seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Cash-strapped Aer Lingus Auctions Paintings

by-merrion-strandCash-strapped Aer Lingus auctions its collection of paintings on November 20, 2001. Most money goes on By Merrion Strand by Jack Butler Yeats, an oil-on-canvas, which sells for £290,000.

Aer Lingus, already in difficulties, is left in an even more perilous position by the effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The airline decides to realise some of its assets by selling 25 paintings from the company art collection. Members of the public are given an opportunity to buy part of Aer Lingus well ahead of any possible share flotation. The paintings are handed over to Dublin auctioneer John de Vere White and are offered at the Royal Hibernian Academy Gallagher Gallery on November 20 with the expectation of bringing around £500,000 (€635,000).

Visitors to Dublin Airport or Aer Lingus’s various offices notice very little change as in recent years only two of the paintings are on display, both of them in the chairman’s office. The remainder have been in storage which is one reason why the group are now being sold as part of Aer Lingus’s efforts to raise additional revenue.

One of the pictures removed from the chairman’s office is also both the longest-owned by the organisation and is ultimately the highest earner at auction. Jack Butler Yeats’s By Merrion Strand, which dates from 1929 and shows a woman standing before an expanse of the south Dublin coastline, is acquired by Aer Lingus in 1940, just four years after the company’s founding. According to company lore, it was spotted in London by a member of staff who left a £5 deposit on the painting.

Two paintings by Nathaniel Hone also have reasonably strong pre-sale estimates, Children on the Rocks valued at £25,000-£35,000 and Cattle in a Field at Malahide believed to be worth £10,000-£15,000. Other artists represented in the Aer Lingus collection being sold include Louis Le Brocquy, Patrick Collins, Norah McGuinness, Gerard Dillon and George Campbell.

Five other works in the collection, all acquired by the airline between the 1940s and the 1960s, are bought by the Irish state ahead of the auction.

(Pictured: By Merrion Strand, an oil-on-canvas painting by Jack B. Yeats, dating from the late 1920s)

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Birth of Sophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Irish Aviator

lady-heathSophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Lady Heath, Irish aviator, is born on November 10, 1896 in Knockaderry, County Limerick, near the town of Newcastle West. She is one of the best known women in the world for a five-year period from the mid-1920s.

When Peirce-Evans is one year old, her father, John Peirce-Evans, bludgeons her mother, Kate Theresa Dooling, to death with a heavy stick. He is found guilty of murder and declared insane. She is taken to the home of her grandfather in Newcastle West where she is brought up by two maiden aunts, who discourage her passion for sports.

After schooldays in Rochelle School in Cork, Princess Garden Belfast and St. Margaret’s Hall on Mespil Road in Dublin, where she plays hockey and tennis, Peirce-Evans enrolls in the Royal College of Science for Ireland. The college is designed to produce the educated farmers which the country then needs. One of the few women in the college, she duly takes a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture. She also plays with the college hockey team and contributes to a student magazine, copies of which are held in the National Library of Ireland.

Before becoming a pilot, Peirce-Evans has already made her mark. She spends two years as a dispatch rider during World War I, based in England and later France. By that time, she has married the first of her three husbands, Major William Elliot Lynn, and, as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn, is one of the founders of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association after her move to London in 1922. She is Britain’s first women’s javelin champion and sets a disputed world record for the high jump. Alleging cruelty, her marriage to Elliot Lynn ends in divorce.

In 1925, Elliot-Lynn takes her first flying lessons and two years later becomes the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain. Along the way, she set records for altitude in a small plane and later a Shorts seaplane and is the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane.

In an era when the world has gone aviation-mad due to the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Elliot-Lynn is more than able to hold her own. “Britain’s Lady Lindy,” as she is known in the United States, makes front-page news as the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London. A scale model of the plane is on display at The Little Museum of Dublin. She writes about the experience later in the book Woman and Flying, which she co-authors with Stella Wolfe Murray. After her great flight from the Cape, she takes a mechanic’s qualification in the United States, the first woman to do so.

On October 11, 1927, Peirce-Evans marries Sir James Heath at Christ Church in Mayfair, London, and assumes the title Lady Heath. In July 1928, she spends a few weeks volunteering as a co-pilot with a civil airline, KLM. She is hoping to be appointed to the newly created Batavia route, which would make her the first female pilot with a commercial airline. The world is not ready for female pilots and her hope is not fulfilled.

In 1929, just when her fame is at its height, with her life a constant whirl of lectures, races and long-distance flights, Lady Heath is badly injured in a crash just before the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. Before the accident Lady Heath applies for American citizenship, intending to remain in the United States where she has made a good living on the lecture circuit and as an agent for Cirrus engines. She is never the same after her accident.

