When flying to Ireland from the East Coast of the US, you touch down in Shannon before the bars have closed in New York or Boston! The night is yet young, as they say…but finding a hotel to accommodate you before breakfast – that can be a bit of a challenge.
Such was the case on our recent jaunt to the Emerald Isle. Despite being somewhat travel weary, and the promise from our hotel that “we’ll get ye in as early as possible” notwithstanding, I knew that we had some time to kill between leaving the airport and landing on the doorstep of the Dunraven Arms in Adare. So we headed off to Foynes, a village in West Limerick on the banks of the Shannon River to visit the Flying Boat Museum.
Founded in 1988, this unique museum is located in what was the original terminal building for the “flying boats” or seaplanes of the 1930’s and early 40’s. Following Alcock and Brown’s (1919) conquest of the Atlantic by air – they landed in a bog in Galway – and Charles Lindbergh’s (1927) initial transatlantic flight, it was apparent that crossing the Atlantic in hours as opposed to days was a reality. The ingenious solution to lack of macadam runways was to take off and land planes on the existing water.
The museum visit begins with a 1940’s newsreel-type film Atlantic Conquest, where you are taken back in time to the cradle of transatlantic crossings when the primary passengers were celebrities and politicians. As you move along the exhibits, there are fascinating examples of all sorts of objects and ephemera: … clothing and uniforms … radios and flight control panels …advertising leaflets and menus. There is even a flight simulator in the cockpit of the Yankee Clipper, the only Boeing B314 replica flying boat in the world, so you can try your own hand at landing on the Shannon!
Names from the past (depending on your age!) like Pan Am, BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), American Export Airlines grace the walls along with photos and historical clips from that era. There are photos of many of the famous people who passed through the terminal including Charles Lindbergh, Maureen O’Hara and her pilot husband Capt. Charles Blair, Ernest Hemingway, John F. Kennedy.
And if you ever wondered about the invention of Irish Coffee, wonder no more – it made its debut in 1942 when a group of cold, damp passengers arrived back at Foynes. Their Flying Boat, bound for Botwood, Newfoundland had been turned back because of bad weather. Looking to offer something to warm and sustain them, Chef Joe Sheridan concocted his own version of coffee. When asked by a passenger if it were Brazilian coffee, he quipped, “No Sir, that is Irish Coffee!”
The museum has been recently renovated and expanded to include three floors featuring the history of the deep water port on the Shannon Estuary. There is also some of the history of the influential people and families from the area. The day we were there was clear, sunny and warm and the views of the Shannon River and Co. Clare in the distance from the observation deck on the roof were just beautiful.
We stopped in the new café/restaurant, B.O’Regan’s for breakfast. In addition to the typical “Irish Breakfast”, you can get fresh baked goods with tea or coffee. We sampled the scones which were still warm and served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Just delightful. They have ample indoor seating and a lovely outdoor café when the weather is fine. There is also a fairly extensive gift shop – the perfect place to get those always necessary post cards.
On a recent trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., I went searching for information on the Flying Boats. Since Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis is there and because of the significance of the Flying Boats in the early days of transatlantic travel, I expected to find at least some sort of exhibit about them. I was disappointed. For anyone who is fascinated by air travel and its history, I would say the Foynes Flying Boat Museum is not to be missed. And an excellent way to spend the morning before checking in to your hotel.
Open Daily: 09:00h-17:00h Call for appointment for large groups. More information available at www.flyingboatmuseum.com