The wind blew me in the door of Inis Mór Airport this Saturday morning, a cold east wind that sprayed fine sand in ahead of me and fluttered the notices on the bulletin board. It feels like it's been January since 1962 and the wind has been blowing even longer. Coming to work this morning through a dim, windswept landscape, it struck me the island could be a location for a science fiction movie set either in the distant past or the distant future- so old it's new. That, however, does not apply to Inis Mor Airport which is just old. And draughty. And full of ooky little corners that fill up with piles of fine sand when the wind is from the east. The crewmen were already at them with brooms.
Peggy Hernon has written a wonderful collection of short stories chronicling her experience working with Aer Arann Islands and life in Connemara. Pggy is a member of the Ground Operations staff at Inis Mor Airport. She was born in the Bronx in New York, attended NYU and worked on Wall street for 18 years. She moved to Inis Mor in 1990 where she married Micheal Hernon, Inis Mor Airport Manager and has been living on the island ever since.
A SEAPLANE company planning to launch a seaplane service on the Shannon, which will take tourists to the Aran Islands, has run into headwinds and unexpected obstacles.
Harbourair Ireland Ltd lodged three planning application before local authorities in Galway and Clare to allow it to land a seaplane in Lough Derg on the Shannon, Galway city docks and the main harbour serving the Aran Island at Inis Mór.
The service is a joint venture with Harbour Air Malta, which will be supplying expertise and the aircraft, a 14-seater single-engine Otter seaplane.
In a letter to the Department of the Environment, Emelyn Heaps of Harbourair Ltd has demanded that the department issue a letter of retraction over its request that Clare County Council seek an environmental study over the application to establish a seaplane on the Shannon.
The Clare dimension has attracted a large number of local objections, prompting director of Harbourair Ireland Ltd Ronan Connolly to say this month: "There has been total overkill on this. We are not planning to land a jumbo jet. We are talking about a nine- to 12-seater seaplane."
The Department of the Environment is demanding that the council seek a comprehensive environmental study into the plan as "birds are likely to be disturbed and possibly injured by the operation of seaplanes in Mountshannon bay".
However, this has prompted a stinging rebuke from Mr Heaps. In the letter, he is demanding a letter of retraction over the demand.
"I strongly suggest that you carry out an in-house investigation of the productivity of your staff and attempt to stop them from wasting other people's money, time and effort, especially those who are trying to develop tourism."
Mr Heaps said the company was requesting a letter of retraction from the department to include an apology to Clare County Council for the inappropriate and unprecedented request for an environmental impact statement (EIS).
He said Harbourair was appalled by the demand for what is "a walkway and jetty at Mountshannon as it is not within the remit of the planning authorities to give planning for a seaplane operation.
"This decision will be made by the Irish Aviation Department and not any planning authority. The EU directive states that an EIS is required for freshwater marinas for 100-berth plus. It is inconceivable that an EIS should be requested for a single pontoon and walkway."
He added: "Shannon Development and Fáilte Ireland have endorsed this innovative tourism project and while we have spent over two years in its creation, with a sizeable investment of our own, the Department of the Environment's reaction to promoting and creating much-needed tourism and jobs in the region is to seek an EIS.
"If they have concerns on the impact a seaplane may have on fauna and bird life, they should take time in doing a little research on seaplane operation worldwide.
"They would have found the following: there is no recorded incident of a single-engine light aircraft being associated with bird kills - this is a limited occurrence that is associated with jet aircraft.
"River cruisers cause far more noise and river pollutants than a seaplane would ever cause, and more birds are killed on Irish roads every day than are killed in a year by aircraft."
THE MOST DANGEROUS FLIGHT I ever took was in a ten seater plane going to the smallest nicest of Ireland's Aran Islands.
The danger was not so much the size of the plane as landing on Inis
Meain, the last of the three islands, so there were five take-off and
landing events to survive.
On the sunny day when I flew hopped
over Galway Bay, the risk of each take-off and landing was so low that
even the combination was insignificant. Had it been stormy, I might
have considered waiting for a direct flight, unwilling to take the risk
so many times.
