seamus dubhghaill

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


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First Aircraft Lands at Rineanna Airfield (Shannon Airport)

rineanna-airportThe first aircraft, an Irish Air Corps Aero Anson A43, lands at the newly opened Rineanna Airfield, which is later to become known as Shannon International Airport, on May 18, 1939.

Transatlantic aviation in the Shannon Estuary first commences with a seaplane base at Foynes. In October 1935, the Irish Government makes a decision to initiate a survey to find suitable bases for the operation of seaplanes and land planes on a transatlantic service. The Department of Defence, which provides technical advice on aviation to the Civil Aviation Section of the Department of Industry, is given the task.

On November 21, 1935, a survey party sets out and surveys sites as far north as Athlone and south to Askeaton. Among the sites for a seaplane base to be considered are the Shannon just below Limerick, Lough Derg, Lough Corrib, Tralee Bay, Kenmare Bay, Lough Ree, and Valentia. Foynes, near the mouth of the Fergus River, is finally selected due to its sheltered anchorage and its proximity to long open stretches of water.

The first priority is drainage to remove surface water from the site and to construct embankments to prevent flooding of the airfield due to its proximity to the tidal River Shannon. Several hundred men are employed to dig narrow lateral drains for the approximately 135 miles of pipes which are laid in parallel lines 50 feet apart over almost the entire area of the airfield site. They also excavate catchment drains to collect water from the surface of the site.

At this time all indications are that regular aerial travel between Europe and the United States will be initially by flying boat and accordingly, the base at Rineanna is designed to cater to both land planes and flying boats.  Construction work commences to build embankments and a breakwater to provide for a seaplane base and to protect the airfield site from flooding from the River Shannon.

Developments in aviation during World War I ensure land planes and not flying boats are to be the future of aviation, therefore the mooring basin and the east breakwater which are being constructed for flying boats at Rineanna are never quite finished.  Construction of the embankments continue to protect the site from the River Shannon and to form a drainage lagoon for surface water from the western headland of the airport site.

When World War II ends, the airport is ready to be used by the many new post-war commercial airlines of Europe and North America. On September 16, 1945, the first transatlantic proving flight, a Pan Am DC-4, lands at Shannon from New York City. On October 24, the first scheduled commercial flight, an American Overseas Airlines DC-4, passes through Shannon Airport. An accident involving President Airlines on September 10, 1961 results in the loss of 83 lives. The Douglas DC-6 aircraft crashes into the River Shannon while leaving Shannon Airport for Chicago.

The number of international carriers rises sharply in succeeding years as Shannon becomes well known as the gateway between Europe and the Americas as limited aircraft range necessitates refueling stops on many journeys. Shannon becomes the most convenient stopping point before and after a trip across the Atlantic. Additionally, during the Cold War, many transatlantic flights from the Soviet Union stop here for refueling, because Shannon is the westernmost non-NATO airport.

Shannon Airport is one of Ireland’s three primary airports, along with Dublin Airport and Cork Airport, and includes the longest runway in Ireland at 10,495 feet. It is a designated emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle during the U.S. shuttle program. In 2015, 1.715 million passengers pass through the airport, making it the third busiest airport in the country after Dublin and Cork. Shannon Airport is in Shannon, County Clare, and mainly serves Limerick, Ennis, Galway, and the south-west of Ireland.

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The SS Aud Begins Gun-Running Voyage to Ireland

the-ss-audThe German merchant steam ship SS Libau, also known as SS Castro and masquerading under the cover name of SS Aud, sets sail from the Baltic port of Lübeck on April 9, 1916, loaded with guns and ammunition for the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) as part of the preparation for the Easter Rising.

Masquerading as SS Aud, an existing Norwegian vessel of similar appearance, SS Libau sets sail from the port of Lübeck, under the command of Karl Spindler, bound for the southwest coast of Ireland. Under Spindler is a crew of 22 men, all of whom are volunteers. SS Libau, laden with an estimated twenty thousand rifles, one million rounds of ammunition, ten machine guns, and explosives under a camouflage of a timber cargo, evade patrols of both the British 10th Cruiser Squadron and local Auxiliary patrols.

