Friday 23 March 2018

The man who turned a western bog into an international airport

It's 25 years since Knock's opening capped off an extraordinary priest's life, writes Damian Corless

Damian Corless

They said it couldn't be done, but 25 years ago, on May 30, 1986, a new airport opened on a flattened-out strip of Mayo bogland. It has had several names in that quarter century. The current one is Ireland West, but to most people it's always been plain Knock Airport.

Times were bleak in May 1986. Ireland was the jobs blackspot of Europe, and Connacht the jobs blackspot of Ireland. Big employers in Belmullet, Castlebar and Westport were shedding jobs, the summer season was starting but hotels were shutting, and small enterprises were going to the wall.

But one man was convinced he knew what was needed to stop the rot, and for the previous six years he'd pressed his cause with missionary zeal. In 1979 Monsignor James Horan had pulled off the Catholic coup of the century when he enticed Pope John Paul II to visit his parish church at Knock.

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