EASTER SUNDAY

St Macartan's Cathedral, Monaghan

St Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan

A day for reflection and enjoyment in the company of family, so I will not venture into any lengthy diatribe today. It was my mother’s 93rd birthday, which she celebrated at home in Dublin. Meanwhile I was attending a birthday celebration in Monaghan for my first daughter, who had invited around her cousins, aunts and uncles. We were also fortunate to have our second daughter return home from London on an Easter break.

I attended Easter Sunday Mass at Saint Macartan’s Cathedral in Monaghan and there was a large attendance at the lunchtime service. I reflected on how my grandparents (on my mother’s side) would have attended the major liturgical events here sixty years ago and more. Since they lived at Tirkeenan beside the entrance to the Cathedral, they were frequent attenders at Mass, as my grandfather’s diaries from the time recorded.

I then took the opportunity to visit the graveyard at Latlurcan, where I had attended two funerals earlier this month. My aunt Marie and her husband and my uncle Finbarr Smyth are buried there. Finbarr died in an air crash in the Isle of Wight when I was five and living in London in November 1957. He had been flying out to Madeira on a holiday with Cosmo Meldrum, a friend from Sligo, where he was manager of the Yeats Country Hotel at Rosses Point. The Aquila Airways Short Solent flying boat G-AKNU (pictured here at Funchal Bay) crashed shortly after take-off at Southampton docks.

Short Solent G-AKNU taking off from Funchal Original Photo © J Arthur Dixon, via Wikipedia

Short Solent G-AKNU taking off from Funchal
Original Photo © J Arthur Dixon, via Wikipedia

During a holiday in Madeira in 2011 I discovered more details about the airline and the planes it used since 1949 to bring holidaymakers to the island, as it developed a tourist industry. There was a small exhibition about the flying boats beside the shop at the Madeira Story Centre museum in Funchal. Upstairs there was also a display that included a mock-up of part of the aircraft’s cabin, including the roof racks used to store luggage. Black-and-white archive film played on small monitors showing the planes taking off. It was an emotional experience. I notice that there is now a plaque at St Mary’s church in Brook, close to Chessel Down, containing the names of all those who died in the crash. At some stage I will go to visit it.

Short Solent Cabin Reconstruction, Madeira

Short Solent Cabin Reconstruction, Madeira

45 people died in the crash, seven of them members of the crew. May they rest in peace. Thirteen people managed to survive, among them a former British Army officer Major PW Colan, from Cloyne in County Cork. British commercial flying-boat operations ceased ten months later on 30th September 1958 when Aquila Airways withdrew its Madeira service. The flying boats for passenger traffic were a variation of the Sunderlands which provided important service from Lough Erne and other RAF bases in the Second World War. They were built by Short Brothers and Harland in Belfast.

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4 thoughts on “EASTER SUNDAY

    • We were living in London at the time and Mum was the nearest next of kin, hence London, I assume. The other explanation might be that the holiday ticket was purchased in London, or that he was staying in London at the time he bought it, but he was manager of the Yeats Country Hotel when it happened and his friend from Sligo Cosmo Meldrum was travelling with him. I haven’t seen either a birth or a death certificate so I don’t know about the Christian names: perhaps Desmond was mixed up with Dad’s name in the paperwork. I notice they had only one ‘r’ in Finbarr as well. Anyway, you know who to ask to check it out!

  1. Just came across your article re your uncle Finbarr Smyth. My mum has a photo with Finbarr outside the hotel just before he left for his holiday. She told me the story of his tragic death and I checked the internet and your article popped up. My mum worked in Ryan’s Car Hire firm in Dublin whose staff spent many happy and memorable weekends in the Yeats Country Hotel. They all adored Finbarr and were very shocked and sad to hear of his death.

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