Crash in Connemara

My eyes teared up, wind whipped through helmet covered hair and white knuckled hands grabbed the handlebar as I bounced across the ground. I was moving fast. Beneath me a machine on which I had but a few minutes experience. The countryside rushed by. This could end badly!

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Hitting the ground
It did some might say for the Alcock & Brown who’s adventure began in the mid-afternoon in Newfoundland (Canada). Their journey lasted about 17 hours ending with a birds-eye view of Connemara. They saw a green field and brought the twin-engined Vickers Vimy IV in for landing. The touch-down was perhaps too soft and the aircraft came to a stop so sudden that it broke apart. They had been bogged down in the waterlogged peat fields that make up much of this part or Ireland. The pilots walked away unharmed and £10,000 richer. Perhaps not worth the trouble today but they went down in the history books having completed the first non-stop Transtlantic flight almost a decennia ago on 15 June 1919.

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Luckily I was on a predictable surface and the breaks on my borrowed mountain bike slowed me gently to a stop. Ahead, at the end of a wooden walkway, a white painted cone stood out of the surrounding bog lands. The somewhat futuristic, yet odd shaped, concrete contraption marks the spot where Alcock & Brown landed after their record breaking flight. The vista from the monument is low rolling hills and water surfaces tied together by boglands. At the horizon taller hills disappear into mist.

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Instant communication
One might wonder why they decided to land here? But there was a method to their “madness” as this was also the place where Marconi a dozen years prior had set up the first Trans-Atlantic wireless transmission station. So upon arrival, instead of reaching into their pockets for their smart phones, dialling a number off a touch screen Alcock & Brown had to take a walk.

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I rolled downhill, passed grazing sheep, along what was once a narrow gauge railway carrying material and peat throughout the extensive Marconi station. Not much more that foundations are left today but several informative plaques are set up to educate.

Alcock & Brown found their way towards the tallest mound around. There workers cranked up 150 000 W of power and beamed some of it through wires suspended from wooden towers 60 meter off the ground to send the message of Alcock & Browns arrival back to Glace bay in Nova Scotia.

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Today, standing atop the hill looking out over the Atlantic Ocean in one direction and the foundations of razed buildings in the opposite give a bit of perspective on time and place. With the help of historical pictures exhibited at information posts around one can imagine and sense the site which is no more. The Marconi station became a casualty of the Irish Independence war on 25 July 1922 when it was fired upon and burned as “a British concern”. Thereafter it was looted and much of the equipment sold off as scrap.

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It is in this day and age mindboggling to get the head around that it took the power of six peat (dug up right here) fired steam generators to generate the 15000 Volt and hundreds of workers to in essence send a tweet a decennium ago. Returning to my reality it is after a few reinvigorating hours out on peat pasture time to peddle back to the parking lot. With or without the help of my smartphone’s Google maps I am happy to live in the now.

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This visit was arranged by Failte Ireland. Transport by Kerry Coaches and bike tour by Allthingsconnemara. Experiences and pictures by WonderingViking.