WATCH: Taoiseach to attend biggest ever Foynes Air Show

Catalina Flying Boat to land, 80 years after leaving port

Maria Flannery


Maria Flannery

WATCH: Taoiseach to attend biggest ever Foynes Air Show

The Catalina flying boat, a plane with longstanding links to Foynes, will be making an appearance at the show

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar will make his first official trip to Limerick since taking office to attend The Foynes Air Show, it has been confirmed.

The event will also be attended by Ministers of State Patrick O’Donovan and Paul Kehoe, as well as numerous others dignitaries.

And one of the most historically significant aircraft in the show, the Catalina Flying Boat, will attract thousands more to the west Limerick village this July 22 – 80 years after it originally left the Port of Foynes on July 19, 1937.

“The air show is only 3 days out from the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the Catalina in Foynes,” said Margaret O’Shaughnessy, director of the Foynes Air Show.

Foynes Air Show 2017 from Kevin Daly Video on Vimeo.

“This year’s show is attracting a lot of attention from across Ireland and beyond, with European TV crews applying to film what promises to be one of the biggest events along the Wild Atlantic Way this year.

“It’s a massive undertaking this time, it’s a huge air show, far greater than anything we’ve ever done before. There’s a load of us working flat out, to make sure we give the public the best free show we’ve ever had.

“It’s weather dependent, from a safety perspective. We are also asking everyone to please come on time,” added Margaret, of the show which starts at 1.30pm.

Although the Catalina was favoured and developed by the US military, the flying boat that first landed in Foynes was a civilian proving flight for American Export Airlines, the company now known as American Airlines.

And the visit may have been brief, but it had a lasting effect on the port village.

“The Catalina is the link that ties many aspects of Foynes’ aviation history together. The link starts there, that was a proving flight for American Export Airlines, which goes on to a few years later with the pilot Charles Blair, and then his wife Maureen O’Hara, and we are right up to the present, where we are trying to raise the funds to build the Maureen O’Hara wing to the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum,” said Margaret.

On Saturday July 15, 1937 the Catalina PBY–4  NC18997 arrived in Foynes. It belonged to American Export Airlines, a company destined to have a long and successful relationship with the Shannon area.

NC18997 arrived unannounced at Foynes after a 20 hour flight from Botwood, Canada. The Catalina was flown by a crew of five, headed up by Warrant Officer Patrick J “Pappy” Byrnes, an Irishman.

The following day, Sunday July 16, the Catalina took off for Bordeaux and Marseilles, arriving back at Foynes the day after.

The crew then spent a few days at Foynes. It was then that Captain Byrne suggested a regular passenger service would be established between the US and Europe by American Export Airlines, if a contract for carrying mail could be secured.

American Export did indeed commence services through Foynes, but not until 1942.

The Catalina took off from Foynes on Wednesday evening July 19, on her return flight to Botwood.

And like all good stories, there is an element of romance, as was discovered when “Pappy” Byrne’s daughter visited Foynes several years ago.

During that visit she told staff at the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum that her mother had given her father a box of chocolates for the flight. He ate them all but kept the box and wrote on it during the flight.   

She brought the empty chocolate box with her, and it is now on display at the museum.

And while the Catalina is a Flying Boat from the Golden Era of Aviation, it also links Foynes to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Chief Pilot for American Export that flew to Foynes in 1942 was Captain Charles Blair – husband of Maureen O’Hara, who officially opened the museum in 1989 and was its patron until her death.