TV series gives wings to Foynes Flying Boat Museum

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

A NEW US television show which is lighting up screens on both sides of the Atlantic has sparked a surge in tourist interest at an unlikely place - the Foynes Flying Boat Museum.

A NEW US television show which is lighting up screens on both sides of the Atlantic has sparked a surge in tourist interest at an unlikely place - the Foynes Flying Boat Museum.

‘Pan Am’, the ABC series which is set during the dawn of the jet age in the early 1960s, made its debut on RTE television this week.

The early success of the show, which comes from some of the producers of ‘ER’ and ‘The West Wing’, has re-ignited America’s love affair with Pan American airlines, which embodied the glamour, excitement and adventure of commercial air travel.

This has provided an unexpected boon for the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, which claims to house the world’s only comprehensive history of Pan Am airlines, from its distinctive uniforms to detailed passenger and aircraft records.

Director of the flying boat museum, Margaret O’Shaughnessy, said that the buzz around the show has provided them with a terrific opportunity.

“We were over in New York and Boston there recently on a trade delegation. I knew the series was coming up, but when we got to New York what did I see? Only billboards everywhere with the four air hostesses, wearing the very uniforms we have out in Foynes.”

Ms O’Shaughnessy said that she immediately worked Foynes’ Pan Am collection into her sales pitch to US travel agents and tour operators, with instant success.

“We used that in our pitch, and they went crazy for it. We’ve already got a bit of new business out of it. I think [the show] will be very big. They’re already saying it’ll be the new ‘Mad Men’.

“There’s something about that era, the dawn of the jet age. There’s that bit of glamour, excitement and mystery.”

During Foynes’ heyday as an international hub of air travel between 1937 and 1945, Pan Am was the largest of four airlines that regularly used it for transatlantic flights.

The sight of Pan Am’s B103 ‘Clipper’ seaplanes landing in the deep water harbour became irrevocably attached to the West Limerick village.

Prior to the post-war development of jet airliners, Foynes was the stop-over destination of choice for some of the most glamorous names of the era, from John F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt to Humphrey Bogart and Bob Hope.

Ms O’Shaughnessy said that the American curiosity for the museum’s Pan Am collection stems from the country’s latent love affair with the airline.

“Airlines are airlines, I know, but Pan Am hold a unique place in American culture.

“They were the pioneering airline, but they way they ended was very sad, after Lockerbie. When we worked it into our pitch, you could see they were genuinely excited”.