The Daily Telegraph had offered £10,000 as a prize for the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic “in less then 72 consecutive hours”. A number of people had tried and failed. Big money was being spent by companies to take on the challenge when John Alcock and Arthur Brown made their attempt in June 1919.
Pilot Alcock and navigator Browne converted a First World War Vickers Vimy bomber by removing the bomb holders and adding extra fuel tanks. They took the Aeroplane in creates from Liverpool to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where they assembled it and with the help of locals removed the rocks from a field to provide a runway.
They took off on June 16th and because they were overloaded with the extra fuel, they barely missed the tops of the trees. It was a treacherous flight. Their electric heating suits failed leaving them cold in the open cockpit. Their navigation system failed and they had to depend on the stars. Ice built up on the aircraft. For a period they became disorientated and went in to a tailspin, Alcock righted the plane within 300 feet of the ocean. Eventually after 19 hours flying, they spotted land and circled the small town of Clifden in West Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.
As you will see when you come to visit this beautiful, unspoiled, wild wilderness, There is no such a thing as a field. As they circled they spotted a wide expanse of land beside the Marconi Telegraph Station. The locals tried to wave them off as this was Derrygimla Bog, not a place to land an aeroplane. They landed in the Bog and came to a nosedive stop to complete the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 19 hours.
Local legend has it that they knew exactly where they were. They wanted to land near the Marconi site because from there they sent a telegraph to London to announce their arrival and claim their prize Two days later The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in “less than 72 consecutive hours”.
A small amount of mail was carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight. The two aviators were awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.
There is a sculpture of an aircraft’s tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on the fortieth anniversary of their landing, 15 June 1959. This hilltop gives amazing views of the rugged Connemara coastline, the Wild Atlantic Ocean, the town of Clifden and the mountains in the distance.
It is now a signature point in Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, with a wonderful walkway and interpretive points through the Bog where they landed and also telling the story of Marconi’s first transatlantic Telegraph Station, built in 1907, where more then 500 people were employed.
We take you there every day on our Connemara Day Tour.