History of Cork Airport takes off

FROM a small grassy airfield at a country crossroads to an international airport used by millions of passengers every year — a book charting the remarkable history of Cork Airport was cleared for take-off last night.

Fifty Years Have Flown, co-authored by Cork brothers and historians Dr Donal and Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil, and specially commissioned to mark the airport’s 50th anniversary, was launched at the airport by broadcaster John Creedon.

“These days, airports tend to be treated as infrastructure, and their success measured by passenger numbers,” said Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil.

“But if you measure an airport by how people in its locality connect with it, by the job satisfaction derived by those who worked there, and still work there, and the attachment the people have to it, then Cork Airport is a success.”

Cork Airport handled its first passenger flight on October 16, 1961, but the book charts its pre-history, dating from the earliest days of aviation.

However, it was the vision of “two unsung heroes” — Cork businessmen Dan Cullinane and George Heffernan of Heffernan’s Travel — which ultimately proved that an airport would be viable in Cork.

They founded the Cork Airways Company and established the Farmer’s Cross Airfield in 1947 on a leased site opposite the current airport site. The airfield handled chartered flights with eight- to 12-seater aircraft to London, Bristol and Paris right through the 1950s.

Although the business operated at a loss, the men campaigned relentlessly for a licence to allow the airfield handle scheduled services. When the airport finally opened across the road in 1961, Mr Heffernan went on to pioneer pilgrimage flights.

The authors also examined claims of political interference in the decision to locate the airport near Ballygarvan.

Mr Ó Drisceoll said they researched papers stored in the National Archives, and files in the departments of the Taoiseach, transport, power and industry, and commerce and could find no evidence of corruption.

Two sites were in the running — Ahenesk near Midleton, 12 miles from the city, and the current site at Farmer’s Cross, five miles from the city.

Mr Ó Drisceoil said meteorological tests at both sites proved Midleton was better from a weather point of view but Ballygarvan was better on every other criteria.

Advances in aircraft navigation and instrumentation would minimise the weather disadvantage at the Ballygarvan site within a matter of years.

He also praised Cork-based aviation photographer Gabriel Desmond, who opened his collection to the authors. Shots from the Irish Examiner’s archives, are also featured.

*Fifty Years Have Flown, priced €25, is published by Collins Press.

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