Kinsale festival recognises achievements of pioneering Irish women pilots

Conference in Co Cork town recalled the achievements of many Irish women in the early days of aviation

The Irish women’s pioneering role of Irish women in world aviation was highlighted at the Kinsale Aviation Festival this weekend.

This included Nancy Corrigan, born on Achill Island in 1912. After emigrating to the US in 1929, she joined a modelling agency to pay for training to get her pilot licence.

She went on to train fighter pilots during the second World War and subsequently supervised 600 female flyers at St Stephen’s College, Columbia in the US.

Mary Westenra, later Lady Bailey, from Co Monaghan was an aviation mechanic with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps in the first World War and became the first woman to fly the Irish Sea in 1927.


The audience at the festival – which was backed by Goodbody Stockbrokers, the Irish Historic Flight Foundation and the Flying Poet cafe – heard that she twice won the Harmon Trophy for the world’s most outstanding aviatrix.

Mary Heath from Co Limerick was the first pilot to fly solo from Cape Town to London, a journey she completed over three months in an open-cockpit plane.

Ms Heath was also the first woman in Britain to hold a commercial flying licence, awarded in 1926 while she set altitude records and became the first female to parachute from an aircraft.

Lillian Bland, who moved here at the age of 22 in 1900 was the first woman to build and fly an airplane in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers first took off at Kittyhawk.

Catherine Gubbins, acting chief executive of State-owned airports company DAA, Anna Philips, senior air traffic controller, Rosemarie O’Leary, head of risk at aircraft lessor Avolon, and Mary Orr, retired US Air Force fighter pilot, discussed the challenges facing women in the industry with Goodbody’s head of research, Nuala McMahon.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Ireland, Gerasko Larysa, accepted this year’s aviation valour award on behalf of her country’s air force.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas