CIE TOURS - July 14, 2018
July 14, 2018
By Caroline Bartholomew
Who knew that Foynes, a small village on the Shannon River, used to be the go-to destination for the first trans-Atlantic flights and is also where the famous Irish coffee was invented? I certainly didn’t know until we stopped at the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum during the Southern Gems tour.
When we first arrived at the museum, we watched a short film that showed original footage and newscasts from the 1940s when the flying boats first started making headlines. Then, we went on a tour through the museum and our guide explained the earliest attempts to cross the Atlantic Ocean. One memorable story was Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan who flew from New York to Dublin in July of 1938. Inspectors said his plane was unsuitable to fly across the ocean, but he went anyway. Corrigan knew he would be in trouble and told customs officers in Dublin that he meant to fly to California but got lost in the fog, which is how he became known as “Wrong Way Corrigan.”
Although there had previously been successful solo flights across the Atlantic, there was a push to make commercial civilian flights a reality. In 1935, the UK, US, Irish and Canadian governments decided that Foynes would be the landing point for all trans-Atlantic flights because of its proximity to the coast yet sheltered location on the Shannon River. Because the planes were so heavy and required extra fuel tanks to cross the ocean, flying boats were used instead for an easier landing in water. Flying boats look similar to airplanes but instead of wheels underneath, they had a flat base that allowed them to land in water.
The first trans-Atlantic passenger flight from the US landed in Foynes on July 9, 1939. Believe it or not, the passenger flying boats were much more luxurious than our airplanes today. The museum has a life-size replica of a flying boat that we could walk around in, and it was impressive. It only held 35 passengers, but had a dining room, sleeping quarters and even included a honeymoon suite.
During World War II, Ireland officially held a neutral position but allied military personnel often flew out of Foynes in civilian clothes with fake passports. Foynes was also the destination for many war refugees hoping to escape to America. After World War II and into the 1950s, landplanes were improved and replaced the flying boats in carrying passengers.
The last (but certainly not least) part of our visit was a demonstration on how to correctly make an authentic Irish coffee. The first Irish coffee was made in 1943 by Joe Sheridan, the chef of the restaurant at the Foynes terminal. A flight had left Foynes for New York but turned back because of bad weather and the pilot asked to have food prepared for the travelers when they arrived. Sheridan put some whisky in the coffee to make it extra special for the passengers, and it was such a hit that the recipe became known as Irish coffee.
Whether you were interested in history, engineering, airplanes or alcohol (or all four!), the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum had a little something for everyone in the group.