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Robert Flaherty - A Boatload of Wild Irishmen

Robert Flaherty Feature Doc to Begin Post Production

31 Jul 2009 |

Robert Flaherty
Editing will begin shortly on 'A Boatload of Wild Irishmen', a feature length documentary on Robert Flaherty, who became one of documentary cinema's most influential figures directing and producing the 1922 feature length film 'Nanook of the North'.

Written by Brian Winston, an Emmy award-winning documentary script-writer, 'A Boatload of Wild Irishmen' is being produced/directed and shot by Mac Dara Ó Curraidhín. The actor (and Aran Islander) Macdara Ó Fátharta will narrate the Irish language version of the film. An English language version for international distribution may be produced at a later time.

The documentary will explain the importance of Robert Flaherty, over the dramatic footage he took of a currach caught in a monstrous sea (from Man of Aran, 1934). He was the first to see that film of the every day life of 'real' people could be moulded into dramatic, entertaining narratives: but, by the same token, he is also the father of manipulation and distortion as well as being a bridge whereby stereotypes of exotic peoples (including Aran Islanders of the 1930s) became part of cinema.

The prime-source of imagery for the documentary will be the Flaherty film archive including 'Nanook of the North', 'Moana; The Pottery Maker' (1925); 'The 24 Dollar Island' (1926/7) and 'Man of Aran'.

This will be augmented by contemporary photography of various locations in Ireland, England, the USA, Canada and Samoa; his stills; other archival materials including 'Man of Aran: How the Myth was Filmed' and interviews with Mrs Frances Flaherty, Colman 'Tiger' King (recorded by Breandán Ó hÉithir in England in the 1970s) and Portrait of Robert Flaherty (a BBC radio documentary of 1952 with interviews with Flaherty, among others).

Editing will take place over the next six to eight weeks in Lincon, UK, and will be overseen by David Sleitht.

The film was funded by the BCI, TG4, the Irish Film Board, EM Media (U.K.), and MEDIA Europa.

Pádraic Connolly becomes a YouTube star

 Filming Pádraic Connolly a tPoll na Peist,  aka the Serpent's Cave or the Worm Hole on Inis Mór, for Tourism Ireland's online film highlighting the 'hidden gems' of County Galway

Galwayman Pádraic Connolly is doing his bit for tourism this year by presenting a short film on the 'hidden gems' of Co Galway on Tourism Ireland's website.  It is one of a series of ten short films or 'webisodes' which have already been viewed by almost 400,000 potential visitors around the world - see here for the video on

Pádraic Connolly takes a trip to the Aran islands

Tourism Ireland recently launched the series of films which feature real local characters from around the island of Ireland introducing their favourite 'hidden gems'.  Galwayman Pádraic Connolly was selected from the 1,000+ people across the island who applied to take part, to tell viewers and potential holidaymakers around the world about some of his favourite places in his home county. 

In the film, Pádraic takes the viewer on a journey around Connemara - highlighting the spectacular scenery and beautiful coastline.  He begins in Roundstone Harbour where he meets some of the local fishermen.  He continues to the beautiful Coral Strand at Carraroe and then it is on to his own birthplace, Rossaveal, and from there to Inis Mór.  Throughout the film, he regales the viewer with his many tales and legends - including a story about the local man who disappeared at the Worm Hole on Inis Mór!  He finishes his journey on Inis Oírr with its cluster of ancient ruins.

"Visitors repeatedly tell us that what distinguishes the island of Ireland from other destinations - what sets us apart from our competitors - is our people and our scenery", said Laughlin Rigby, eMarketing Manager, Tourism Ireland.  "This online movie, presented by Pádraic, provides an added dimension of information on the many attractions on offer in Co Galway, in a novel and entertaining way". 

"Customers are not just searching for the lowest fare any more; they are seeking information and recommendations on the perfect holiday experience - where to go, what to see and do and where to eat.  These movies complement our new global advertising campaign 'Go Where Ireland Takes You'.  The campaign has been designed to capture the spontaneity and fun of holidaying here and to show that some of the most wonderful and memorable experiences you are likely to have here will be stumbled on by chance", Rigby added.

The ten films or 'webisodes', which have been translated into five European languages, feature on Tourism Ireland's suite of 41 websites and are also being promoted in its main overseas markets on Yahoo.  The films will also feature on a new promotional DVD, which will be distributed to potential holidaymakers in the all-important GB market during August.  To see the films, visit

To a Connemara Bog, part II

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.)

On arrival in Newfoundland, the aircraft was reassembled at Lesters Field. The photographs below show various stages in the process, which took 14 days.

While 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 the Atlantic.

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.

Alcock 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.

During 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.

The 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.

Alcock 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.

Shortly after 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!

At 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."

Snow 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.

Alcock 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.

Alcock 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.)

Alcock 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.

They 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.

Their Vimy aircraft was repaired by Vickers, and donated to the Science Museum in London later that same year. It has been on display there ever since.

One 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.

Sir 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.

Alcock 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.

Alcock's and Brown's flight was re-enacted in 2005, when the late Steve Fossett and Mark Rebholz flew a replica Vickers Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland.