After surviving violent storms off Rockall, SS Libau arrives in Tralee Bay on April 20. There they are due to meet Roger Casement and others, with Casement having been landed nearby by the German submarine U-19. The SS Libau has no communications equipment aboard, giving them no means of contacting the Irish while en route. As a result, they are unaware that the date for its arrival off Fenit has been altered from Thursday, April 20 to Sunday, April 23.

One of the two cars carrying Volunteers who are supposed to meet SS Libau crash into the River Laune, many miles away, at Ballykissane pier, Killorglin, resulting in the death of three of the four occupants of the car. This leads to no hope of an organised transfer of arms and the gun-running plan nears an end.

SS Libau, attempting to escape the area, is trapped by a blockade of British ships. Captain Spindler allows himself to be escorted towards Cork Harbour, in the company of the Acacia-class sloop HMS Bluebell. The German crew then scuttles the ship. Spindler and his crew are interned for the duration of the war. Roger Casement and his companions are captured in an old ringfort or rath between Ardfert and Tralee.

A number of rifles are recovered from SS Libau before the vessel is scuttled. Several examples exist in various museums in Britain and Ireland. Among these are the Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald’s Park in Cork, a museum in Lurgan County Armagh, the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, and the Imperial War Museum in London.


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Roger Casement’s Remains Returned to the Republic of Ireland

roger-casementIrish patriot Roger Casement‘s body is returned to Ireland from the United Kingdom on February 23, 1965, forty-nine years after his execution for treason.

In October 1914, Roger Casement sails for Germany where he spends most of his time seeking to recruit an Irish Brigade from among more than 2,000 Irish prisoners-of-war taken in the early months of World War I and held in the prison camp of Limburg an der Lahn. His plan is that they will be trained to fight against Britain in the cause of Irish independence.

In April 1916, Germany offers the Irish 20,000 Mosin–Nagant 1891 rifles, ten machine guns and accompanying ammunition, but no German officers. It is a fraction of the quantity of arms that Casement has hoped. Casement does not learn of the Easter Rising until after the plan is fully developed. The German weapons never land in Ireland as the Royal Navy intercepts the ship transporting them.

In the early hours of April 21, 1916, three days before the beginning of the rising, Casement is taken by a German submarine and is put ashore at Banna Strand in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. Suffering from a recurrence of malaria and too weak to travel, he is discovered at McKenna’s Fort in Rathoneen, Ardfert, and arrested on charges of treason, sabotage, and espionage against the Crown. He is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Casement’s trial for treason is highly publicized and he is ultimately convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He unsuccessfully appeals the conviction and death sentence. Among the many people who plead for clemency are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W. B. Yeats, and George Bernard Shaw.

On the day of his execution, Casement is again received into the Catholic Church at his request. He is attended by two Irish Catholic priests, Dean Timothy Ring and Father James Carey, from the East London parish of St. Mary and St. Michael’s. Casement is hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on August 3, 1916. His body is buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery at the rear of the prison.

roger-casement-glasnevin-graveDuring the decades after his execution, many formal requests for repatriation of Casement’s remains are refused by the U.K. government. Finally, February 23, 1965, Casement’s remains are repatriated to the Republic of Ireland. Casement’s last wish, to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast, in what is now Northern Ireland, may never be satisfied as U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s government releases the remains only on condition that they can not be brought into Northern Ireland, as “the government feared that a reburial there could provoke Catholic celebrations and Protestant reactions.”

Casement’s remains lay in state at Arbour Hill in Dublin for five days, during which time an estimated half a million people file past his coffin. After a state funeral on March 1, the remains are buried with full military honours in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, with other militant republican heroes. The President of the Republic of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, who is in his mid-eighties and the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defies the advice of his doctors and attends the ceremony, along with an estimated 30,000 others.