Published on April 27th, 2022 | by FII Reader0
Those Munster Men in their Flying Machines
By John B Jermyn, Cork County Cricket Centenary Brochure 1974
[With additional material by Guy Warner, 2022]
The year was 1948, the war was just over and things were beginning to return to normal and for the first time in its history, Cork County had a few pounds in the kitty.
Munster had not played against Ulster for many years due to the time involved in travelling to Belfast. I was Captain of Munster that year and we decided to revive the Ulster fixture – a contribution from County funds making it possible to charter a couple of aircraft from Darby Kennedy in Leixlip. [Captain Percy William ‘Darby’ Kennedy (1914-2016) was an almost legendary figure in Irish aviation, having been a pilot pre-war with Imperial Airways and Aer Lingus. He left Aer Lingus in 1947 to concentrate on his own general aviation company at Weston Airfield in Co Kildare.]
Of course, this was long before Cork airport came into existence. However at the time, there were a couple of cow fields with the hedges removed at Farmer’s Cross which were being used as an airfield and we arranged to fly from there to Belfast at 9 o’clock on the morning of the first day of the match [16th July] and to fly back after stumps were drawn on the second day. [Farmer’sCross was located close to the site of today’s Cork Airport. It was first used in 1934 by the Cork Aero Club. It ceased activities in 1942 but Farmer’sCross was officially reopened as a licensed airfield in 1948 by the Parliamentary Secretary to An Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave TD; being used for charter and private flying until the opening of Cork Airport in 1961. It is of interest to note that Darby Kennedy was present at the official opening of Farmer’s Cross on 9th May 1948 with three aircraft, a DH Rapide, a Miles Messenger and a Percival Proctor.]
The largest aircraft available were DH 89 Dragon Rapides, and as they only held about eight passengers each we had to charter two. [The elegant biplane Rapide was a development of the DH 84 Dragon and these two types may justly be cited as the first economically viable aircraft to serve internal air routes in the British Isles from the 1930s onwards.]At the last minute, we were told that only one plane was available as the other was undergoing repairs. As a result, it was arranged that the one available plane would take the team to Belfast in two lifts, the first leaving Cork at 7:30 am.
Dragon Rapides were never notable for their speed [the cruising speed was 132 mph in optimum conditions]and it took us over three hours to reach the ground in North Belfast [Cliftonville Cricket Club] where the match was due to start at 11:30. We were surprised to see how many spectators were present and dismayed to find how shirty they got when we tried to postpone the start.
By midday, there was still no sign of the rest of the team and we had to start without them.
Stuart Pollock who captained Ulster that year and I went through the motions of tossing and Stuart of course won. However, he had little option but to put us in to bat.
Noel Mahony was our only opener present and I put Raymond Murphy in with him with instructions to them both to stay there at all costs.
We managed to hold out until the rest of the team arrived at lunchtime – but only just. We were by then down to our last available two men.
On the following day, the second aircraft was still unserviceable and Derby Kennedy arranged for two Miles Messengers each taking three passengers and the pilot in addition to the original Rapide to take us home from Sydenham Airport. [The M.38 Messenger was operated by the RAF for light liaison duties, the most famous use being as a means of personal transport for Field Marshal Montgomery in North West Europe, and also subsequently as a private civilian touring or light transport aircraft. No less than 81 were constructed at the Miles factories established in Banbridge and Newtownards.]
After the match, in which incidentally, Munster was massacred by Ulster, Stuart Pollock and Donald Shearer took Cyril Donnell, Cliff Reid and myself for five or six very rapid ‘jars’ before driving us the four miles to Sydenham [then Belfast Harbour Airport now George Best Belfast City Airport].
[The Belfast Newsletter recorded the result: Munster 157, Mahoney 81, McKee 3-19 and 99, Wilson 5-19; Ulster 227 for 6 declared, Pollock 90 and 32 for 0, Ulster won by 10 wkts. In mitigation it should be noted that Ulster fielded seven current or future Irish internationals and Munster just one.]
We arrived at the airfield to see the Rapide vanishing in the distance, one Messenger just taking off and the other Messenger waiting for the three of us. Our pilot informed us that he was unable to refuel at Sydenham as the man in charge of the pumps had gone off for the weekend with the keys in this pocket, however, he reckoned he had enough fuel to reach Collinstown [Dublin Airport]. We took off and headed for Dublin. After a short time the effect of our rapid ‘jars’ began to make itself felt and in no time at all relief became a matter of urgency.
There being no loo in a Messenger the only solution appeared to be to try and prove that the air sickness bags really were waterproof. They were! Since I was sitting beside the pilot there was no problem in sliding back the side window and disposing of mine. The more delicate task of passing Cyril and Cliff’s over-full bags over my shoulder was also accomplished without mishap. We were unable to see where our ‘bombs’ fell but I am sure there is someone living in the North of Ireland who is still trying to explain the sudden shower from a cloudless sky in the summer of 1948.
Much relieved we landed at Collinstown and the pilot went off to refuel the plane – and we also went off to refuel ourselves at a local public bar [presumably the Boot Inn] and it was about 9.30 before we took off again for Cork.
As we were flying over Kilkenny the weather started the close in on us. The sun had gone down and by the time we got to Cahir, Co Tipperary, the cloud was down on all the mountains.
The pilot decided that he remembered a gap in the Galtee Mountains near Mitchelstown in Co Cork and we headed off towards it flying under the cloud ceiling. Suddenly we saw an awful lot of mountains dead ahead. If there was a gap this wasn’t it! We did a rapid u-turn and came back out of it.