It was the third and last of the great Vimy historical flights to be re-enacted by this replica aircraft. Further details may be found on the Web site.

The 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!

From Labrador to a Connemara Bog...


By Lorna Siggins and Jem Casey

SOME NINE decades after the British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown flew across the Atlantic and landed in a Connemara bog, their historic non-stop flight was celebrated with an air show in Clifden, Co Galway, at the weekend.

In April 1913 (renewed in 1918), the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000[4] to "the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and any point in Great Britain or Ireland" in 72 continuous hours".

The flight nearly ended in disaster several times owing to engine trouble, fog, snow and ice. It was only saved by Brown's continual climbing out on the wings to remove ice from the engine air intakes and by Alcock's excellent piloting despite extremely poor visibility at times and even snow filling the open cockpit. The aircraft was badly damaged upon arrival due to the attempt to land in what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field but which turned out to be the bog on Derrygimlagh Moor, but neither of the airmen was hurt.

The world's only "formation" wing walking team, a jet display and a visit by a replica of the Vimy Vickers model used by Alcock and Brown were among highlights of the event atthe weekend, hosted by Connemara Chamber of Commerce.

"Today we take transatlantic travel for granted, but in 1919, these men undertook a dangerous, life-threatening trip which in time opened the skies for us all," the chamber said in a statement.

"Imagine for a moment the hub of activity that was Connemara 90 years ago when these two men literally dropped from the sky into the bog, and were able to send a message from Marconi's wireless radio station to inform London they had made it across the Atlantic - thus assuring themselves their rightful place in history," said the chamber of commerce statement.

They flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle engines, each of 360hp, taking off from Lester's Field in St. John's, Newfoundland at around 1:45pm, June 14, 1919

The aircraft crashed on landing (53°26′N 10°01′W / 53.433°N 10.017°W / 53.433; -10.017) in a bog near Clifden in Connemara, Ireland [7], at 8:40am on June 15, 1919, crossing the coast at 4.28pm. They flew 1890 miles (3040 km) in 16 hours 27 minutes, at an average speed of 115 mph (185 km/h).[8] The altitude varied between sea level and 12,000 ft (3,700 m) and 865 gallons (3,900 L - assuming imperial gallons) of fuel were on board.

An Alcock and Brown exhibition, by Connemara historian Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill, and a ground display by the Defence Forces was also part of the programme.

The Vimy Vickers replica was flown from the Brooklands Museum in Surrey, England, to Connnemara by John Dodd and Clive Edwards, landing at Galway Airport before flying west to Clifden.

Two memorials commemorating the flight are found near the landing spot in County Galway, Ireland. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden on the site of Marconi's first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmitted their success to London, and around 500 metres from the spot where they landed. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft's tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on the fortieth anniversary of their landing, June 15, 1959.

Memorial, County Galway

A third monument marks the flight's starting point in Newfoundland.

A memorial statue was erected at London Heathrow Airport in 1954 to celebrate their flight. There is also a monument at Manchester Airport, less than 8 miles from John Alcock's birthplace. Their aircraft (rebuilt by the Vickers Company) can be seen in the London Science Museum in South Kensington.

A number of teams were vying to win the Daily Mail prize (one of many aviation prizes awarded by that newspaper). The first attempt was launched from England. The Short Brothers aircraft company had produced the first prototypes of the Short Shirl torpedo-bomber towards the end of World War I.

A Shirl was modified with extended wings and a huge external fuel tank to produce the Short Shamrock, of which only one was built. The underslung fuel tank can be seen in the photograph below.

Short Shamrock.jpg

The Shamrock was powered by a Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engine, which was one of the most reliable aircraft engines of its day. Carrying a total of 435 gallons of fuel, it had a theoretical range of over 3,000 miles.

On April 18th, 1919, the Shamrock took off from Eastchurch in England to fly across the Irish Sea to The Curragh, Ireland, on the first leg of its trans-Atlantic flight attempt. Unfortunately, the engine failed 12 miles out to sea. The pilot, Major J. C. P. Wood, attempted to glide back to land, but was forced to ditch the aircraft in the sea a mile off Anglesey. The aircraft remained afloat, and was towed to the beach, but could not be repaired quickly. After another team successfully flew the Atlantic, it was dismantled.


Senator Dodd's Dodgy Connemara cottage in the spotlight...

"The Senator Sure Knows How to Pick an Investment." say his enemies at the Wall Street Journal


Irish property prices have plummeted since 2002. But a "cottage" in County Galway owned by Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has tripled in value during the same period, according to a financial disclosure form filed by the Senator this month.

There are two possible explanations for this remarkable turn of fortune. Maybe Mr. Dodd is luckier than a leprechaun. Or could it be that he paid well below the market price when he bought out a co-owner in 2002 and had undervalued the property accordingly? If it's the latter, then Mr. Dodd received a "gift," in IRS parlance, and should have declared it on his financial disclosure form that year. He did not. Oh, and by the way, the seller at that low, low price has been the business partner of a man for whom Mr. Dodd lobbied to receive a Presidential pardon.

