Shannon memories in the spotlight

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by Bernie English

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The proud story of Ireland’s most historic airport has been evoked in a special photographic exhibition capturing some of the golden moments and world-famous faces that visited Shannon Airport.

Closing the curtain on a year of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the first commercial transatlantic flight into Shannon, or any land-based Irish airport, some 64 images drawn from the 1950s to the current decade have been assembled from archives and placed in a permanent exhibition on the walls of the airport’s transit lounge.

The exhibition, which was officially launched by Shannon Group Chairman Rose Hynes, includes some of the world’s best known personalities of politics, stage, screen and sport.

Famous faces/events captured in the exhibition include every US president from presidents John F Kennedy to Barack Obama; other global political and religious leaders such as Nelson Mandela, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Cuban President Fidel Castrol, Pope  John Paul II and the Dali Lama.

The exhibition includes movie stars such as Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole.  It also reaches into sport, with Mohammed Ali’s visit here also included, as is Irish boxer Andy Lee’s homecoming last year, the 2006 homecoming of Munster following their Heineken Cup victory and the single biggest crowd event of all at the airport – the homecoming of Clare’s 1995 All-Ireland winning team.

Rock stars also feature, with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen included.  The exhibition also illustrates Shannon’s continued international status, with many of the photos drawn from the current era, including the visits this year of Prince Charles and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, both of whom flew into Shannon this year.

Said Shannon Group Chairman Rose Hynes,  “This is a special moment for us as these photos remind us of the legacy that has been passed onto us at Shannon.  You can only imagine in the ‘40s, ’50s and ‘60s in the West of Ireland the excitement that would have abounded here with Hollywood stars arriving on such a regular basis.  We still have this happening today so the magic continues.  Shannon is at the heart of this region and this is one of the reasons why there’s great fondness for it.

“There are probably only a very small percentage of airports outside the US that have had every American President since John F Kennedy through its doors.”.

Special guests at the launch event for the exhibition included two men associated with a golden era of success at Shannon, former airport directors Liam Skelly and Michael Guerin. Also present was Anne Coyne (78) from Oranmore, who is captured in one of the iconic images in the exhibition, the 1950s photograph with Hollywood star Gene Kelly in the airport’s duty free – the first airport duty free shop in the world.

Said the Galway woman, “It’s great to be back.  Things have obviously changed a lot here and for the better but that was a great time.  I still remember that moment clearly.  Gene Kelly was dreamy and he almost floated around the place. You almost felt like you were in a movie when you were in his company that day.

“I’ve great memories of Shannon. It was a fantastic place to work. You were looked on as privileged if you worked here.”

Said Shannon Group CEO Neil Pakey,  “This exhibition just shows how much of a crossroads Shannon was and still is.  It’s part of the fabric of the region and of the nation and has been, and continues to be, the start and finish of so many great visits and so many great events.”