Imagine stepping on board a plane and instead of seeing row upon row of seats, you see a cabin broken into sections, each holding no more than a dozen passengers. In one section sit dining tables, complete with linen cloths, while another section replaces half of the available seating with bunk beds. The ‘first class cabin’ is not a cabin at all, but a private suite at the rear of the plane, with space to relax and enjoy your flight.
The Foynes Flying Boat Museum takes you back to the time of the ‘flying boat’, from 1939 to 1945, before land planes became the norm and flying lost its elegance.
Visiting the Foynes Flying Boat Museum
The ‘flying boats’ needed a deep harbour for take off and landing, and the Shannon Estuary proved to be the perfect spot. Charles Lindbergh, who planned the commercial routes for Pan American (Pan Am), chose Shannon to be the permanent west European airport. But until the permanent airport could be built, a temporary airport was put in place at Foynes, near the mouth of the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick.
Located in the original Terminal Building, a visit to the Flying Boat Museum is an interesting lesson in aviation history. A short introductory film in the authentic 1940’s theater holds your attention as it offers a brief overview of the history of Atlantic flight. Past the theater doors the exhibits are plentiful. Documents, photographs, newspaper clipping, clothing, tableware, even the complete Weather and Radio Room, vie for your attention.
Now, it’s likely the kids won’t be as fascinated by this history as you are. My daughters gave it a fair shot, interested for a few minutes, but not nearly long enough for me to read the clippings and imagine what flying mus have been like so very long ago.
Thankfully the next exhibit held their attention quite a long time. And gave me a chance to sneak back into the exhibits to indulge my own interests.
Flight Simulators at the Flying Boat Museum
Hands on exhibits are the way to keep kids interested, and the flight simulators at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum will keep kids entertained for quite a while. Whether sitting ‘in the cockpit’ of the B314, or trying out the ‘Myths of Flight’ simulators, my girls were fascinated with the act of flying planes. And, sadly, they were much better at it than I.
An entire section, devoted to “How do planes fly?”, plane design and wind tunnels even gave this adult (and nervous flier) some much needed education.
Step Aboard a Flying Boat
Sadly, no Boeing 314 Flying Boats survive, the majority having been destroyed or scrapped. At the Foynes Flying Boat Museum you can step into the only full size Boeing 314 replica in the world. Though smaller than the jet you likely arrive on, the 314 feels larger, more spacious, and, despite the flimsy looking chairs and thin cushions, much more comfortable to ride in.
Take your time here. Climb to the cockpit and see the controls. Explore the navigation and radio room. Sit in the chairs. Maybe even try out that bottom bunk bed. And try not to compare your recent flight to what a flight on the Yankee Clipper must have been like.
The Maritime Museum
After your tour of the replica don’t bypass the door to the Maritime Museum upstairs. This small, but very well done museum, offers a glimpse into the maritime history of the River Shannon.
From here take the elevator to the very top of the building for a bit of Foynes history in the ‘crows nest’. Step onto the walkway and get a birds eye view of Foynes.
The Birthplace of Irish Coffee
Coming back to the first floor, enter the O’Regan Restaurant, where Irish Coffee was created on a cold winter night in 1943 by Chef Joe Sheridan. Now the official welcome drink of Ireland, the O’Regan Restaurant at Foynes still serves the best Irish Coffee to be found, so be sure to have a cup before you leave. (Or order a tasty hot chocolate for the kids.)