It's also been nearly a year since a former loan officer at Countrywide Financial charged that the mortgage lender had classified Mr. Dodd as a "very important person" (a.k.a., a "friend of Angelo" Mozilo, Countrywide's then-CEO). As such, Robert Feinberg said, Mr. Dodd received -- and knew he'd received -- preferential rates and fees on two mortgages he and his wife refinanced in 2003. As a power on the Senate Banking Committee, he also knew this was a conflict of interest. This was the era when Countrywide originated and then sold to Fannie Mae high volumes of subprime loans.

The SEC charged Mr. Mozilo with fraud and insider trading earlier this month, and the Los Angeles Times reported in May that there is an FBI investigation which "includes a probe of [Countrywide's] role in an influence-peddling scandal involving" Mr. Dodd. The Senate Ethics Committee won't comment on its own investigation of almost a year.

Mr. Dodd denies receiving any special treatment, and nearly a year ago he promised to release the Countrywide mortgage documents and clear up the matter. We are still waiting, though he did attempt to placate the Connecticut press with a peek-a-boo release of a few select documents and a review by his own lawyers in February.

Now the Irish cottage on 10 scenic acres is bringing more trouble. At the start of the Irish real estate boom in 1994, Mr. Dodd bought the property with William Kessinger for $160,000. Mr. Kessinger has been a business partner of Edward Downe, who is a longtime friend of Mr. Dodd's. In 1986 Messrs. Dodd and Downe owned a condominium together in Washington. In 1993 Mr. Downe pleaded guilty to insider trading and securities fraud and in 2001, as Bill Clinton was preparing to leave the White House, Mr. Dodd successfully lobbied to get his friend a pardon.

The following year, 2002, Mr. Dodd bought out Mr. Kessinger's two-thirds share in the house and became the full owner. Mr. Dodd reported to the Irish government that he paid Mr. Kessinger $122,351, and Mr. Dodd says that a bank appraisal that same year valued the property at $190,000. From 2002 to 2007 Mr. Dodd reported its worth at between $100,001 and $250,000 on his annual Senate financial disclosure form.

But Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie began digging this year into the mismatch between what Mr. Dodd paid to Mr. Downe's business partner to become a full owner and what the property in Ireland was likely worth in 2002 amid the Irish land boom. Last week, when Mr. Dodd filed his annual financial disclosure form, it included a new appraisal from the same appraiser putting the current value of the house at $658,000.

In an effort to explain the gain despite the fact that the Irish housing market has since gone south, a spokesman for the Senator said that "The value of the cottage, or of Irish real estate generally, isn't something that the Dodds have thought much about." However, according to Galway County records, Mr. Dodd was so uninterested in the value of those 10 acres that he tried to subdivide the property in 1998 and put up another house. No doubt because he had no idea what it was, or would be, worth.

The Senate's financial disclosure forms are supposed to be a tool of honest government, and former Senator Ted Stevens was indicted for allegedly false disclosures. Mr. Dodd's miraculous property reappraisal is further grist for Senate and Justice investigators -- and especially for voters in 2010.

Padraic's nostalgic trip to Inisheer

Meet Padraic | Q&A

  • Question: So, you were a Lobster fisherman in your youth, what was that like?

    Answer: I was a lobster fisherman for about two years when I was about sixteen. We'd go out in a currach, which is a traditional rowing boat. We'd drop the pots, of various different types, in the hope to find a lobster, or ten, when we'd return the next day. Back then everyone lived off the sea... and back then the lobsters were more plentiful. I have wonderful memories of those days. We all have a great connection here with the sea.

  • Question: The sailboats we see in the video, these are unique to this part of Ireland, right?

    Answer: That's the Galway hooker; you'll find them all along the coast from Galway city to Connemara. All those boats you see are built by hand here in Connemara. They were mainly used for transporting goods from village to village or to the city.

  • Question: Tell me more about the Worm's Hole; I'm fascinated by this...

    Answer: Isn't it amazing; I mean where you would find it! Divers have come here from America, France, Australia and they drop into the worms' hole and not one has touched the bottom. It's a mystery. That's nature for you.

  • Question: What is the most ideal time of year to visit the Connemara coastline?

    Answer: The middle of July, when the sky is clear and blue, and the sea, the same. There's no place on earth as nice. It's heaven. But, if you get clear day in winter, it's just as amazing.

  • Question: You grew up here; all this open landscape is your backyard...

    Answer: I did, and you can walk for miles through these fields and nobody will bother you. If you have the stamina, there's a boreen nearby in Rossaveal that leads to a Martello tower - a round tower with cannon on the roof - just by the edge of the sea. The tower has been there since the 1850's, it must be the only one along the west coast. It has a well inside it. Most of these towers are museums in other countries; here you'd hardly know it existed. It's not advertised. This whole area is not commercialized.

  • Question: I'm very interested in the coral sand beach...

    Answer: It's in of only two coral beaches in Ireland. The other one is supposed to be in Kerry, but nobody's ever seen it, so I wonder... but this is a pure coral beach and it's absolutely just beautiful. I must do more research on coral beaches in Ireland; there's not been any research on this that I'm aware of...