Major James C. Fitzmaurice

James Fitzmaurice was born on 6th January 1898. He was the son of Michael and Mary Fitzmaurice and the family lived on Dublin's North Circular Road, moving to Portlaoise when James was three years old. He was educated in the local Christian Brothers School where he only barely managed to pass his examinations. At fifteen years of age he was sent to a school in Waterford to study business. He was unable to settle there and as a result of bad behaviour he was expelled and sent home to his parents. An adventurer at heart, in 1914 James attempted to join the British Army while still underage. His parents found out, however, and alerted the Irish National Volunteers to the fact that their son was only fifteen years old and James's first attempt at a military career was ended. The great war raging in Europe proved to have a great effect on the young Fitzmaurice though and once again he enlisted as a trooper, this time in a cavalry regiment of the British Army, the 17th Lancers.

He quickly settled into army life and was promoted to the rank of corporal almost immediately upon completing his training. When he was just seventeen years of age, a clerical error meant James was transferred to the war front in France. Rather than protesting at the mistake, he relished the chance for action. His enthusiasm for war, however, quickly evaporated as he experienced its awful reality. He hated lying in the trenches, especially at night time, and would volunteer for any dangerous missions to be undertaken. This helped establish his reputation as a brave young officer. At the age of eighteen, Fitzmaurice held the rank of acting sergeant. At this time men were being recruited to train as pilots in the Royal Flying Corps. Fitzmaurice volunteered and his application was accepted. Shortly afterwards he was selected to fly as copilot on the world's first night airmail flight between Folkstone and Cologne, which was a great success.

In December 1919 Fitzmaurice was demobilised from the Royal Air Force and returned to civilian life. He worked for an insurance company for a while, but returned to the RAF in June 1921 on a short service commission. In 1919 Fitzmaurice had married Violet Clarke and in May 1921 she gave birth to their first child, Patricia. James was on a shortlist for RAF service in India. With his new family, and events in Ireland, he was more interested in returning to his homeland than in going to India. In 1922 he resigned from the RAF and returned to Ireland. Shortly after his arrival, on learning of the formation of the Irish Army Air Service, Fitzmaurice presented himself to the Commanding Officer at Baldonnel and he was commissioned with the rank of lieutenant.

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By | 2013-06-11 18:47:14

Portlaoise, Birthplace of Aviation in the Republic of Ireland

During a recent holiday in the south of England I joined a party of enthusiasts on a visit to Filching Manor Motor Museum, Jevington Road, Near Polegate, BN26 5QA, East Sussex. At the start of the tour, over coffee in the Medieval Manor, the proprietor, Karl Foulkes-Halbard, explained that his museum exhibits were rather extraordinary in that without exception they were all record breakers, winners or historical firsts of one type or another. And what a magnificent collection we were then privileged to see and, amazingly, there among Sir Malcolm Campbellís Bluebird K3 in which he took the water-speed record on Lake Maggiore on 1st September 1937; several Campbell cars; Fangioís very own racing car; a selection of other cars including Bugattis, Mercedes and a Formula 1 winner; various record-breaking motor cycles and boats was the exhibit that really set my pulse racing, the 1912 Portlaoise Aeroplane on which my father, William Rogers, had worked, the FIRST Plane to be manufactured and flown in the now Republic of Ireland by Aldritts of Portlaoise or Maryborough as it was 100 years ago in 1912. What a thrill it was for me to see the massive wings with the two main spars in each wing consisting of rather large round bamboo poles to which a total of 15 cross-members or ribs of a lightweight timber are attached - the canvas covering having long since gone. The fuselage too, minus its outer covering of course , is in remarkably good condition, complete with tail assembly, cockpit, seat, rudder bar and pedals. The complete aircraft including both large wings and fuselage well preserved after 100 years and would be easy to restore to its original condition. As I come from Portlaoise this was a wonderful sight to behold. I remember as a schoolboy at CBS Tower Hill seeing daily a propeller over the entrance to the old Aldritt works, corner of Railway St & Tower Hill. My father told me to what it related and now Iíve seen the aircraft to which it belonged, a craft that was powered by an engine also designed by Aldritts. Karl Foulkes-Halbard recalled the aeroplane arriving on a big lorry from Portlaoighise, as he termed it, about 35 years ago to their then abode at Crowborough,between Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne, Sussex. His late father, Paul Foulkes-Halbard, had a keen interest in early aviation, and in answer to questions from the party, Karl reckoned that they had actually saved the plane and he would personally love to restore it, time and money permitting, and all other on-going restorations completed. The party wondered, as indeed I did, as to why this rare craft which had put Portlaoise on the map as the birthplace of Southern Irish aviation, had not been restored there. ( There had been an earlier flight in Belfast by Harry Ferguson but that is reported as British and it only flew 130 yards whereas the Portlaoise plane, Irish to the core, flew several hundred yards over the great Heath of Maryborough which was used for take offs and landings. I wonder how many people in Portlaoise are aware of this momentous happening in their relatively recent history? The year of 2012 has been all about Titanicís centenary and without wanting to detract from it being celebrated and remembered with tv programmes, a special boat sailing and a film, 2012 was also the centenary of the Portlaoise Aeroplane, but how many in Portlaoise know of it? Surely, in the interests of attracting tourists which are sadly lacking in Laois, there should be a life-sized model of a Flying Machine in the Market Square with a plaque recording its history and the names of the men of vision such as Louis Aldritt and Billy Rogers who made a dream come through. Also some memento on the great Heath, that lovely expanse of open country, to highlight and keep in mind those daring young men in their flying machines. You should have been with us to witness the interest of the visitors and their sheer amazement at the ingenuity and inventiveness and downright bravery of these early aviators.