A Laois county delegation made up of Council Cathaoirleach Padraig Fleming, author Teddy Fennelly, Heritage Officer Catherine Casey, artist Brendon Deacy and MDA Manager Patrick Buggy attended the 90th anniversary celebrations of the first ever east-to-west trans-Atlantic flight, which was co-piloted by a Laois man, in Germany last week.
Ninety years ago to the day, a small aeroplane took off from Ireland and flew into aviation history as it became the first ever aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a westerly direction.
It landed safely at the ice-bound Greenly Island, Canada, thirty-six hours later on the 13th of April 1928.
The ‘Bremen’ was co-piloted by Colonel James Fitzmaurice, who grew up in Portlaoise.
He was accompanied by two Germans, Captain Hermann Koehl and Baron Von Huenfeld in the ‘Junkers W33’ aircraft.
The success of the expedition was totally dependent on the combined expertise, experience and bravery of these three heroes.
As a young boy in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, James Fitzmaurice helped out at Aldritt’s Garage, which built and repaired motor cars, in Maryborough (as Portlaoise was known then).
News of the Wright Brothers’ early flying demonstrations inspired the garage owner to build the first aeroplane to be constructed in what is now the Republic of Ireland.
This in turn ignited the flame of Fitzmaurice’s ambition to become a pilot so even though the ‘Bremen’ actually took off from Baldonnel on the 12th of April 1928, the story of this flight actually began in Portlaoise about twenty years earlier.
After fighting in World War I; training with the RAF; and serving in the Irish Army Air Corps, Colonel Fitzmaurice ultimately enjoyed world fame for his central role in one of the most remarkable achievements in the annals of aviation.
The three airmen were the first non-Americans to be presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross by a US President.
A public exhibition of original artefacts from the flight will be curated by artist, Brendon Deacy, at the Dunamaise Arts Centre next October, in recognition of Fitzmaurice’s accomplishment.
German dignitaries associated with this historic event and relatives of all three of the courageous adventurers have enthusiastically accepted invitations to attend the Portlaoise show.