Lady Heath divorces Sir James Heath in Reno, Nevada in January 1930. On 12 November 12, 1931 in Lexington, Kentucky, she marries G.A.R Williams, a horseman and pilot of Caribbean origin. They return to Ireland and she becomes involved in private aviation, briefly running her own company at Kildonan, near Dublin in the mid-1930s, and helping produce the generation of pilots that would help establish the national airline Aer Lingus.

Lady Heath dies in St Leonard’s Hospital, Shoreditch, London on May 9, 1939, following a fall inside a double-decker tram. Although alcoholism had been a problem in previous years, a pathologist finds no evidence of alcohol but detailed evidence of an old blood clot which might have caused the fall. On May 15, 1939, according to newspaper reports, her ashes are scattered over Surrey from an aircraft flown by her estranged husband although legend has it that her ashes are returned to Ireland where they are scattered over her native Newcastle West.


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The Opening of Cork Airport

cork-airportCork Airport, the second-largest of the three principal international airports in the Republic of Ireland, after Dublin Airport and ahead of Shannon Airport, is opened on October 16, 1961.

In 1957 the Government of Ireland agrees in principle to the building of an airport for Cork. After considering many sites in the area, it is agreed that the airport should be built at Ballygarvan. Tenders are invited for the construction of the airport in 1959 at an estimated cost of £1 million. The airport is officially opened on October 16, 1961, following proving flights four days earlier by Aer Lingus and Cambrian Airways. Vincent Fanning is the first manager at the airport. In its first year the airport handles 10,172 passengers – close to the average number of passengers handled each day at the airport in 2007. Throughout the 1960s the airport expands with the arrival of more advanced aircraft and more destinations. The first jet, a British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH 106 Comet, lands at Cork Airport on March 29, 1964. By 1969 Aer Lingus is operating to London‘s Heathrow Airport, Manchester Airport and Bristol Airport.

In 1975 Aer Rianta, the then state airports authority, undertakes a passenger terminal study aimed at improving the terminal facilities. The findings result in the provision, over the next two years, of new departure and arrival halls, a new check-in area, office complex, information desk, duty office and executive lounge. The new extensions and facilities are opened in 1978.

The 1980s begin with an extension of the main apron. New services to London Gatwick begin, while Aer Lingus’ commuter division starts a new domestic service to Dublin Airport. In 1985 following significant growth, Aer Rianta carries out a survey of the terminal facilities with a view to carrying out a major expansion and development programme. On June 8, 1987, Ryanair commences services at Cork Airport. Phase I of the Terminal Expansion and Development Plan is completed in 1988. The following year the main runway extension of 1,000 feet is opened.

The 1990s begin with the completion of Phase II of the terminal expansion in 1991 and Phase III being completed in 1992 with the plan being brought to completion in 1994.

In 2001 plans are drawn up for the construction of a new terminal building and ancillary capital investment works at an estimated cost of €140 million. Along with the construction of the terminal, roads are upgraded from single to dual carriageway and re-aligned, and a new short term multistorey car park is constructed. The new terminal opens on August 15, 2006. Designed by HOK and Jacobs Engineering Group, the new terminal is the first built in Ireland in the 21st century.

In June 2008, the Irish Aviation Authority completes a new control tower 1 km from the old terminal to the west of the main runway. However, it takes until mid-October 2009 to get all the new systems tested and working. The new control tower officially opens on 20 October 20, 2009.

In 2013, Cork Airport is placed first for overall customer satisfaction in a global survey of passengers carried out by Airports Council International Europe. The survey measures customer satisfaction across eight categories in 61 regional airports worldwide, with Cork Airport scoring highest.

In June 2017, the airport is named as “Best Airport in Europe under 5 million passengers” at the 27th Airports Council International (ACI) Europe General Assembly.


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Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.


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First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight

alcock-and-brownBritish aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight, landing at Clifden, County Galway on June 15, 1919. They fly a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presents them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in “less than 72 consecutive hours.” A small amount of mail is carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight.

Alcock and Brown take off from Lester’s Field at around 1:45 PM on June 14. They fly the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines which are supported by an on-site Rolls Royce team led by engineer Eric Platford.

It is not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft has difficulty taking off from the rough field and only barely misses the tops of the trees. A short time later the wind-driven electrical generator fails, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating. An exhaust pipe bursts shortly afterwards, causing a frightening noise which makes conversation impossible without the failed intercom.

