Sunday, March 08, 2015

Children's trip of a lifetime, 55 years ago

On June 29 1960, five schoolchildren from St Joseph's NS in Halverstown had the trip of their young lifetimes, writes Brian Byrne.

They went by Aer Lingus plane on a day trip to the Isle of Man, where they ate at the island's best hotel, and a coach tour of the small Celtic patch of land in the Irish Sea.

The five had been brought there by Kilcullen's parish priest, Fr Joseph Furlong, then known as the world's first priest to own and fly his own plane.

The former WW1 RAF chaplain had the year before come up with the idea of taking two children from the school on the trip. They had to earn it by having best attendance records, best school work, and best general behaviour.

Fr Furlong was paying for it out of his own pocket, and had given up his usual foreign holiday the previous year to fund it.

When the marks were added up, five children in the school were as close as made no difference, so he said 'we'll bring them all'. The five were James O'Byrne, Kilgowan; Eddie O'Neill, Killinane; Tommy Howard, Old Kilcullen; Kathleen Stapleton, Halverstown; and Sadie Howard, Old Kilcullen.

Fr Furlong also paid for the ticket for a journalist from one of the local papers to accompany the group on the trip, on which also went the school's two teachers, Patricia Tuohy and Angela Healy.

The journalist had previously visited the school in March, meeting the 28 pupils from whom the winners would be chosen. They were photographed eagerly waiting the result, with a model of a Super Constellation airliner parked on a desk.

The next photograph taken was of the party of 16 at the steps of the plane, including Fr Breen of Kilbride and local man Jim Maloney, with the captain and flight attendant (note in the caption of the picture, top, the name of Dublin Airport as 'Collinstown').

In the story about the trip, the journalist wrote of the children's eyes 'glistening with the thrill of flying'. "Their broad smiles told that they knew little of the nervousness of grown-ups," he noted.

On a trip of a lifetime, nervousness can find it difficult to butt in.

(This story is based on clippings saved by the late Nicky Myers of Main Street, who as an emigrant working in England kept scrapbooks about his much loved home town during the 50s and 60s that are a treasure throve of Kilcullen memory and history of the time. They are now in the Heritage Centre, and the Diary will be dipping into them regularly.)