Monday 26 August 2019

Quinn's plan to cross Irish Sea by balloon never got off ground

Adventurer: Feargal Quinn in his balloon with Malcolm Brighton and Paul Ennis, but the bad weather put pay to their attempt
Adventurer: Feargal Quinn in his balloon with Malcolm Brighton and Paul Ennis, but the bad weather put pay to their attempt
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Since news of his death broke, Superquinn founder Feargal Quinn has been praised for his incredible influence on Irish business and political prowess - but he has also been remembered as an intrepid adventurer.

In January 1970, Mr Quinn decided to attempt flying a gas-filled balloon from his supermarket car park in Sutton, Dublin, to Morecambe Bay in Britain. He was attempting to be the first person to cross the Irish Sea by balloon, with previous attempts at the crossing going as far back as 1785.

It was dubbed 'The Greatest Supermarket Promotion Ever' and was expected to take seven-and-a-half hours to complete. Due to take off in the "largest balloon in the world" along with Mr Quinn was English balloon designer Malcolm Brighton and Dubliner Paul Ennis.

Mr Ennis told the Irish Independent their record-breaking attempt unfortunately met a number of obstacles.

"Feargal launched his project in his inimitable style with a massive in-store competition where customers could win exciting prizes, including holidays, domestic appliances, even a caravan, in the build-up to the flight," he said.

"The customs in both countries got very anxious about the flight and had to be totally convinced that it was not an attempt to smuggle."

They were raring to go, when late one night the balloon was stolen from the supermarket car park. It was later found by gardaí at Howth Head undamaged, and their record-breaking mission was still on.

But if someone stealing the balloon doesn't stop you, Irish weather most certainly will.

"In February, the weather once again turned foul and it was decided to deflate the balloon. During this action, Malcolm Brighton was overcome by escaping gas and spent an uncomfortable night in hospital."

Mr Ennis said he remembers Mr Quinn "with affection".

"We were young men - he was about 33, I was 23 and he would impart nuggets of advice and wisdom to me. The one I remember most came from his father, Eamonn, who said 'always open your shop on the sunny side of the street, shoppers will cross over to the sunny side'."

Irish Independent

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