Knock accused of turning its back on airport founder

A MAYO town has been accused of turning its back on Monsignor James Horan by refusing to name, in his honour, the airport he founded.

Independent councilors in Castlebar Town Council had tabled a motion to change the name of Ireland West Airport in Knock to Horan International Airport.

However, despite the support of Fianna Fáil councilors, the motion was defeated by six votes to three.

“Myself and himself (Fr Horan) had our disagreements but I never ceased to admire his work,” said Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne.

“Many of the world’s most famous airports are named after famous figures so why not Knock?”

Mr Kilcoyne proposed the name change to coincide with the centenary, this year, of Monsignor Horan’s birth.

Famously Monsignor Horan, who was the parish priest of Knock, conceived the idea of building an international airport to bring pilgrims to the world-famous shrine.

Although he had no money or planning permission, he eventually secured funding from America and the backing of the then newly-elected taoiseach Charles Haughey, to commence construction on a frequently foggy, boggy plateau site.

The first sod was turned in 1981 and on May 30, 1986, the airport was officially opened.

However, Monsignor Horan passed away on a pilgrimage to Lourdes within months of the airport’s inaugural flight.

In recognition of his largely single-handed efforts to build an airport, the new hub was officially called Horan International Airport.

In later years, in a series of confusing name changes, it was changed to Knock International Airport, then Connaught International Airport and finally Ireland West.

Some Fine Gael councillors said they were opposed to the name change on the grounds that Ireland West was now an established brand name.

Brendan Henegan (FG) said: “If it’s not broke why fix it?”

Westport author Dylan Kelly, who is writing a book on the life and times of Monsignor Horan, believes the airport should revert to its original name — Horan International.

“Without Monsignor Horan, we wouldn’t have an airport today to be arguing over. It is only right the airport be named after him. He was an incredible man in so many ways and moved mountains to get things done,” said Mr Kelly.

“He had so many achievements, not alone did he build an international airport in a very poor corner of Ireland but he managed to get Pope John Paul II to visit Knock Shrine in 1979.”

Monsignor Horan was also celebrated in a musical titled A Wing and a Prayer which had its world premiere in the Royal Theatre in Castlebar last November.

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