Cork Airport—an aviation history

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Book Reviews, Issue 2 (Summer 2002), Reviews, Volume 10

Michael Barry

(Aer Rianta, E16.44)
ISBN 09540591

A View from Above, 200 Years of Aviation in Ireland
Donal McCarron

(O’Brien Press, E25.39)
ISBN 0862786622

Cork is the second city of the Irish Republic and its airport, which has recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, is rapidly overtaking Shannon as the second most important airport after Dublin. Michael Barry brings a wealth of first-hand knowledge to this chronicle, having been born in Cork and having worked at the airport for many years.
The narrative begins with early plans in the 1920s for a site suitable for both landplanes and seaplanes, which did not come to fruition. The first landing field for the city was at Ballincollig and was the venue for air displays by Sir Alan Cobham and Midland & Scottish Air Ferries in 1934. In September 1934 a new airfield was opened at Farmer’s Cross, which after being closed and lined with stakes during the Emergency was re-opened in 1948. This section of the book is illustrated with contemporary photographs, maps and plans, courtesy of local newspaper archives.
It was not until 1957 that the go-ahead was given for the construction of an airfield at its present location five miles from the city centre at Ballygarvan. Services commenced in October 1961 with Aer Lingus Fokker Friendships and Cambrian Airways DC-3s. These were followed in the 1960s by such long gone companies as Jersey Airlines, Derby Airways, Starways, British Eagle and BUA (CI)[?]. Perhaps the most memorable photographs in this part of the text are of a BOAC Comet 4, operating for Aer Lingus and of a much less graceful Aviation Traders Carvair.
The Tuskar Rock air crash of 1968 (the Aer Lingus Viscount EI-AOM which crashed into the sea in mysterious circumstances) is discussed in detail and with great common sense. The very recent announcement of the findings of the inquiry report give this section special relevance. Other tragic events which are covered in some depth are the Super Constellation ditching of 1962 and the Air India disaster of 1985. There is also a little-known story about a secret rescue mission to a US nuclear submarine in 1983.
As the useful statistical appendix shows, growth during the 1970s and 1980s was steady but far from spectacular. The 1990s saw the beginning of a sharp rise in the graph, leading to a current passenger level approaching the two million mark and which is putting serious pressure on the existing facilities. Scheduled operators today include Aer Lingus, Ryanair, British Airways (in the shape of Cityflyer, Brymon and BRAL[?]) and British European.
This is not just a story of aeroplanes, it also tells of the personalities who have created the airport, of the building works over the years and of the contribution made to the social, sporting and cultural life of the area—from the football club to the Cork Airport Singers. The terminal itself adds to a friendly and personal ambience boasting an open fire, marble fountains, aquaria and a bust of Jack Charlton.  A final section by the Airport General Manager, looks to the future and describes the £61m development plan, currently in hand,  which involves a major upgrade of facilities to enable capacity to rise to 2.5 million.
Ireland’s geographical position on the western fringe of Europe and as the last stepping stone to America has presented both a challenge and an opportunity over the years—for pioneers and entrepreneurs, daredevils and thorough professionals. The story of Ireland’s aviation history is therefore both rich and varied. Donal McCarron is a well-respected author, who has written an excellent history of the Irish Air Corps, Wings Over Ireland (1996). In A View from Above he traces the story of flight within, to and from Ireland since the ‘flying men’ and balloonists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the heavier-than-air craft of the early 1900s, the impetus provided by military aviation during and after the First World War, the great pioneers of the 1920s and 1930s, the growth of private flying, the development of civil air transport and aerodromes just before the start of the Second World War, aerial activity in Ireland during the Emergency, 1939-45 and the vast growth of aviation post-war.
This is a thoughtful, well-written book and contains much that will interest not only the aviation enthusiast but also the general reader. McCarron’s style of writing is descriptive and atmospheric, it captures a period feel and takes the reader back in his or her imagination to those stirring days when ‘Drexel with his Bleriot and Grace with his Farman’ thrilled the crowds at Leopardstown. There are plenty of anecdotes to bring the story to life and many illuminating quotations from contemporary sources.
The wide selection of photographs is a particular delight, many of them are new to this reviewer and shed additional light on, for instance, the visit of the Royal Flying Corps to Ireland in 1913. A wartime picture of the Foynes flying boat terminal in 1943, with six aircraft on the water and one in the air above, shows just how important this western outpost was as a vital link in the Allied war effort. The colour section has many vivid images, including the reproduction of paintings, aircraft aloft over beautiful Irish scenery and a very interesting display of Irish stamps with an aviation theme.
The book is a reflection of the author’s personal interests and as he says in the introduction, events in Northern Ireland are but briefly mentioned. As a whole the book is stronger in its coverage of the period before 1950, which is covered in greater detail than the last fifty years of the twentieth century. It is also a pity that such a useful reference book was not provided with an index, a bibliography or individual photo credits.
These are worthy additions to the growing volume of literature on Ireland and aviation. They are well produced, with photographic reproduction of the highest quality, very informative, highly readable and good value for money.

Guy Warner

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