The Last of the First

 (The Last Part of Amelia Earhart's Solo Flight Across the Atlantic, took her to and over Ireland.  I've seen little said about her route when she needed to land because of the trouble she was experiencing. From the limited information I've come across, an attempt's been made to chart her path in the air, to find a place to come down.)

       Today we are left wondering what happened to Amelia Earhart when she was attempting to fly around the world in 1937.  She disappeared someplace in the Pacific while she and her navigator Fred Noonan were flying from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island.  They were using radio navigation on their heading toward Howland and something went wrong, and sadly they were lost.   It was tragic ending.  She might've been lost in the ocean.  She might've gotten down but was never found.  It seems we lack information on her exact position over the vast waters of the Pacific―and, of course, a knowledge of her route.

      It also seems we lack some exact information about her final path over Ireland in 1932, to set down when she had a dangerous situation aboard during her solo flight from Harbor Grace.   She flew some distance over Ireland before she got down.   One would think that people of that time would've pieced together her route over Ireland, but I've only seen limited information.  If there is full information out there, I don't know of its whereabouts.  If not, the facts are lost to us. 

     In a final chapter of Amelia Earhart's book, The Fun of It, she wrote the following, a few days after her historic flight (bylined London, May 25, 1932): “...the last two hours were the hardest.   My exhaust manifold was vibrating very badly, and then I turned on the reserve tanks and found the gauge leaking. I decided that I should come down at the very nearest place, wherever it was. I had flown a set compass course all night. Now I changed to due east and decided to head for Ireland. I did not wish to miss the tip of Ireland and the weather was such I couldn't see very far.”

Amelia thought that she hit Ireland about the middle. But, in fact, she made landfall at Teelin Head, the westernmost point of the county of Donegal in upper Ireland.  Teelin Head, also known as Malinmore Head, projects out into the Atlantic from a peninsula washed by the Donegal Bay on the south and by another bay on the north. On the underside of the peninsula, are the cliffs known as “Slieve League, described as among the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

On a map, much of the coastline of Donegal, is notched in, in an irregular sort of way.  One viewing a map of Ireland not too largely shown might see some likeness of Donegal on the northwest corner, to a torn rooster comb, with this particular peninsula being the last lobe of the comb, and first being the Inishowen Peninsula, lying between loughs  Swilly and Foyle.

      Donegal is not only indented with bays, or inlets of the sea called loughs, but it is mountainous with the Bluestack Mountains in the south and the Derryveagh in the north.   Her landfall at Teelin Head, is given as 54.7 Latitude and the position of the Bluestacks is given as 54.75 Latitude.   That .05 of a degree of latitude, is a difference of 3.4 + miles.*   Her altimeter wasn't working, telling her how high she was, and naturally she was afraid of plowing into a mountain. 

      (The Bluestacks would be the scene of a terrible wartime accident in 1944, yet off in the future for her.  An RAF Sunderland flying boat crashed there, after being diverted because of bad weather from Wales to Lough Erne, inland from Ballyshannon.  Seven of the crew of twelve would perish.  It would bear witness, in time to come, of that which Amelia feared.)

       In spite of her decision to land at the closest place, she had to fly on.

       If the fire under the cowling ignited the fumes from the leaking gasoline in the cockpit, she would've been engulfed by flame instantly. 

      Amelia said she flew “down the coast,” so she very well could have flown down and along the northern shore of Donegal Bay, past those seacliffs of Slieve League and the fishing port of Killybegs with its trawlers and seagulls.

      She saw thunderstorms in the hills at a lower altitude. She wrote that the weather seemed better north so she turned in that direction. Perhaps, with good fortune, she flew into the Barnesmore Gap, a pass in the Bluestacks. The Irish for it is Bearnas Mór meaning “the big gap.” She was looking for an airfield, and saw a railroad which she hoped would lead her to a city that had one.

      From the geography of the area and her own words, this may be the route she took inland to find a place to land.   She flew over or near the town of Donegal, and by way of the gap, up to the vicinity of the twin towns of Ballybofey and Stranorlar.   Rivers, of course, flow through valleys, and Ballybofey and Stranorlar are on opposite banks of the River Finn which runs eastward toward the towns of Lifford and Strabane.

      At Lifford and Strabane, the Finn joins the River Mourne , to form the River Foyle running toward Londonderry, and emptying into Lough Foyle, a large bay on the northern coast.

       She followed a railroad. A 1906 Irish railways map, shows a joint line from the town of Donegal via Stranorlar to Strabane.   In 1900 the Donegal Railway had opened a line to Derry (also Londonderry).  The County Donegal Railways were pioneers in diesel traction, and she might've flown over their first diesel railcar and Britain's as well built in 1930, two years before her flight in 1932.          

           Amelia says in that final chapter of her aforementioned book, that she circled Londonderry but didn't see a landing field to set down, but she did see a pasture to land upon.   She elected to head for it.

      She may've swung her Lockheed Vega westward, out over the mouth of the Foyle or perhaps even the waters of the bay itself, as it's reported that she approached from the direction of Moville, a village farther up the shore of the bay.

      She probably saw the cattle in the pasture as she approached it, and I'm told by one who's piloted light planes, that animals or cows are an indicator of wind direction. She may've noted the direction they were standing, before the roar of her engine scared them. The aviator I spoke with, says cows will stand with their backs to the wind, and wind direction was important in both landing and taking off.   He says you land and take off into the wind.

      She then circled the Shantallow area, made a low pass, climbed and circled several times before landing, apparently checking the pasture's surface, and maybe judging speed and distance to land. Probably by now, the spooked cows were probably running about, and weren't useful as a weather vane, or better, a windsock at an airport.   The several times she came down low, Amelia thought she frightened “all the cattle in the county.”

