an Irish Sea subsea cable wholly owned by AquaComms – to provide extended connectivity to London and greater Europe.
“AquaComms strategy is to build and operate a diversified, solution-based network, providing term and peak capacity product offerings and working in partnership with its contractors, equipment suppliers, backhaul network providers and customers to support the US’s and Europe’s expanding data requirements of today and for tomorrow, ultimately offering ‘infrastructure-as-a-service’,” said Greg Varisco, the Chief Operating Officer of AquaComms.
Interestingly, Mr Varisco is President of Emerald Networks, which, originally, attempted to raise the multi-million finance for the project, which at the time was planned for possibly landing in Belmullet, back in 2011.  

RESPONDING to the news last week,  Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said: “This is the first new transatlantic cable from the United States to Europe to be laid in over a decade and the first fibre to ever make direct landfall on the west coast of Ireland.  It is a massive vote of confidence in the Irish economy and offers enormous opportunities for the west and for the island as a whole.”
His party colleague, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly, from Killala, has also welcomed the announcement that the funding has been secured for ‘the initial phase of the  transatlantic high-speed optical fibre connection between New York and Killala’.
“The cable, which will be the fastest transatlantic optical fibre connection in operation, lands at Ross, Killala. Last week, Mayo County Council granted planning permission for the landing station, which is to be built at the Killala Business Park. A determination on the foreshore license, which is the final piece of regulatory licensing required before construction can commence, is expected within a few weeks,” Cllr Munnelly explained to The Mayo News.
Continuing, he said: “This is an important project for Killala and all of North Mayo. As a local councillor, I have been following this project for quite a while. Although the foreshore licensing and planning permission is important, the biggest hurdle was always going to be the financial one. So the news that this is now in place is very welcome indeed.
“Taoiseach Enda Kenny has given this project huge support right from the start. Coupled with the proposals by Mayo Renewable Power to construct a CHP power plant in Killala, this area has the potential to be a hub for data centres in the very near future, something that the Taoiseach sees as having the potential to create sustainable jobs in the county,” he added.
Mayo Renewable Power received planning permission a number of years ago to construct a 40 Mw CHP plant in Killala. The plant is to be fuelled by biomass, and it will be producing electricity for the national grid from renewable sources. The project is at an advanced stage,
Cllr Munnelly confirmed, with an announcement on the start of full constriction on site expected soon.
Speaking about Mayo County Council’s commitment to delivering this project, its Chief Executive, Peter Hynes said: “This project is the culmination of four years of intense effort by Mayo County Council, Government Departments and other Agencies.  It is testament to the priority which the Council has accorded to enterprise and investment.”

Job creation
Fianna Fáil Deputy Dara Calleary said Mayo County Council deserved ‘great kudos’ for helping to deliver this.
“The cable will be a major enabler for job creation locally while there will be little direct employment initially, the cables will add a major addition to the north Mayo job attraction armoury,” Mr Calleary said.  
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Deputy Michele Mulherin stressed the opportunity the cable offered towards ensuring ‘connectivity throughout Mayo and in particular to the nearby towns like Killala, Ballina and Crossmolina with links to towns in East Mayo such as Swinford, Kiltimagh and Foxford and complements very well the €750,000 – broadband super highway to be built by Shell from Bellanaboy through to Galway’.
Welcoming the news, Killala Chamber and Development Association cited the huge potential for job creation.  
“We are convinced that international investors will be attracted to the landfall location particularly data processing, data storage and related industries,”  said Tony McGarry.  
Council for the West’s Vice-Chairman, Declan O’Callaghan said: “Given the trade and cultural links between Ireland and the USA, this is a major boost for the region and will assist many existing businesses, plus it will act as an incentive for other businesses to locate here.”

IN mid-January 2014, The Mayo News reported that the new project, which was being advanced since 2011, would be developed by Emerald Networks Holdings Ltd. At the time, Belmullet was identified as the possible landfall site but Killala was subsequently chosen after an in-depth analysis of the cable system, the project’s potential for the local economy and the suitability of the location regarding unobtrusiveness and minimal environmental impact.
Reportedly, Aqua Comms has already engaged with Microsoft’s Irish unit and other US groups like CenturyLink Communications and Edge Network Services.
News of the project comes hotfoot after Apple’s announcement that it plans to invest €850 million in a renewable-energy powered data centre in Athenry, Co Galway. It will power Apple’s online services, including the iTunes Store, the App Store, iMessage, Maps and Siri, for customers across Europe.
The new €850m Athenry data centre will be the company’s largest data centre project in Europe, providing 300 jobs during its multiple phases.