Wrong-way Corrigan and other wonders

Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, perhaps not the fool the Press thought he was at the time.

Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, perhaps not the fool the Press thought he was at the time.

Early morning July 17 1938, Douglas Corrigan, a young aviator, climbed into a small and rather battered nine-year old Curtiss Robin monoplane, at Brooklyn airfield New York. He was cleared to fly to California. It was a misty overcast morning. Instead of turning east, he headed out over the Atlantic. Twenty-eight hours later, surviving on two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and a few gallons of water, he landed in Baldonnel airport, Dublin, to everyone’s amazement. He was immediately christened ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, and the world press loved him. The New York Post printed its headline back to front to join in the fun. Especially as it emerged that Corrigan’s plane had many modifications made to it, including two large petrol tanks strapped in front of the cockpit, allowing him to only see out sideways. One of the tanks leaked on the way over. He had to slash a hole in the floor to allow the fuel out.

But had he really made a mistake? Corrigan was a brilliant aircraft mechanic who had helped build the famous Spirit of St Louis for Charles Lindbergh’s flight to Paris 11 years previously. Lindbergh had a specially constructed plane for his journey, lavish backing, and friends to help him at every turn. Corrigan, on the other hand, had nothing but his own ambition, courage, and ability; and a wretched-looking jalopy. Maybe he just had a point to make about flying the Atlantic.

1938 was an eventful year. Despite the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s assurance that all would be well, negotiations with Hitler were breaking down. Distractions like the Corrigan story were welcome. There were others. The big movie of the day was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Orson Welles created panic with his realistic radio play War of the Worlds. Galway were All-Ireland Football Champions, beating Kerry 2-4 to 0-7. Dublin won the hurling title, beating Waterford by 2-5 to 1-6.

Dr Douglas Hyde was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland. In a year that we might agree to ditch Seanad Éireann, it met for the first time in 1938. And in Clarinbridge a new church, built and paid for by the local community, was officially blessed and opened. It stands on an elevated position yet it does not dominate. Its design incorporates a softer classical line allowing the building to appear as guardian over the cluster of homes and businesses of one of the most attractive villages in Galway. It was a very proud day for the people of Clarinbridge.

The Reddingtons

Last Summer The Church of the Annunciation, Clarinbridge, celebrated its 75th anniversary, and an interesting book, edited by broadcaster and writer John Quinn, was published as an addition to many events to honour the occasion. The book (on sale at Charlie Byrne’s €10 ) is a treasure trove of memories and stories of the village and people. The land for the church, known locally as Silke’s Wood, was given by the Reddington family, a particularly generous landlord family in the 19th century when times were not only hard but cruel. They recognised that education would help their tenants’ children to at least achieve a better quality of life, and skills for work either locally or in other lands. They persuaded the Patrician Brothers to establish a monastery and school in the village. There were many benefits from this gesture. The brothers later walked into Galway town, and established their famous ‘Mon’, at Market Street. It was opened to the poor boys of the parish. A feature of the school was that a good hot breakfast, bread, porridge, and tea, was first provided before lessons began.

Similarly the Sisters of Charity were invited to cater for the education of girls. The Reddingtons built a convent and school for them which opened in 1844, at the substantial cost of £7,664. Skills and crafts, such as knitting, were also introduced. These schools served as bulwarks, and refuges during the terrible times of the Great Famine.

Hard work

Fr Egbert O’Dea remembers as a small boy the plays and concerts staged to raise funds for the new church. ‘I remember Liam Corcoran singing a rebel song, with the intriguing title: ‘Is the priest at home and can he be seen?’ He remembers the local farmers clearing the site at Silkes’ Wood. His father, Tom O’Dea and Jim Burns, clearing away the timber in their horse and cart. ‘The builder was Owen Larkin from Ballinasloe. I was an altarboy on the big day. It was a great day for the village. It put life into the parish.’

Michael Thornton recalls the huge work done in clearing the site. Digging out the roots of a big beech tree was a tough job. Raising money for the church was hard work too. There were dances in Kilcornan. Joe Greally wanted to run a dance for the hurling club but Canon McHugh said no. “ Oh ,” said Joe, “ yes for the church but no for the hurling club!”

Fr Martin Keane tells his interesting memories. The building for the church went on from 1936 to 1938. ‘ Water was drawn from the river by horse and cart. He could see a ‘gang of men mixing mortar, laying blocks, climbing the scaffolding. Everyone watched the gradual building of the church with great interest and pride.

He was 16 years old at the time. He lived on a farm at Maree with his parents and only other sibling, his sister Mary. Mary entered the convent at Loughrea. Martin continued farming and looking after his ageing parents until he was 58 years of age.‘I got my vocation to serve God. Bishop Casey accepted me. I studied in St Patrick’s College, Thurles. Even though I only had primary education, I passed all my exams.’

Fr Martin spent five years as curate in Kinvara; 10 years as curate in Gort, and for the past 13 years, is still chaplain at Kilcornan. On a visit to Medjugorge he discovered that he had a gift of healing. ‘I am very privileged to be a priest, and very rewarding to be a healer.’

Mary Keane remembers that at a sale-of-work to raise funds her mother bought her a ball-frame, which she thought was the best thing ever. She was only five years old at the time. But the big attraction for herself and her brother was the bell tower. Her brother drove them all mad asking to go and ring the bell.

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