Michael Kelly, 67, admiring his model aircraft collection at Shannon Airport PICTURE: ARTHUR ELLIS
WHEN MICHAEL wanted his first model airplane in 1967, there wasn’t a single store in Ireland to fuel the 16-year-old boy’s newfound infatuation.
That was when the Limerick man journeyed east to Wales to meet a fellow collector to purchase his first tiny aircraft.
And 51 years later, Michael Kelly, aged 67, is now showcasing the world’s largest collection of model aircraft at Shannon Airport, where his passion for airplanes was first ignited.
The Farranshone man has displayed more than 1,500 items at the permanent collection, which features unique models, such as Al Capone’s Sunderland aircraft, and more familiar Irish models like Ryanair’s Boeing 737.
Explaining the long journey that led to the collection, Michael recalled: “It started back when I was a little boy. My Dad, God rest him, used to bring me to Shannon Airport. When I saw aircraft I just fell in love with them. Whatever was between the airplanes and I, it was just magic.
“I'd be always talking about airplanes. I never stopped babbling on at home about them. I'd be at home playing with my ball and I might be lucky enough to hear a Viscount in the sky and, of course, that would blow my mind. And I do everything, I'd nearly try pull back the clouds to see them.”
He added: “Dad gave me the money to go to this lovely man in Wales. That was the beginning of my real journey. He (model aircraft dealer) had so many beautiful planes and I was amazed. He said to me, ‘you're very brave little boy to come here, I'll send the planes onto Ireland and your dad can pay me when he has the money’. That was the beginning.”
His pursuit really took off 17 years later when Michael was put in touch with a world-renowned dealer, Nigel Milton Tompkins, who was based near Heathrow Airport.
A massive IR£10,000 deal was struck that day between the two and Michael came home with 17 pieces to add to his collection.
The collection could be priced at around €500,000 as he has spent an average of €25,000 per year on his hobby over 20 years, he said.
“I spent a luxury house on it. I live in an old restored farmhouse in Limerick city and we built a room then off the house, 65ft long, to put all my models out there on a display,” he said.
A quick meeting with Niall Maloney, Shannon Airport’s director of operations and an agreement was reached to relocate it to a designated gallery area airside, just off the departures lounge.
“I’d heard from colleagues about this collection in a house in Limerick and, of course, about Michael and was advised to go see it. When you walked in through the front door, there was planes left of me, there was planes right of me, there was planes in front of me. They were everywhere. It was an aviation-enthusiast’s heaven.
“Over a number of engagements with Michael we discussed what could be done. It’s a wonderful collection and deserves to be seen by the public. We were only happy that we could bring it here to Shannon with his goodwill," Niall said.
The collection is located in Shannon Airport's departure lounge.