Clare’s Inishmacnaghton brings tranquility and tragedy


Aside from the constant boom in transatlantic jets passing over Shannon Airport, which is just up the road, the rural area of ​​Ballycalla in County Clare is a place as peaceful as anywhere in this country. The occasional tractor rolls, cows bask in the fields, and the Fergus River passes to merge with the Shannon. Social life is concentrated around St Conaire Church and the Honk Bar.

Inishmacnaghton is one of many spellings for this 285-acre island of Co Clare, which has seen many variations including Inchevicknaghten, Enishmcnaghten, and Inish Mhéic Neachtain. It is a flat island, exclusively agricultural, and rich in alluvial soils of the river. A short causeway connects it to the mainland, but is only accessible at low tide. A lonely house stands there today, like the little house on the meadow. However, the population was 12 in 1841.

In this tranquility, December 28, 1946 broke the worst nightmare of any airline passenger: a fatal accident. It has now been 75 years since the TWA flight from Paris to New York crashed near Shannon Airport.

People walk among the wreckage of the TWA ‘Star of Cairo’ flight near Shannon Airport in December 1946.

On approaching the airport, the Star of Cairo overstepped the runway and turned for a second attempt, but a faulty altimeter saw it flying very low. The wing touched down at Inishmacnaghton and the aircraft shattered on impact. Of the 23 people on board, 13 were killed. There were 14 passengers: nine French, four Americans and one Pole. The pilot, Herbert W Tansey, survived but lost a leg.

A report said: “The impact was so severe that the rear of the plane was shattered and died and survivors and pieces of the dead were thrown through the rupture. “

He went on to say that there had been a thunderous explosion, which rocked the windows of the airport, and flames roared 50 feet into the air.

Ballycalla man Mike Mulvihill says there are still locals alive who remember the terrible night. The bodies were transported across the narrow Fergus Canal to the Shannon Mortuary. The survivors were rushed to Ennis hospital.

The central part of the plane fared the worst, with the rear and cockpit both having survivors.

It took rescuers over two hours to reach the injured in the middle of the winter night, as Inishmacnaghton is flanked on one side by a moat-shaped river channel covered in mud.

“The way the dead and wounded were all taken out of the island into darkness is the greatest tribute to the noble and dedicated work of all the volunteers,” said one Dr O’Keeffe who attended the scene .

Among the dead were Peter Dreyfuss, whose father Alfred was the French artillery officer at the center of the infamous 1894 scandal that inspired novelist Emile Zola to write his famous article “J’Accuse”, pointing to the deep anti-Semitism within the French army. Alfred was transported to Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he was held for five years.

The officer who transmitted confidential French military information to the German embassy, ​​Esterhazy, has been exonerated. Pierre had gathered all of his father’s papers for publication.

One of the survivors was a schoolboy
Jean Claude Zelaznegora, whose mother perished in the disaster. “The next thing I knew was to be surrounded by flames. I found my mother and she knew she was doomed, ”the child told a newspaper.

Unable to speak English, Jean was treated by a local nurse, who has become a longtime friend of the family.

When Mike Mulvihill visited him in New York in 2016, the now elderly Jean told him it was his first contact with someone about the crash. He told Mike that he had built a new life for himself and that he had erased everything that came before him from his memory.

Flight attendant Kay Ferguson of New York has been credited with preventing further loss of life. “Because of her, we were prepared for the worst when the worst happened,” said one survivor.

Unlike other air disasters in Ireland, there is no memorial to TWA Flight 6963 which crashed in Inishmacnaghton.

How to get there: 2 km west of Shannon Airport, but privately owned.

Other: logainm.ie; “An Officer and a Spy,” Robert Harris, Arrow Books, 2014.


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