      During her manuevers aloft, she was being observed by two field workers on the ground who were named named Dan McCallion and James McGeady.   McCallion made the Sign of the Cross, a prayerful gesture, maybe indicating his fear that she might crash.   She, however, came down safely.   She commented, “I couldn't have asked for better landing facilities, as far as that.”

      If you consider Lough Foyle as part of the Irish coast, Amelia Earhart may have actually flown coast to coast, west to north, for an “emergency landing.”    
John Riedell
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Addendum about Irish place names referred to & some added information

Donegal which means “fort of foreigners” is thought to originate from a Viking settlement, where the present Donegal Town is located. Irish dún means stronghold or fort

Slieve League, sometimes Slieve Lieg or Slieve Liag.   
Sliabh Liag (sliabh is “mountain,” anglicized to slieve, and liath means grey,” anglicized to “lea.”) I've seen “grey mountain,” parenthetically put after Slieve League. Perhaps from a misty sea on a cloudy day that's the way it looks, whereas in the sun, it's known for color. It's been described as the Painted Coast, where at sunset “the rock is streaked with changing shades of red, amber and ocher.”

The poet William Allingham , who was born in Ballyshannon, Donegal, (1824-1889) wrote**:
From Killybegs to bold Slieve-League, that ocean mountain steep,
                   Six hundred yards in air aloft, six hundred in the deep

Derry is an anglicization of the Irish Daire or Doire meaning “oak grove.” In general Derry is preferred by nationalists, while unionists prefer Londonderry. Derry is used in the Republic of Ireland and most British authorities use Londonderry. During the organized colonization by English and Scottish, a new walled city was built across the River Foyle from the old site. It was renamed Londonderry in recognition of donations from livery companies in London, and a charter in 1613, declared Derry to be hereafter called Londonderry.

Strabane is from Irish An Stran Ban meaning “the white strath.” Historically, spelt Straban. A strath is a wide flat, river valley (Scots). An means “the”(singular) in Irish Gaelic, and bán is white in Gaelic.
The American aviatrix Amelia Earhart made history flying solo to Ireland. Possibly she flew over Strabane, looking for a place to land. In Strabane,
there are ties to American history. Strabane used to be a printing center during the 1700's and 1800's, and there is a Gray's Printers from that time. John Dunlap, who printed he American Declaration of Independence, and published America's first daily newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet, was born in Strabane in 1746. It's generally considered that he got his first printing experience at Gray's. Another person who is said to have served at Gray's printery, working as an apprentice before emigrating to America, was James Wilson, the grandfather of President Woodrow Wilson. The Wilson farm home stands on a slope of the Sperrin Mountains, about two miles from Strabane.

Shantallow, Irish shantalamh “old ground.” Ancient townland, now almost entirely with Derry.

Killybegs in Irish (Gaelic) is
Na Cealla Beaga meaning “small cells” referring to the small cells of monks who once dwelt in the area. Na in Irish Gaelic means “the” as a plural. Irish beag means small...not “big,” a little joke there.

River Finn (Irish: Abhainn na Finne). Finn is the anglicized spelling of Irish Fionn meaning “clear, white or fair.”

Derryveagh Mts. Irish:
Cnoic Dhoire Bheatha.   Cnoc is Irish for “hill,” possibly related to Cnoic. Another possible, is Irish bheith, meaning “(of) birch,” whose anglicized spellings are “vea(gh) or vei(gh)” (?) So possibly Derryveagh means something about “hills of birch.”

Bluestack Mts., also called Croaghgorms (Irish: na Cruacha Gorma means “the blue stacks.”) Irish cruach means “stack” and is spelt “croagh” in English. Gorm means blue.

Inishowen - Inis means “island,” anglicized in various forms as inish, innish, ennis or innis. Inishowen was an island following the last ice age. The area was once known as Inis Eoghain, “the island of Eoghan,” after Eóġan mac Néill.

Ballybofey - Baile is a “homestead or settlement,” anglicized to “bally.” is cow in Irish Gaelic. An explanation is that the name Baile bó Féich means “the place of Fays cows,” abbreviated in the Irish version but pronounced “Bally-Bo-fey” in English.

Stranorlar - Irish:
Srath an Urláir means “valley of the floor”or flat-bottomed valley.

The word gorm is also found in the name of mountains of the Scottish Highlands called The Cairngorms, and oddly instead of referring to blue, the range's former name was Am Monadh Ruadh (the red hills). Cairngorm is also a variety of quartz known as smoky quartz of a reddish-brown or brownish-yellow color. A cairn is a pile of rocks.
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One degree of latitude is is 68.71 miles at the equator, and 69.4 miles at the poles.    .05  X 68.71 = 3.4355 (at the equator)   .05 X 69.4 =3.47 mi. (at the poles)

** Allingham also wrote "The Fairies," and you'll note he again mentions Slieve League.  The first part of that poem is quoted here:


Up the airy mountain
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather.

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
He's nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;

Or going up with music,
To sup with the Queen,
Of the gay Northern Lights.

       Amelia made landfall in the vicinity of  that "bridge of white mist."  Long before I knew her connection to this part of Ireland, this piece of poetry was one I was memorizing. I think I came across it over 50 years ago. Slieve League has “a three hundred metre drop straight down into the wild, Atlantic waves below. “ Which mountain the poet meant,  I don't know, but if it was Slieve League, one might rephrase "Up the airy montains"  to “Up the scary mountain...”  

        For some reason, when I was younger I took an interest in or fancy to things Irish. I've "nary" a drop of  Irish blood that I'm aware of, and I might humorously say, that as close as I come to Irish, is enjoying green Crème de Menthe on ice cream.   Many years in the  past, I gave two of my sons Irish names, Shaun and Shane.   —JR

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