At 5:00 PM they have to fly through thick fog. This is serious because it prevents Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they do not have, and Alcock twice loses control of the aircraft and nearly hits the sea after a spiral dive. Alcock also has to deal with a broken trim control that makes the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel is consumed.

At 12:15 AM on June 15 Brown gets a glimpse of the stars and is able to use his sextant, and finds that they are still on course. By this point, their electric heating suits have failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit.

Then at 3:00 AM they fly into a large snowstorm. They are drenched by rain, their instruments ice up, and the plane is in danger of icing and becoming unflyable. The carburetors also ice up.

Alcock and Brown make landfall in County Galway at 8:40 AM on June 15, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying time. The aircraft is damaged upon arrival because of an attempt to land on what appears from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turns out to be a bog, near Clifden, but neither of the airmen is hurt. Brown says that if the weather had been good they could have pressed on to London.

Alcock and Brown are treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail award of £10,000, the crew receives 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean. The two aviators are awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.

Alcock and Brown fly to Manchester on July 17, where they are given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Manchester, and awards to mark their achievement.

John Alcock is killed on December 18, 1919 when he crashes near Rouen while flying the new Vickers Viking amphibian to the Paris Air Show. Arthur Brown dies on October 4, 1948. Two memorials commemorating the flight are sited near the landing spot in County Galway. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden, around 500 metres from the spot where they land, on the site of Guglielmo Marconi‘s first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmit their success to London. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft’s tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on June 15, 1959, the fortieth anniversary of their landing.


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Official Opening of Ireland West Airport

ireland-west-airportIreland West Airport, officially known as Ireland West Airport Knock, at Knock, County Mayo, and now named Horan International Airport, is officially opened by Taoiseach Charles Haughey on May 30, 1986. The airport is located 5.6 km (3.5 miles) southwest of Charlestown, County Mayo. The village of Knock is 20 km (12.5 miles) away.

The airport opens on October 25, 1985 with three Aer Lingus charter flights to Rome however the official opening is on May 30, 1986. The site, on a hill in boggy terrain, is thought by many to be unrealistic but the airport is built following a long and controversial campaign by Monsignor James Horan, the story of which has even spawned a musical.

At the time of construction, the primary motivation is for pilgrims to Knock Shrine. Despite criticisms that the site is too boggy and too foggy, Monsignor Horan delivers an airport within five years, primarily financed by a Government grant of £9.8 million. Monsignor Horan dies shortly after the opening of the airport, and his funeral is held at the then named Horan International Airport. In recent times, Monsignor Horan has been celebrated with a bronze statue erected at the airport.

By 1988, over 100,000 passengers have passed through the airport. In 1995 Aer Lingus commences flights to Birmingham Airport. On June 1, 2003, hundreds of people gather to view an Air Atlanta Icelandic Boeing 747 land with 500 returning pilgrims from Lourdes.

In 2016, 735,869 passengers use the airport, making it the fourth busiest in the Republic of Ireland after Dublin Airport, Cork Airport and Shannon Airport. It is announced in November 2017 that €15 million will be invested in improving and upgrading the airport in 2018 and 2019, to coincide with strong passenger growth. These plans include upgrading of car parks, passenger facilities, the terminal and resurfacing of the runway.


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The Munich Air Disaster

munich-air-disasterThe Munich air disaster occurs on February 6, 1958 when British European Airways Flight 609 crashes on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane is the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes“, along with supporters and journalists. Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft die at the scene. The injured, some unconscious, are taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more die, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors. Among the Manchester United fatalities is inside forward Liam “Billy” Whelan who was born in Cabra on the northside of Dublin in 1935.

The team is returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, having eliminated Red Star Belgrade to advance to the semi-finals of the competition. The flight stops to refuel in Munich because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester is beyond the Airspeed Ambassador‘s range. After refuelling, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment twice abandon take-off because of boost surging in the left engine. Fearing they will get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejects an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By then snow is falling, causing a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway. After the aircraft hits the slush, it ploughs through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing is torn off after hitting a house. Fearing the aircraft might explode, Thain begins evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg helps pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blames Thain, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft’s wings, despite eyewitness statements to the contrary. It is later established that the crash is caused by the slush on the runway, which slows the plane too much to take off. Thain is cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

At the time of the disaster, Manchester United is trying to become the third club to win three successive English Football League titles. They are six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They also hold the Charity Shield and have just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team has not been beaten in eleven consecutive matches. The crash not only derails their title ambitions that year but also virtually destroys the nucleus of what promised to be one of the greatest generations of players in English football history. It takes ten years for the club to recover, with Busby rebuilding the team and winning the European Cup in 1968 with a new generation of “Babes.”