Transport Infrastructure in Mayo


Castlebar Airport

Castlebar has a long history of aviation. William Munnelly of Castlebar and James Mee of Mullingar, who later settled in Castlebar, were among the members of the Royal Flying Corps, forerunners of the Royal Air Corps, who landed regularly in Castlebar during the First World War. After the war, pleasure flights came into vogue and this interest eventually developed into Castlebar Regional Airport. In August 1966, a private airport at Castlebar, with a landing strip of over half a mile long, was opened with the financial backing of two Mayo brothers, Peter and Hugh Ryan.

A four-seater plane, chartered by Bobby Smith and Frank Gill of the Royal Blues Showband from Claremorris, was the first to land on the new airstrip. Some years later, in 1972, the first transatlantic flight took off from Castlebar.

A transatlantic flight from Castlebar had first been attempted on 28 August 1927. Undertaken by Terry Tully from Carracastle, an experienced pilot of the Royal Flying Corps, he flew a sponsored flight from London – Ontario – London in the John Carling airplane. Unfortunately, the flight never made its destination and the crew and craft disappeared without trace.

Belmullet Airstrip

In November 1978, the first small plane landed on the 640 m (700 yards) airstrip at Belmullet.

This community-sponsored airstrip was taken over in the early 1980s by Udarás na Gaeltacht, which had been supportive of the project from the start. The local community had worked with Udarás to purchase 5 hectares (12 acres) of land for the airport, which was initially intended as a means of attracting industrial investors to the area. In recent years, it has contributed to the development of a growing tourist trade.

Knock Airport

The most remarkable, and indeed most controversial development in the history of aviation in Mayo, was the building of Knock/Horan International Airport. This remarkable airport was pioneered by a Monsignor James Horan (1912-86), a local clergyman, who saw it as a development essential to the future of the west of Ireland. He argued that smaller airports were for wealthy people, whereas regional and international airports enabled large passenger jets to carry ordinary people at lower rates, more frequently and over longer distances. From the outset, some commentators poured scorn on the idea of an international airport being built on a "foggy, boggy site" in Mayo and predicted that the local fauna would be enriched by the addition of a white elephant!

The visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979 was the catalyst for the idea. Shortly afterwards a meeting was held in Knock, chaired by Monsignor Horan, who proposed the idea of building a new airport instead of the planned extension of Castlebar airport which would be limited because of its location between the railway line and the Castlebar-Claremorris road. A committee was formed, a feasibility study carried out and a site between Charlestown and Kilkelly selected. The first sod was turned on May 2nd 1981. Originally it was planned to build a runway of 6,000 feet but the airport was completed with a runway of 8,100 feet, capable of handling 747s.

The inaugural flight bringing pilgrims from Knock to Rome took place in November 1985 and the official opening some months later on 30 May 1986. Tragically, Monsignor Horan did not live to see the impact of the airport on the region. He died in Lourdes in August 1986, a few months after the official opening of the airport. His remains were the first to be flown home to the new international airport.

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