Garry Ahern recalls the life of the noted Irish aviator and seaman who was commemorated in 1998 by an Irish postage stamp.


Ireland played a very significant role in the aerial conquest of the Atlantic, linking Europe with North America. This was particularly so concerning the more challenging east-west route, against prevailing winds and adverse navigational factors.

In 1928, Commandant James Fitzmaurice of the Irish Air Corps, with two Germans, Koehl and von Huenefeld, achieved the first east-west non-stop flight. They flew in the ‘Bremen’, from Baldonnel, near Dublin, to Newfoundland. While those brave flyers had achieved the historic non-stop east-west breakthrough, the plane was damaged when crash-landing on ice and was unable to be flown on to New York as intended.

Two years later, the pilot of the ‘Southern Cross’, famed Australian aviator, Charles Kingsford Smith, had an even greater goal in sight. With a soon-to-be-famous Irishman, Captain Paddy Saul, as navigator in the four-man crew, his plane took off from Portmarnock beach in north Co. Dublin, on June 24th. Over thirty hours later, low in fuel, the ‘Southern Cross’ landed at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.

They nearly didn’t make it, however, and the men, in addition to immense bravery, needed cool heads. In one near-disastrous period, in deep fog approaching Newfoundland, their combined resources, and in particular, the navigational skills of Paddy Saul, had been tested to the limit.

After Newfoundland, they flew on to New York, where the crew got a welcome to rival that given four decades later to the Apollo 11 astronauts, Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin. Later, they were received by President Hoover in a reception at the White House.

They were not yet finished with history-making, however, and they next flew the ‘Southern Cross’ from New York, via Chicago and Salt Lake City, to Oakland, near San Francisco, where they got a gala welcome on July 4th.

Two years earlier, Kingsford Smith had flown the ‘Southern Cross’ from Oakland, west across the Pacific to Australia. He subsequently flew it to Europe, in preparation for the Atlantic flight, and (hopefully), a continuation to California in completion of his circumnavigation.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own