Aoife and the Flying Boat

By May 29, 2016Uncategorized

Foynes was a place name with bad associations for me.

When Aoife was 18 months old, my parents made what must have been the most difficult decision any parent could ever make. They had 3 small chidren to look after, one of whom needed full-time and intensive care. I am by no means speaking for my parents here, but as a parent myself, I know having one child is all-consuming and takes superhuman effort. Having Aoife must have been so difficult for them, with myself (15 months when Aoife was born) and Susan (almost 4 when Aoife was born). Aoife went into a care home in Foynes.

I found out today that Foynes is famous for other things; for being a port and The Flying Boat.

I took a look into the Flying Boat Museum. There was a lady in the ticket office. In the 1940’s the first transatlantic flights went from Foynes. “But where was the runway?” I asked without thinking. I do that kind of thing sometimes when the excitement is too much. The terrain is hilly and wooded. “Out there, in the water” she said cheerily, waving an arm in the direction of the unseen Shannon estuary, somewhere over my shoulder. I was sucked in. The building looming behind, which looks like some kind of boarded up, Eastern Bloc prison was the hotel which was built to accomodate those who alighted from the Boeing B314 Flying Boat and needed somewhere to rest. This all took place in the 1930’s and 40’s, when it was thought to be a good idea to set off to America in a boat plane.

As it happened, that building was also the ‘hospital’ Aoife lived in for a few years, before she was relocated to St Mary of the Angels, Beaufort, where she lived for the rest of her life. The Flying Boat Museum lady said it was where the doctor and the dentist were located too, when she was a child. “When we went to the dentist we could hear the children crying above” she grimaced. It didn’t sound too pleasant.

The Pan Am Clipper flying boat had brought such names as JFK, and Humphrey Bogart to Foynes and, as I floated round this museum on a cloud of, almost disbelief that this even existed, it started to colour the dim perspective I had had of this place. The museum also most of a B314 which you can look around and sit in, and try to imagine what it might be like to bounce around the sky in the belly of this noisy, prop-engined beast before dropping on to a watery runway and mooring up. What an experience that must have been!

When we used to go to Foynes, I was very young and it seemed to take forever to drive the 60ish miles there to visit Aoife. The building was scary and the people were scary and I can remember not really wanting to be there. My mother remembered a story for me about when one of the ‘patients’ (i.e. one of the mentally or physically disabled chidren) grabbed my sister Susan and I, a four year old year old tried to rescue her shouting “You leave my sister alone!” I suppose that kind of sums up how I felt about the place.

Going there today, however, was cathartic for me. I saw how there was nothing ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ about the place. I still had the irrational, impressionable memory of a little boy guiding me (having never returned to there after Aoife left), as well as being worried about my big sister and about Aoife as well. Confusing for a four year old. This really made me wonder how many other decisions I may have made when very young which influence my life even now. It also made me think about the complexity of experiences which are my/our make up and which influence our beliefs and the decisions we make. But I can only change what I can see.

So, going back there 35 years later has been really enlightening. I didn’t even originally plan to go through Foynes on Walk for Aoife, it popped up as part of the more scenic route home which my parents suggested.

It kind of feels like another piece of my experience of Aoife’s life has worked itself out into a better place for me. Great!

I’m so glad I went. Thank you Foynes.




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