The pilot then decided to go round the eastern end of the mountains near Dungarvan, Co Waterford, but by the time we got halfway there, he changed his mind.
By now it was getting dark. There were, of course, no landing lights or other facilities in Farmer’s Cross and there was a real probability that the field itself would be in cloud. This would have meant making a forced landing in Lakelands, Co Cork, in total darkness, a prospect which held no more appeal for us than it did for the pilot.
[As the crow flies, it is 200 miles from Belfast to Cork. However, the several detours made by the pilot that evening added miles to the journey, reduced the safety margin of fuel remaining in the Messenger’s tank and doubtless increased his stress level, particularly as he had the clearest appreciation of those on board the danger of the situation, as well as the sole capability to do something about it.]
He decided that he would have to land near Cahir and we started to look for a suitable field.
After three circuits at a couple of hundred feet, no suitable field presented itself and the pilot decided to land on the main road. He made one dry run and satisfied himself that the road was wide enough, circled round and started his run in for a landing. Just at that moment, the only car we had seen that evening appeared right in our path and we had to pull up and circle again.
As we did so the pilot saw a field that he thought might serve. To us, it seemed the smallest field we had ever seen, but as the hay had not been cut in it the pilot decided that the long grass would pull us up in time. He made his approach at just above stalling speed, put the plane down immediately, we crossed the hedge and we pulled up with about 15 yards to spare. He was right about the long grass.
At this time planes were as rare as £2 notes in Ireland and all our circling around had attracted a good deal of attention. When we got out of the plane we were greeted by a knot of spectators of whom Cliff Reed enquired in an American accent and with a copy of the New York Herald Tribune under his arm, “Say, is this England?” to be informed in all seriousness, “No sir, this is County Tipperary in Ireland.”
We had landed at Clonmore on the farm of Mr George Waterhouse who treated us most hospitably and would not let us proceed to Cahir, about three miles away, until we had killed a bottle of Paddy. At this time there were practically no cars on the roads and the three of us together with the pilot had to walk into Cahir where we got rooms in the Cahir House Hotel [which in former times had been the stately residence of the Butlers of Cahir].
Our fame had preceded us and Miss McCool the owner of the hotel produced the bottle. We were joined after a few minutes by the local Sergeant of the Guards.
Although the war was over some of the tensions still lingered on with the result that people appearing out of the blue and landing in unauthorised places were open to real suspicion.
It was the duty of the Sergeant therefore to take written statements from us all.
Miss McCool insisted however that he must first have a drink. Having started after us the Sergeant caught up rapidly and soon overtook us and before long he passed out quietly in the corner where he remained until the party broke up in the early hours of the morning.
With the Sergeant ‘hors de combat’, Miss McCool felt it was incumbent on her to protect the interests of the State and proceeded to take the statements from us herself. These having been signed by all of us, she placed them in the Sergeant’s pocket without disturbing him. Honour having been thus satisfied we finally got to bed. [It is perhaps unsurprising that Miss McCool took charge, as the hotel’s website states, ‘The hotel continued to prosper under the strict management of Eileen McCool, until her death in 1974, and her legacy of genuine warmth and accommodation lives on in the hotel to this day.’]
Very hungover we got up too late the next morning to catch the only bus of the day to Cork. Cliff got the only available seat in a car going to Cork but such was the scarcity of traffic in those days it was not until 7.30 that evening that Cyril and I got home. [The rest of the team in the other two aircraft had arrived in Cork safely on the 17th.]
The Ulster inter-pro of 1948 will not go down in cricketing history but those of us who played in it are unlikely ever to forget it.
[And finally, it has not been possible at a distance now of more than 70 years, to identify precisely all three aircraft involved. However, the field can be narrowed down. There were two DH 89A Rapides registered to Weston Air Services, EI-ADP and EI-AEA. A photograph, which was probably taken at Farmer’s Cross, appears in a book on the history of Cork cricket and is captioned, ‘Transport for the Inter-Provincial against Ulster’. It is of a DH 89 with the registration G-AFMG, which, a few days later, was placed on the Irish Register as EI-AEA. There was but a single Miles Messenger on the Irish Register, EI-ADT, owned by DL Moore and based at Weston. I wondered if Darby Kennedy may therefore have had to call on help from over the border, where Lord Londonderry’s Ulster Aviation Ltd had two Messengers at Newtownards, G-AJFH and G-AJKL. Two brief articles in the Belfast Telegraph and the Tipperary Nationalist proved that this was indeed the case and that the Messenger that landed at Cahir was one of the northern company’s machines. The Telegraph also featured two photographs of players at the match. On a personal note, I was interested to discover that one of the Ulster players was Norman Heaney, my old geography teacher from Belfast High School and also that I, much later, taught the grandchildren of another one of the Ulstermen, Larry Warke. To complete the aviation details, the Percival Proctor at Farmer’s Cross would have been EI-ACX.
Due acknowledgement should be given to five valuable works of reference: 70 Years of the Irish Civil Register by Peter J Hornfeck (Staines 1999), Irish Aircraft by PH Butler (Liverpool 1972), In Weston Skies by Bob Montgomery (Dublin 2018), Long Shadows by de Banks: A History of Cork County by Colm T Hinneburg-Murphy (Cork 2000)and The Story of Cork Airport by Michael Barry (Fermoy 1988); and also to PJ O’Meara of the Cahir Social & Historical Society, Michael Traynor, Peter Amos, Bob Montgomery, Pat Bracken, Ger Siggins, Callum Atkinson and to Cricket Europe for permission to use the original article.]