When a Vimy Vickers bi-plane made a crash landing in Connemara a century ago, it not only marked the first transatlantic flight – but also the first such airmail delivery writes Lorna Siggins
Aviator John Alcock, who flew with Arthur Whitten Brown, had accepted a small bag of mail from a Newfoundland postmaster. After the sack reached Clifden, Alcock ensured it made its way to London.
That epic 16 hour and 28-minute transatlantic delivery was celebrated by An Post on Thursday when it published a stamp to commemorate Alcock and Brown’s achievement.
The stamp by Clare artist Vincent Killowry depicts the Vimy Vickers above an Atlantic swell, having emerged from a spiral dive through very turbulent clouds.
The stamp is ‘W’ or international rate, ensuring that it is valid as worldwide postage, according to An Post.
Its “unveiling” in Clifden, Co Galway is the first in a series of events over this weekend in Connemara as part of an “Alcock and Brown 100 Festival”.
The pilots had to write notes to communicate and flew the 1,900 miles in terrible conditions after they took off on June 14th, 1919 from Newfoundland.
After snow, sleet, and a stalling that took them so close to the Atlantic’s waves that they could taste sea salt, the pair spotted the masts of the Marconi wireless station at Derrygimlagh bog outside Clifden.
Marconi technicians who looked like they were welcoming them were actually waving them away.
The London Daily Mail presented the men with a £10,000 prize and they received a knighthood from King George.
Cork-born and Galway-based journalist Tom “Cork” Kenny also got the international “scoop”, beating the Daily Mail journalist to it.
The Alcock and Browne 100 festival programme on Saturday (June 15) will start with a remembrance and wreath-laying ceremony at Derrygimlagh, and reception for relatives of the aviators in Foyle’s Hotel, Clifden. It will be followed by an Air Corps fly-over display over Clifden.
Sunday’s programme will include a search and rescue display at noon at Derrygimlagh and a traditional boat regatta off Clifden harbour. There are also photographic displays and talks with experts, including Brendan Lynch who is relaunching his book on the flight, Yesterday We Were in America.
The Central Bank is minting a 15 euro silver coin, and Waterford Crystal is producing a limited edition miniature replica of the Vickers Vimy biplane, made up of 51 individually hand-crafted pieces
Full details of the festival are on www.alcockandbrown100.com