At first glance, this seems like a reasonable way to think about the
kind of risk the use of complicated financial instruments might
introduce into a portfolio, allowing investors to consider some of the
disadvantages of the complexity in a more measured way.
Back on the Aer Arran flight we had a different method of risk
management - at each landing and takeoff, everyone on the plane apart
from myself and the pilot crossed themselves devoutly.
Aer Arann's very own Peggy Hernon has written a collection of short stories
chronicling her experience working with Aer Arann Islands and life in
Connemara. Peggy's colourful and descriptive style is sure to draw you
Peggy is a member of the Ground Operations staff at Inis Mor
Airport. She was born in the Bronx in New York, attended NYU and worked
on Wall street for 18 years. She moved over to Inis Mor in 1990 where
she married Micheal Hernon, Inis Mor Airport Manager and has been
living on the island ever since.
Below is a collection of some of her short stories of life on The Islands. We hope you like them!
The engineers also faired over the observer's cockpit at the front of
the fuselage, and enlarged the pilot's cockpit to allow Alcock and
Brown to sit side-by-side. The Vimy was then disassembled and crated,
to be shipped across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. (The attempt would
start from there because the prevailing winds blew from West to East,
making a crossing in that direction easier and needing less fuel.)
arrival in Newfoundland, the aircraft was reassembled at Lesters Field.
The photographs below show various stages in the process, which took 14
this was being done, the field was being prepared for take-off. A
surviving receipt from one Charles F. Lester to Captain Alcock shows a
total charge of $1,345.10 for the work, including 2,079 hours of labor
at 40c per hour and 330 hours at 25c per hour! It's interesting to
compare those figures to today's minimum-wage legislation - they're not
far off, in terms of relative value.
The field was still very
rough, and Brown wasn't sure that the heavily-laden Vimy could take off
successfully. In an attempt to save weight and reduce rolling
resistance, he removed a nose-wheel that had been attached to the front
skid. This was to have interesting consequences on the other side of
Alcock had a stroke of luck during the reassembly
process. The Handley-Page team (see above) were having trouble with
what they thought was a defective radiator, which kept clogging. Alcock
realized that the real problem was not the radiator, but the local
water, which was heavily mineralized and carried a great deal of
sediment. He promptly arranged that the water to be used in the cooling
system of the Vimy's engines would be filtered several times, then
boiled. This removed the sediment and minerals from it. The
Handley-Page team were still waiting for their new radiator when Alcock
and Brown took off!
The preparations for the flight were marred
by poor weather. There was no hangar to protect the Vimy from the
elements, and curious sight-seers tried to take pieces of the aircraft
as souvenirs. This was not very helpful. The ground crew had to mount
constant guard over it, sheltering from the rain and bitter cold in the
packing-crates in which it had arrived.
The aircraft was finally
ready. Locals gathered around for this photograph before departure on
June 14th, 1919. It bears Brown's signature.
Alcock and Brown got into their flying suits. They are shown here before departure.
The Vimy took off on its long journey at 1.45 p.m. local time.
and Brown carried a radio transmitter, and were supposed to radio their
position regularly: but this malfunctioned three hours into the flight.
For hours there was uncertainty as to whether or not they were safe, as
this New York Times headline shows.
the flight, engine and wind noise make it almost impossible for Alcock
and Brown to hear one another speak. Brown communicated navigation
information to Alcock by writing it in his notebook, then showing the
page to the pilot (using his flashlight at night to illuminate the
page). An example of one such message in his notebook is shown below.
flight was long, arduous and very hazardous. After a few hours, fog
appeared, and they had no choice but to fly into it. The fog was so
thick that they couldn't even see their engines, and their sound was
muffled. Alcock had no modern blind-flying instruments, as can be seen
in this photograph of the Vimy's cockpit.
had to fly as straight and level as possible, hoping for a patch of
clear visibility now and then so that Brown could check their position.
None appeared for some time. As darkness fell, the inner exhaust pipe
of the right-hand engine split, spitting flames into the slipstream. To
make matters worse, the batteries powering the electric heating
elements in their flying suits ran down. Alcock later remarked that
they "froze like young puppies", even more so because they could not
move about in the cramped cockpit.
