The flying boat era which put the Co Limerick port on the world map has been recaptured in a €2 million expansion to the local Flying Boat Museum, which was officially opened by Tourism Minister John O’Donoghue.
The centrepiece of the extended museum is a full-size replica of a Yankee Clipper flying boat — the fastest civil aircraft flying the Atlantic during the Second World War.
In all there were only 12 Yankee Clippers built.
Present at the ceremony was Maureen O’Hara who starred in The Quiet Man with John Wayne and whose late husband Captain Charlie Blair flew the last Yankee Clipper out of Foynes in 1945.
Ms O’Hara said: “It was a wonderful and romantic time here. When my husband flew the last plane out of Foynes, he flew down over the main street and dipped his wings to everybody.”
Visitor numbers to the museum are projected to spiral to more than 50,000 from 20,000 as a result of the new developments at the museum.
The government gave a €1.5m grant towards the new expansion.
Mr O’Donoghue said the museum is set to become a major tourism attraction in the South West, generating an estimated €6m.
In its heyday, world leaders and film stars visited the Co Limerick port when they travelled on Yankee Clippers which splash-landed there on refuelling stops as they travelled between England and the US.
The golden age of aviation at Foynes lasted from 1938 to 1945 and the Yankee Clipper was regarded as the Concorde of its day — being the largest and fastest civil aircraft flying the Atlantic. It even had a honeymoon suite.
Museum director Margaret O’Shaughnessy said: “The Yankee Clipper replica is the only one of its kind in the world and is already attracting considerable attention from other aviation museums in the US. Foynes is the only dedicated flying boat museum in the world.
Another new feature at the museum is a 70-seat 1940s style cinema where visitors can view some fascinating film of flying boats arriving at Foynes. Visitors can also get the feel of flying a Yankee Clipper in a flight simulator.”
A children’s section has also been added to the museum and will be used to attract school trips.
Other new features include a multipurpose function area.
Brendan O’Regan, who launched Irish Coffee at Foynes, where it was first served as welcome drink to weary travellers when they got ashore from the flying boats was a guest at yesterday’s opening.