On a beautiful sunny day, too hot to sit out, I headed 10 miles north to the cooling waters of the River Shannon and pulled in to the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum. What a serendipitous decision that was, with the Museum about to celebrate 75 years of commercial transatlantic flight. Imagine! ONLY 75 years since those flights began, and haven’t they come a long way as we now criss-cross the Atlantic without giving it a second thought!
At Foynes, just 15 minutes off the Wild Atlantic Way from Tarbert, Co Kerry,the only Flying Boat Museum in the world is in the original terminal building right on the main street on the N69 Tralee to Limerick road.
Rineanna had been selected as the location for an airport as the wide River Shannon estuary on Ireland’s west coast made identification easy for pilots who had crossed the 2,000+ miles of Atlantic Ocean. While the new airport at Rineanna – now Shannon Airport – was being built, it was decided that Foynes, further down the estuary,would be a good interim location for the European Terminal. After some test flights in either direction, on 9 July 1939 the first commercial flight, the Yankee Clipper arrived.
The Museum is full of treasures for aviation enthusiasts as well for the non-expert like me. It is a techy-kids paradise as there are several interactive pieces of equipment on which they can have fun.
The Museum is in three main sections. The Aviation section is devoted to the history of trans Atlantic flight, the focal point of which is a full-scale replica of the Yankee Clipper. This can be explored at leisure. Upstairs is the very spacious flight deck, relatively devoid of any high-tech banks of dials and gauges.
The B.314 could carry thirty-five passengers in relative luxury. The dining room could seat fourteen at a time for a seven-course meal, freshly prepared by cabin crew. The seats converted to bunk beds for sleeping. and there was even a honeymoon suite on board! There certainly were no leg-room issues here!
With tickets costing up to $600, only the very wealthy could afford to travel on these early flights. Posters advertising exotic destinations adorn the walls of the recreated waiting room
There is a good display of old radio and morse code equipment as well as flight simulators that can be tried out!
There were security issues back in those days too as can be on this notice.
The new trans Atlantic service attracted a number of wealthy and high profile travellers.
Among the high flyers on these first flights from New York to Foynes, were Ernest Hemingway, Anthony Eden, John F. Kennedy, Lord Mountbatten, Yehudi Menuhin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Gracie Fields, Douglas Fairbanks Snr and Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe.
Irish coffee was invented by chef Joe Sheridan at Foynes in 1943. A Hologram presentation tells the story of the first glass served in the B O’Regan Bar to cold and wet passengers!
On a more sober note, here too is part of the wreck of a BOAC Sunderland that was travelling from Lisbon to Foynes and crashed into Mount Brandon in Kerry in foggy conditions. 10 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, lost their lives on July 28 1943
More details of this tragedy can be seen here
Foynes was the centre of European Aviation for a brief time only and ended in 1945 when Shannon Airport opened. Passenger flights ceased at the onset of WW 2 in September 1939, although military traffic continued to use the facility throughout the war. In the 1940s style cinema the story of the ‘Atlantic Conquest’ is fascinating and will be enjoyed by all!
The recently extended Museum now includes a Maritime Section. The River Shannon on which Foynes is located has an impressive history, from Limerick City to Loop Head right at the end of the Estuary.
US Civil War Confederate uniforms manufactured in Limerick at the Tait factory, were shipped from Foynes, breaking the Union Blockade.
Not only goods, but people too were exported from the Shannon region. Many emigrants’ had their last glimpses of Ireland here. I was particularly taken with this poster from 1842 advertising passage to USA.
Here at the Museum the hand-made weather charts drawn up at Shannon have been preserved in the Archives (miraculously saved from a skip!) Their Archive includes letters, diaries, postcards newspapers relating to Foynes as an air hub and about 200 years of records relating to Foynes as an important harbour, including bills of lading and correspondence between ship owners and others. In addition they hold an extensive collection of papers on Local History as there were a number of prominent and influential families living in this area.
The original Control Tower has recently opened and provides great views across the river and is truly the pinnacle of the tour around this wonderful place. Foynes Harbour is Ireland’s premier deepwater bulk carrier port. On the day of my visit, there was no merchant shipping berthed, but the gantries used to load and unload the giant ships up to 250,000 tonnes, can be seen here.
Sadly the rail station closed in the 1960s, but hopefully some project may be found to utilize this beautiful cut stone building
The Celtic Cross peeping out from the trees on the hill was used as a marker by pilots flying into Foynes. This is a memorial to Edmund Spring Rice, a local landlord and politician who was held in high esteem in the area
Some nice original feautures have been retained in the old terminal building
There is so much to see at this excellent little museum – surely one of the mid -west’s best kept secrets! It is so well worth a visit and has something for everyone. It also boasts a coffee shop and restaurant serving up some delicious food and homemade cakes.
To celebrate the 75th Birthday, there will be a spectacular air display tomorrow, out over the wide River Shannon – it should be a wonderful sight! Happy Birthday to them!
My thanks to Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum for permission to take photographs and for the guided tour of their extensive archive during Heritage week in 2013. The archive is accessible to researchers – see website for details.