Last week was very exciting here in Ireland as we celebrated the screen legend Maureen O’Hara’s 90th birthday. Family and friends gathered at her beautiful home in Glengariff on the shores of Bantry bay to celebrate with her in true Hollywood style. Her late husband (number 3) the dashing pilot Captain Charlie Blair having chosen the location so that he could land his flying boat at the bottom of the garden, how cool was that?
It typified the glamourous movie star lifestyle and the luxury of international air travel the preserve of a very chosen few, at the time, which is celebrated in a marvellous exhibition, just a stones throw from Shannon airport, so make it the first place you see when you come to Ireland.
Foynes Flying Boat Museum captures that romantic era of trans-Atlantic passenger flights, perfectly. Pam Am’s luxury flying boat the ‘Yankee Clipper’ first landed at Foynes in 1939, the 2000 mile journey had taken 25 hours which was incredible compared to the 8-9 days it was taking by ocean liner. The excitement, craziness and prestige is captured in b&w newsreel footage in the museums 1940s styled cinema.
Air travel then was expensive, luxurious and glamorous, the preserve of politicians, business men and movie stars, such as our very own birthday girl. Who as I say was married to the pilot who flew the last scheduled flying boat out of Foynes to New York in 1945, returning the next day to land the first landplane, a DC-4 in Rineanna, now Shannon International Airport just across the estuary.
The history of Foynes, the centre of world aviation at the time is recreated meticulously, down to the red fire buckets, in the original terminal building complete with radio and weather room. You can even try your hand at flying a flying boat for yourself in the simulators, somehow doing it on water seems safer? If you need to settle your nerves afterwards you can try an Irish Coffee invented one night in 1942 ‘to warm’ up damp passengers.
But the real jewel in the crown is the reproduction full size Yankee Clipper flying boat cleverly displayed outside as if it had just landed on the water. You can go aboard and check out the seating arrangements, cockpit and private facilities like the honeymoon suite at the back of the aircraft, now there’s a thing you would never find on Ryanair....
For the full story and details of 10 Other Hidden Gems in the area you might like? including a forgotten garden, thatched cottage village and a stone circle capable of holding 4000 people check out Foynes Flying Boat Museum
Talk to you next week, Susan Byron author of Irelands Hidden Gems.