Whilst driving along the Wild Atlantic Way in County Limerick, we drove through a small village called Foynes, about forty minute drive from Limerick. It was here we discovered the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum (it’s full title). I looked at the sign and thought I was here to see flying boat’s and thought when did we have flying boat’s on our planet? Then I read the sign outside the building again and I still didn’t get it. My head was going into overdrive. The history of this part of the world was, well, non-existent but it all became clear inside.
Inside the main entrance we were introduced to the museum by a member of staff who clearly knows the history not just on the museum but on the local area and her enthusiasm amazed me. We were warmly welcomed and then she explained to me everything I needed to know after I asked her the question ‘when did we have flying boats?’.
Well, the flying boats came about before the Second World War in the early 1930s when an idea to fly passengers from Europe to New York . Foynes became the main base as it was an ideal location to land the flying boats on the River Shannon (at it’s widest point before entering the Atlantic Ocean) and there was no mountains in the surrounding area. It may have taken time to get across the ocean back then but the Flying Boats were the first ever transatlantic passenger flights. A variety of passengers came through Foynes to get to/from America which included film stars and very rich men dressed up in their Sunday best suits.
In the next room we had a long video presentation to watch (I think it was over ten minutes but as I am into aviation, it felt like the video lasted two minutes), which explained the history of the flying boats in detail and showed footage of the flights. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Before aviation really took off, there were planes taking off from the river and up in the air in seconds. The flying boat used was the B314 (and I will explain the interior shortly) but these days, there are none in the world. The video was presented in a room with 1940’s decor to make visitors feel like they have step back in time.
The next room was the museum. There was room which had all the navigation equipment used when flights were landing to and from in Foynes. There was no weather forecasting equipment here (or the rest of Ireland) and that was done by the British on the island next door (United Kingdom mainland).
Through the next door and we were looking at displays which contained the uniform the staff used on flights to a can of food which hasn’t been opened to this very day. This museum was really fascinating and really caught my eye. I was looking at the early days of long haul flights and it started in this little village in Ireland. What amazed me even more the museum building we were standing in was the old flight terminal for these flights. It felt like every minute or two, a new fact would hit me and I was gobsmacked. Why haven’t I heard of Foynes before? I should know this place if I love aviation but my history of this era was not very good.
Now the bit what blew my mind and nearly sent me to the local hospital with a heart attack. Through a door we were taken outside and right in front of us, a B314 (Boeing) Clipper Flying Boat. Then I was told it was a replica but was built exactly the same size and scale as the originals.. Well, it was still mind-blowing. Walking inside was like walking back in time. The seating area for passengers and where they dined during the flights. There was a honeymoon suite at the back and very basic toilet facilities on show. I was amazed how the stewardess cooked the seven course meal because the kitchen facilities area is very small.
Upstairs there was the navigating room plus the cockpit. I was amazed how small the cockpit was and how much leg room there is. It was all very basic compared to today’s modern cockpits and only a few dials to look at.
Back outside the aircraft and that was the end of our experience with the Flying Boats. Or was it? We were directed into another room which joins onto the gift shop and was called the Irish Coffee Centre. Nothing special there as Irish Coffee is sold across this green emerald island but our guide explained inside that this was the place where Irish Coffee was first invented. Yes, the world famous drink was first made here.
In the early 1940’s, a restaurant and coffee shop opened in the terminal building. During the winter of 1943, late one night, a flight left the area for New York. Several hours in the air getting battered by the bad weather conditions, the captain decided to turn around and landed back at Foynes. A message via morse code was sent to the terminal building telling them that the aircraft was coming back. Because of this, the staff who worked at the terminal were all called back and the passengers of the plane came into the restaurant for food and drink (and probably to recover from the storm, that must have been one shaky flight!).
The chef (Joe Sheridan) of the restaurant was asked to prepare something to warm up the passengers. So he decided to put some Irish whiskey in the coffee and that is how Irish Coffee came about. This is still served right here and Claire was lucky enough to make an Irish coffee (and drink it) to which I refused (as I am not a great fan of whiskey and I was driving as well).
Our experience here was amazing and I came here knowing nothing but came away with a great insight on the early days of transatlantic flying. This has to be one of very few museums I came away with sense of great pride and positive feeling as usually I am not a big fan of museums. I looked at all the displays, read everything, listened to what our guide said to which she made our visit an enjoyable one. I highly recommend a stop here, even if visitors are not huge aviation fans.
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