FROM THE ARCHIVES:Ireland West Airport, popularly known as Knock airport, was officially opened 25 years ago after much controversy, and the opposition of the Fine Gael-Labour government of the day. Michael Finlan was there on a very wet day to see the Fianna Fáil leader, Charles Haughey, perform the ceremony. – JOE JOYCE
NO MIRACLE occurred to dispel the black rain clouds that hung like funeral drapes over Barnacuig in east Mayo all day yesterday, but what was happening down below was miracle enough.
The airport that emerged from a stripped-away bog – known by now to the world as Knock airport – was at last officially declared open, and all the lashing rain in the world could not wash away the triumph of the occasion.
Like pilgrims climbing a holy mountain, some 4,000 people, mostly the sons and daughters of Mayo, ascended the plateau of Barnacuig to watch the historic ceremony performed by one of their own – Charlie Haughey.
“The people of Ireland have taken this enterprise to their hearts in a way that does not often happen,” said Charlie. “They have done so because it represents a victory for local effort over central bureaucracy: a triumph of personal achievement against all the odds.”
By his side was the man who beat all those odds – Monsignor James Horan, the 74-year-old parish priest of the Marian shrine village of Knock, 12 miles to the south. “This is the greatest thing that has happened in Connacht in the last 100 years and this is the greatest day of my life,” he said. The crowd, standing without a care in the downpour, cheered their approval to the heavens.
Charlie said: “From Barnacuig today we send forth a message which is of significance to the entire nation. It is a message of triumph over adversity, of difficulties overcome, of critics confounded.”
While the rain didn’t succeed in sabotaging the event, it caused problems. Of three British Air Ferries flights carrying Mayo exiles home from England for the celebration, only the one from Manchester succeeded in landing at Knock: the others were diverted to Shannon. No flights by large aircraft could take off at all because of the low-lying cloud cap, and the Mayo football team and supporters bound for London had to be driven to Shannon to catch an outbound flight.
However, 19 small aircraft flew in and out of the airport with ease, including the six-seater from Dublin that carried Mr Haughey, his wife Maureen, Brian Lenihan, Fianna Fáil press spokesman PJ Mara and the poet Paul Durcan, commissioned by Mr Haughey to write a poem about the airport.
How was it all done? Monsignor Horan explained: “There’s Life [sic] Aid and Sport Aid and Self Aid: the people of Mayo have been practising self-aid for generations, otherwise they would have disappeared.” He had an explanation for all the rain, too. “I was in Dublin all morning,” he said, “but if I had been here, I can assure Mr Haughey there would have been no rain.”