Story of Achill’s trailblazing aviator Nancy Corrigan for TG4

Nancy Corrigan ready to take to the sky at the Kendall Trophy Race in 1948.

Nancy Corrigan ready to take to the sky at the Kendall Trophy Race in 1948.

A new documentary charting the extraordinary story of an Achill emigrant who became one of Amercia’s most elite female aviators in the 1940s and the first woman to train male fighter pilots in World War II is to be broadcast on TG4 on Tuesday, January 6.

The twists and turns of Nancy Corrigan’s life are worthy of the plot line of a Hollywood movie and the retelling of that story in the documentary Nancy Corrigan - Spéirbhean Acla is sure to make for some compelling viewing.

Born in Owenduff in 1914, Corrigan was just 17 when she left her home in Owenduff to start a new life in Cleveland, Ohio, in the late 1920s.

As a young child, Corrigan had lost her father, a railway worker, in a tragic train accident on the Great Western line.

Her mother Maggie was left impoverished to bring up her four young daugthers.

Almost certainly facing a lifetime of poverty, Corrigan took her fate firmly into her own hands and set off for America.

Many of her peers at that time in Cleveland would have worked as maids for wealthy American families but Corrigan had an altogether different plan.

She wanted to fly.

To fund her aviation training, she launched a career as a model with the prestigious New York agency Powers, where she held her own alongside some of Hollywood’s leading starlets of the day.

She was recruited by the US army during World War II and became one of the first women to train male cadets at Spartan College.

Later in her career, Corrigan took part in high speed flying races and realised one her greatest ambitions when she competed in the prestigious Kendall Trophy Race at the Cleveland Air Races in 1948.

Her trailblazing did not end there.

Corrigan went on to become the first woman to head up the aviation department at Kansas University in 1950.

“Throughout the course of her career, Nancy obtained virtually every aviation certificate known at the time,” outlined Eimear Healy, producer at Crossmolina production company GMarsh TV, the maker of the documentary.

“This is a real feel-good story, full of woman’s heart, about a girl who emigrated from poverty in Achill in 1929 and who wasn’t content to be a maid for the rest of her life.”

The film begins with stunning footage of the Greenway between Mulranny and Achill Sound, where Nancy was born, and also includes original, rarely seen, footage of Corrigan competing in the Cleveland Air Races in 1948.

Nancy’s 80-year-old nephew, Bart Kilbane and pilot Bill Witt, whom she trained, are interviewed on the documentary along with Nan Gaylord, a pilot and former Powers model, and Kim Jones, an aviation historian in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Nancy Corrigan - Spéirbhean Acla airs at 9.30pm on TG4 on January 6.

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