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Sod-turning remembered 75 years on

A MILESTONE moment in the history of Shannon Airport has been celebrated with the planting of an oak tree to mark the 75th anniversary of the beginning of construction work at the airport site at Rineanna.
Airport executive and staff members, as well as Shannon Airport Authority chairman, Brian O’Connell were on hand for the symbolic planting of the tree to mark the 75th anniversary of the original sod-turning at Shannon on October 8, 1936.
The oak sapling was planted near the final roundabout approaching the airport, not far from the spot where 75 years ago this week just over a dozen workers gathered for the first time to begin work at Shannon Airport.
Acting Shannon Airport director, Niall MacCarthy said given Shannon’s rich aviation history it was appropriate to mark the beginning of the airport’s construction by honouring the work of the men who planned and built the airport.
“Little did the men who broke ground for the first time at what were then mudflats on the Rineanna Peninsula think that this spot would quickly become a key airport for transatlantic travel,” he recalled.
While construction of Shannon began 75 years ago this week, the first passenger flights did not take place until the summer of 1939 and Shannon will celebrate its 75th birthday proper in 2014.
Mr O’Connell paid tribute to the efforts of those who had planned, designed and built the airport.
“Shannon was the first transatlantic gateway between the US and Europe and the birthplace of duty free. Shannon Airport gave rise to the Shannon Free Zone and as recently as 2009, it was still making history when it became the first airport outside North America to secure preclearance for the US. None of that would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the original construction workers and planners,” said Mr O’Connell.
“We are extremely fortunate to have had such a strategic piece of infrastructure on our doorstep to help drive the economy over the decades. It is only right that in looking back on the past with this anniversary, we can also look forward again, after a difficult recent period, with renewed confidence for Shannon Airport and the key role it will continue to play in this region long into the future.”
Shannon Airport, covering about 2,000 acres and based in the townland of Rineanna, is unique both in its location and its place in the history of world aviation and the airport itself.
Transatlantic aviation in the Shannon Estuary had commenced with a seaplane based across the estuary at Foynes but in October 1935, the Irish Government took a decision to initiate a survey “to find suitable bases for the operation of seaplanes and landplanes on a transatlantic service”.
The survey ultimately arrived at Rineanna as the preferred option for landplanes. The first passenger aircraft to land at Rineanna, a Sabena Savoia Merchetti, was in July 1939.
World War II delayed the development of the new airport, which was subsequently renamed Shannon. During the war, Imperial Airways, the forerunner to BOAC and later British Airways, operated flights into Shannon from Bristol, to coincide with the flying boats operating to and from Foynes.
By the mid ’40s, use of flying boats to carry commercial flights was dying out and by 1946, the airboat facility at Foynes was closed.
On October 24, 1945, the first scheduled commercial flight flew into Shannon, as an American Overseas Airlines (AOA) DC4 landed from the United States. In 1945, Shannon also began receiving scheduled aircraft from Trans World Airways (TWA) and Pan American Airways (Pan AM).

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