IF the walls could talk, what a tale they would tell. Shannon Airport’s incredible roll call of famous passengers over a 70 year period have been commemorated in a new exhibition.
Every American president since JFK, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Marlon Brando are there, hanging in pictorial form on the walls of the transit lounge. Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Fidel Castro, Pope John Paul II and the Dali Lama join them, among many more figures from the world of politics, entertainment and sport.
64 photos in all hang on the walls in an exhibition designed to bring a starry curtain down on the end of Shannon’s year of celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the first commercial transatlantic flight.
“This is a special moment for us as these photos remind us of the legacy that has been passed onto us at Shannon,” said Shannon Group chair Rose Hynes, who launched the exhibition on Tuesday evening, joined by former airport directors Liam Skelly and Michael Guerin.
“You can only imagine in the ‘40s, ’50s and ‘60s the excitement that would have abounded here with Hollywood stars arriving on such a regular basis. We still have this happening today so the magic continues. Shannon is at the heart of this region and this is one of the reasons why there’s great fondness for it.
“There are probably only a very small percentage of airports outside the US that have had every American President since John F Kennedy through its doors,” she added.
Ms Hynes noted that, on his visit to Shannon last year, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh lauded Shannon as a “place where the relationship between Ireland and American has taken flight”.
“That says a lot about this airport,” she said.
Former Shannon employee Anne Coyne was also a special guest at the exhibition’s opening. Ms Coyne, 78, from Kilmallock and now living in Oranmore, was captured in one of the iconic images in the exhibition, the 1950s photograph with Hollywood star Gene Kelly in the airport’s duty free.
“It’s great to be back. Things have obviously changed a lot here and for the better but that was a great time,” she said.
“I still remember that moment clearly. Gene Kelly was dreamy and he almost floated around the place. You almost felt like you were in a movie when you were in his company that day.
“I’ve great memories of Shannon. It was a fantastic place to work. You were looked on as privileged if you worked here,” she added.
Mr Skelly said Shannon was “an unbelievably busy place at the time.
“It was a massive hive of activity. There really was no place like it.”