'The show must go on': Foynes to stage European premiere of epic flying film

Maria Flannery


Maria Flannery

Michael Smith, the Australian pilot who flew around the world in this flying boat, departing from Ireland during his Voyage of the Southern Sun

Michael Smith, the Australian pilot who flew around the world in this flying boat, departing from Ireland during his Voyage of the Southern Sun

LESS than two weeks ago it was damaged by floods, but Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum is proving that the show must go on, as they host a very special event this Sunday.

The European premiere of a film, about one man’s record-breaking journey around the world in a flying boat, will take place in the West Limerick village — a spot of historical and cultural significance for the flying boat in Europe.

Australian man Michael Smith made 83 flights and stopped in 25 countries over a seven-month period in 2015, making a film about the experience called Voyage of the Southern Sun.

“I visited the Foynes museum during my few days in Ireland, and it was the greatest testament to the golden era of flying boats I’ve seen anywhere. Not only was Ireland the greenest place I visited, but by the far the friendliest. I’m really looking forward to returning to launch the book and film in Ireland,” he said.

The man, who was named Australian Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year, will also launch his book of the same name on the day.

His story begins when he left Melbourne in a Searey Amphibious aeroplane called Southern Sun, to loosely follow the Qantas Empire flying boat route of 1938 from Sydney to London.

On reaching Foynes, Michael decided to continue flying across the North Atlantic, North America, the North Pacific.

Upon his arrival in Longreach, Australia, on November 11, 2015, he became the first person to solo navigate the world using a single-engine flying boat.

Incredibly, Mr Smith had limited flying experience, no support team and only basic instruments in his tiny flying boat. He risked his life to make modern aviation history.

At a leisurely 80 knots, Michael took his time to fly from cities to forests, deserts and rivers, over mountains and volcanoes, coral reefs, vast stretches of oceans, ice floes and glaciers.

His journey captured the geographic splendour of the world, and the film documents all, while he learns a little about humankind and himself along the way.

He also met plenty of adventure and made new friends along the way — including enormous raccoon-sized rats on the uninhabited Aleutian island of Attu, some surprised members of the Special Branch on his arrival in the UK, while he had a near-death experience while leaving Greenland.

“I am delighted that Michael has chosen to premiere his film here. I know he has a great story to tell and believe there will be a lot of interest in it,” said director of the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum, Margaret O’Shaughnessy.

“We have had some difficult days here in Foynes following the recent flooding, but the show must go on, and what better show to lift all our spirits than the European premiere of a film documenting Michael’s epic journey around the world.”

Tickets to the premiere of Voyage of the Southern Sun are available from the museum, and early booking is advisable as places are limited.

For many, Foynes is the home of the flying boat and the golden era of aviation.

It is also home to some of the most coveted artefacts from the golden era of Hollywood, as its late patron Maureen O’Hara bequeathed her memorabilia to the west Limerick Museum.

A new wing is due to be built onto the museum to display the Maureen O’Hara items.

But first, Ms O’Shaughnessy and her team will be working to repair the damage caused during the recent flooding, ahead of the next tourism season beginning in March.

Hundreds of thousands of euro worth of damage was caused to the museum when a man-made lake near Foynes overspilled.