Alcock tried to climb above
the fog to enable Brown to get a sun-sight, but they found cloud above
the fog. Entering a thick fog-bank, the plane dropped in a spiral
almost to the surface of the sea before Alcock could regain control and
climb once more. The fliers refreshed themselves with sandwiches, beer
and whisky. At last Brown was able to get a shot of the setting sun,
right behind them, so that they were reasonably confident that they
were on course. They flew on into the night.
midnight Brown was able to get a few star sights, fixing their position
again. They had covered 850 nautical miles, and had just over 1,000
still to go. They ate more sandwiches, and drank coffee laced with
whisky. Alcock later commented, "I looked towards Brown, and saw that
he was singing, but I couldn't understand a word." One presumes the
singing was the result of high spirits, rather than the liquid variety!
about 3 a.m. they hit heavy weather once more, with thick cloud. The
Vimy went out of control, falling towards the sea in a vertical dive.
Alcock only just managed to level out before they hit the water. He
commented, "The salty taste we noted later on our tongues was foam. In
any case the altimeter wasn't working at that low height and I think
that we were not more than 16 to 20 ft. above the water."
began to fall, building up on the wings and fuselage, and ice began to
form on the engines, blocking the air intakes and carburetor air
filters. According to Brown's later accounts, he made several trips out
onto the wings to clear the ice and snow away from the engines.
However, others have disputed this, noting that Brown never wrote of
such efforts in his hourly log entries, and pointing out that he had a
badly injured, partly crippled leg which would have made such movements
all but impossible. Since Alcock died soon after the flight, there was
no evidence to support or contradict Brown's subsequent claims. The
controversy has continued to this day.
Icing continued to
bedevil them through the night. Daylight came at 6.20 a.m., by which
time the lateral controls had iced solid. Alcock tried to take the Vimy
higher, to allow Brown to get a sun sight and fix their position. At
7.20 a.m., at a height of 11,800 feet, he was able to do so, and
reported that they were on course. However, it was imperative that they
find warmer air to prevent the controls from freezing. Alcock took the
Vimy down into the clouds once more. At 1,000 feet, the warmer air
melted the ice, making flying easier.
At about 8 a.m. they
sighted Ireland, coming in over the town of Clifden near Connemara.
They circled the local radio station, with an inviting green meadow
nearby. They saw people waving from the radio station, which they
thought was a welcome. In reality the waves were an attempt to warn
them that the 'meadow' was not a meadow at all, but Derrygimla Bog, far
too soft for them to land: but the fliers could not know this.
brought the Vimy down on the bog at 8.40 a.m. It ran for only a short
distance before the front skid (minus its wheel, which Brown had
removed in Newfoundland) dug into the bog and flipped the aircraft onto
its nose, breaking the lower wings and damaging the front of the
fuselage. Brown reportedly turned to Alcock and asked, "What do you
think of that for fancy navigating?" Alcock replied, "Very good!", and
the two shook hands.
and Brown became instant heroes. They traveled to England (not in their
Vimy, which was retrieved from the bog and repaired), and arrived at
the Royal Aero Club in London. There they delivered to General Holden,
vice-president of the Club, 197 letters entrusted to them by Dr.
Robinson, the Postmaster in Newfoundland. They carried stamps
overprinted in Newfoundland to indicate that they were being delivered
by air. The letters were rushed to the nearest Post Office, franked and
forwarded. Those stamps and covers are today amongst the most valuable
philatelic collectors' items, being the first trans-Atlantic air mail.
(They're also among the most forged - fakes are rife.)
and Brown were knighted by His Majesty George V, and received the
£10,000 Daily Mail prize, presented to them by the then Secretary of
State for War and Air, Winston Churchill.
also received a prize of 2,000 guineas (equal to £2,100) from the
Ardath Tobacco Company, and another of £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips
for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic. They gave
£2,000 of their prize money to the Vickers and Rolls-Royce mechanics
who had helped to prepare the Vimy for the flight.
of the original propellers was not returned, however. It is today used
as a ceiling fan in Luigi Malone's Restaurant in Cork City, Ireland.
