In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Foynes, a village in County Limerick, became the home to one of the biggest civilian airports in Europe. Numerous celebrities and luminaries flew through Foynes on luxurious seaplanes, or “flying boats,” that would take passengers across the Atlantic.
On July 9, 1939, the Yankee Clipper completed the first commercial flight from the U.S. to Europe in one day. At the time, it still took eight or nine day to travel by ship, reports the Limerick Leader in an article that looks back at the golden age of the flying boats.
Ernest Hemingway, Douglas Fairbanks, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt all came through Foynes. As did, Colonel Bill Donovan, special advisor to President Roosevelt, and Admiral Cunningham, head of the Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet.
The cost of a return ticket from the U.S. was almost ten thousand euro in today’s money.
The Boeing 314 “Clipper” could carry 36 passengers in sleeper accommodations, and had an observation deck and a honeymoon suite.
According to the website for the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, which has a replica of the Boeing 314, the Clipper also had a 14-seater dining room with linen tablecloths, crystal glasses and a full waiter service. About 300 lbs of food would be loaded for a transatlantic flight.
The Stella Ballroom and Restaurant on O’Connell Street in Limerick played host to American and British flight crews. There were Airline Balls and Hunt Balls and New Year’s Eve Galas.
Hollywood leading lady Maureen O’Hara found love with one visitor to the Stella — internationally renowned aviator Captain Charles Blair. He would become O’Hara’s third husband.
As World War II came to a close and the threat of invasion faded, plans for the development of the land-based Shannon Airport progressed and with peace, came an end to the flying boats.
In October 1945, Captain Charles Blair flew his airline AEA’s last scheduled flying boat out of Foynes. He returned to Rineanna, now Shannon Airport, aboard the DC4 ‘Flagship London’ the first scheduled commercial flight.