Monday 18 December 2017

Flashback: The tragic journey of an Irish aviator

Maurice Scally, centre
Maurice Scally, centre
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

85 years ago this weekend a young Irish aviator, Maurice Scally, began an ambitious journey from Ireland that was intended to pass over exotic destinations like Naples, Tripoli, Cairo and the Syrian Desert before finishing in Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). Tragically, the journey was cut short just three days later when the plane became trapped in an air pocket over France and Scally died.

Originally from Tullamore, Scally was an aviation enthusiast and member of the Irish Aero Club. He had only obtained his pilot’s license six months prior to this journey after a short and intense training course at Baldonnel. He was the first Irish pilot to apply to the Department of External Affairs for permission to fly to a foreign country.

His round-the-world trip was originally intended as a ‘race’ with his friend G.A. Barron-Boshell, who was in fact in India at the time of the trip. Scally had intended making the return journey via Delhi perhaps to see his friend, who sent a telegram on the morning of his departure wishing him luck. Scally was to make the journey alone and set about ordering his plane.

Nicknamed the Shamrocket 1 the Comper Swift plane was described as one of the smallest planes in the world at the time. Painted green, white and orange it carried enough fuel and oil for an 800-mile cruise and had a cruising speed of 120 miles per hour.

Scally poses with the revolver he packed onto his plane, the Shamrocket 1
Scally poses with the revolver he packed onto his plane, the Shamrocket 1

The Irish Independent reported that the tiny aircraft was so small “that one got the impression that it was built around its pilot, who had just enough room to enter and leave”. When seated in the cockpit it was possible to touch the ground on either side with the hands.

Scally told the Irish Independent that the plane also held an emergency tank of water and he intended to take extra food supplies in case of landing in the desert or jungle- and a revolver with ammunition.

Scally’s much talked about venture was said to have been purely personal but in a curious twist it was revealed that his journey was, at least in part, a secret mission. The day after Scally departed the Irish Independent reported:

“The secret of the flight has been well maintained, but an Irish Independent representative is now in a position to announce that Mr Scally is undertaking the flight on a secret mission on behalf of Hospital’s Trust, Ltd.”

Scally with his plane the Shamrocket 1
Scally with his plane the Shamrocket 1

On the morning of February 18, 1932 Scally took off from Gloucester Street in Dublin city centre. He had hoped to fly from the thoroughfare of O’Connell Street, which would have been quite the spectacle, but was restricted due to fog. He flew to Baldonnel Aerodrome and from there began his journey to Ceylon, heading first for Croydon then to Paris and onto Marseilles. From France he was due to fly over Italy and onward across Africa.

Scally had made a forced landing in Slough near Buckinghamshire due to engine trouble and the landing had damaged the tail skid of his plane. The aircraft was repaired and Scally set off toward Paris.

Scally and the Shamrocket 1
Scally and the Shamrocket 1

On February 21 he left Lyon Aerodrome but it was an hour later that his small craft was caught in an air pocket that caused the plane to crash. Scally was taken to hospital but died of his injuries. Scally was engaged at the time to Maud Forester who attended his funeral with James Scally, his brother, near Marseilles.

Information is relatively scant about the aviator known as M.G.A Scally but this pretty astonishing story shows a man who was ambitious, determined and brave to a fault. On the day of departure Scally revealed he was already planning a second trip, this time leaving from Canada and flying across North and South America.

Scally sits as a friends signs his plaster cast
Scally sits as a friends signs his plaster cast

At the time of his death Scally was flying with a plaster cast on his leg having broken it during a test flight on Thursday, January 7. By that Sunday he was flying again. Clearly not to be held back by the minor inconvenience of a broken bone, Scally is pictured grinning as a friend signs his cast on the day he made his momentous, but sadly shortly short-lived, journey.

Visit Independent Archives to see more historic Irish photos, all available as high quality prints

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