Arthur Brown married soon after the flight, and he and his wife left
for the USA on honeymoon. Sir John Alcock did not long survive the
flight. He was killed in an aircraft accident at Cottevrard, France, on
December 18th, 1919, and was buried in England.
Brown never flew again. He survived World War II, dying in 1948 in Swansea, Wales.
and Brown inspired those who followed them. Charles Lindbergh, who made
the first solo crossing of the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 1927,
said when he landed in Paris, "Alcock and Brown showed me the way."
Sadly, in the USA, they are almost unknown today. Many Americans assume
(or are misinformed) that Lindbergh was the first to fly non-stop
across the Atlantic. He certainly made the first solo crossing, and the first between New York and Paris, but not the first non-stop Atlantic crossing.
video clip below shows the replica Vimy in flight earlier this year. If
it seems slow to you, remember that the Vimy's top speed was only 100
mph - no faster than many cars on our roads today, and slower than
quite a few of them!
When you arrive at Ard Mhuire, a pretty B&B overlooking the harbour on Inis Oirr, with three young tearaways, it is a comfort to learn that Brendan Behan once stayed there for six months without being barred.
Behan was one of a long line of artists attracted to the Irish-speaking Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, by the rich history, primitive way of life and austere beauty, but for him the relaxed licensing laws may have been the clincher.
Many tourists misguidedly treat the islands as a day-trip, and visit only Inis Mór, literally the big island, which even a century ago the playwright J.M.Synge, the islands' most famous chronicler, found too commercialised. He swiftly decamped to Inishmaan, which inspired The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea.
Synge had to do his island-hopping by currach, a precarious canoe-like craft made of tarred canvas that can still be seen upturned on the shore
SATURDAY INTERVIEW: 'I HAVE NEVER called a reporter in my life. They
come to me," said Pádraig Ó Céidigh a few years ago. Aer Arann's owner
had been crowned Irish entrepreneur of the year. The plucky little
airline's upward mobility seemed assured. He was a "big fan" of Michael
O'Leary. Heck, he even talked like him.
"With me what you see is
what you get. I have no time for plámás or bullshit," he told TG4,
before tearing into smug "Dublin 4 types".
Fast forward to the
Clayton Hotel near Galway, after a nightmare week for Aer Arann, which
had announced it was laying off 100 people - almost a quarter of its
staff. Ó Céidigh is still a man with no time for bullshit but is
gracious with it, and it's fair to say that he is no longer a "big fan"
of Michael O'Leary. But he still hasn't called a reporter.
native-Irish-speaking, Jesuit-educated Galway boy was first an
accountant, then a teacher for 11 years, then - after pursuing a law
degree at night - a solicitor. His love of teaching in Coláiste
Iognáid, his old school, and slow, painful disenchantment with the
politics of the staffroom reveal much about the man himself.
The Irish airline airline Aer Arann, an offshoot of Aer Aran Islands has plans to lay off up to 100 staff in a cost-cutting measure. It is not known whether the tax-payer subsidised service to Inis Mor, Inis meain and Inis Oirr will be affected by the cuts.
The airline has started negotiations with staff in a bid to
secure the future of the company, which is suffering the effects of the
global slowdown in the aviation industry.
Aer Arann wants to drop its aircraft numbers from 12 to nine, but says it will not cut key routes.
The airline says it will now focus on leasing aircraft, and
staff, to other airlines, in a bid to maximise profits and minimise
Passenger numbers have grown from 12,000, when it was set up
in 1970, to 1.1m in 2006. It was originally established as an
island-hopping service between Galway and the Aran Islands.
Padraig O Ceidigh
purchased the airline in 1994 and began expanding routes and fleet,
launching scheduled services in 1998. In the same year the government
awarded the airline a route between Donegal and Dublin, followed by the Sligo/Dublin route soon after.
It was due to launch a new Cork-Glasgow route at the end of the month.