Around the middle of our week-long trip to Ireland, we spent a morning at the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, near Limerick. I know almost nothing about seaplanes, except what I learned when visiting the Spruce Goose when it was still in Long Beach, CA, when I was a kid. So this museum didn’t sound that interesting to me when I first read about it in our itinerary, but it turned out to be one of my favorite excursions.
Because Foynes is situated on a large, calm harbor, it was a natural choice for a flying boat airport. In 1939, this small town (population: around 600!) was where the first commercial passenger flight direct from the USA to Europe landed. The Pan Am Yankee Clipper touched down on July 9 of that year. The museum is housed in the original terminal building, and a full-scale replica of the Yankee Clipper was built for the museum in 2006.
One thing that struck me when inside the Clipper replica was how luxurious air travel was in the late 30s and 40s. The dining room, with its white cloth-covered tables, must have been modeled after dining cars on trains. The seats in the cabin were wide and comfy-looking, and two facing seats could be extended to make a bed. Every passenger had his own bed. I mean, the kind of bed you can actually lie down on. You could pretty much bring whatever luggage you wanted on board too. Those were the days when people traveled with trunks and didn’t have to worry about cramming everything inside carry-on bags. I’m tall, so one of the hardest things about flying for me is the lack of leg room. I could really get used to travelling on the Yankee Clipper. Of course, the price of a ticket could probably buy you a small house.
It was damp and chilly inside, and the woman showing us the replica said the plane was very cold in flight. It smelled a little musty too. Flights were long by today’s standards. A flight from Foynes to New York took 25 hours, 40 minutes.
Foynes is also the birthplace of Irish Coffee. The chef in the terminal’s coffee shop, Joe Sheridan, noticed how cold passengers were in the waiting room. He decided to warm everyone up by fortifying coffee with Irish whiskey. After we walked through the replica, we had a demonstration of how to make Irish Coffee, and my friend and I drank one. Boy, does it work.