A century of irish aviation

and aviators

world premiere, the National concert hall, Dublin

The event on January 22 2014 will be accompanied live by an original
music score by renowned composer and pianist Micheal O'Suilleabhain

it all began in derrygimla bog, clifden...

Anybody hurt? No, came the reply.
Where are you from? America.
- First exchange on landing.

Pictured above: The world's first
transatlantic flight notes.

Pioneers and Aviators is a landmark documentary which tells the epic story of the remarkable, pioneering individuals whose vision, passion, successes and failures helped forge Ireland’s unique aviation landscape. This is a dynamic and visceral tale of daring and derring-do, of highs and lows, a powerful international story that also reflects the Irish Republic’s evolving relationship with the wider world.

The documentary traces this story from its humble pioneering beginnings when Alcock and Brown made the first transatlantic flight, landing in a field in the West of Ireland, through the evolution of Aer Lingus and the development of airports at Foynes, Shannon and Dublin, the pivotal emergence of Tony Ryan, the meteoric rise and fall of GPA, and the enduring dominance of Ryanair, culminating in a focus on the contemporary story of Ireland’s leading role in aviation in the present.

The documentary Writer and Director Alan Gilsenan is an award-winning film-maker, writer and theatre director. His film work has appeared on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, RTÉ, PBS, SBS Australia, the History Channel and CNBC amongst others. Previous credits include Eliza Lynch: Queen of Paraguay, a drama-documentary on the iconic Irish woman who found fame and infamy in Latin America. Other major documentaries include The Yellow Bittern: The Life & Times of Liam Clancy and The Ghost of Roger Casement as well as the documentary series The Irish Mind, God Bless America and The Asylum.

The score for the film has been written by renowned Irish composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin working with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

we're very proud of our irish heritage

Ireland is famous the world over for its tradition of story-telling. At Avolon we are very proud of this heritage and are always looking for opportunities to fly the flag and showcase the strengths and unique talents of our country. In aviation, Ireland has a truly unique story, from the very first transatlantic flight, to the growth of Europe’s largest airline, from flying boats and movie-stars to being at the forefront of the global multi-trillion dollar aircraft finance sector. Only Ireland has this unique story, a story yearning to be told, a story of which we can all be proud. A story that is still being written…

Editing the dream, capturing the story

Alan Gilsenan Film Maker

As a film-maker, I've always had a strong interest in Irish history. I Iike to fly too, the further the better, dozing with a good book on my lap, dreaming of distant lands. So the prospect of making a film on the history of Irish aviation greatly appealed to me. But, for all my amateurish interests, I was not aware of how truly remarkable this story would be.
Growing up in Ireland, I was utterly unaware of the consistent thread of vision and foresight and sheer bloody guts that runs through this tale from those early pioneering years through to these shiny new days of contemporary aviation. 


The film, I hope, will speak for itself. But the journey of making the film leaves its imprint too. I'll remember the courtesy and cooperation shown to us by all our contributors, despite their often hectic schedules. For this was their story and that of their forebearers. They understood instinctively that they were custodians of an important, and little known, story. A story that deserved to be told.

But I remember other moments too along the way: standing in the misty dawn stillness on a bog in the West of Ireland imagining what it might have been like for Alcock & Brown crash-landing there; the wild flowers blooming amidst a deserted building in Foynes, the small Irish port that for one glorious moment was the centre of the aviation world; the endless stream of anecdotes of the golden days at Shannon; a beautiful, if hauntingly elegiac, summer morning tour of Tony Ryan's estate at Lyons Demense; warm mugs of tea with the lads at Dublin Aerospace; being on the apron at Dublin Airport to witness with a kind of child-like wonder an Aer Lingus plane ascending to the heavens on route to the other side of the world; wading through the wealth of archive; the vast majesty of Boeing in Seattle; sitting at the maestro's shoulder as the RTÉ Concert Orchestra recorded Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's exuberant score. I could go on. 

It is a long and complex story, this tale of Irish aviation. Necessarily, we have had to compress and omit. But I hope that we have captured something of its inspiring past and possible future. It deserves no less.

Alan Gilsenan is an award-winning film-maker, writer and theatre director. His work has appeared in the cinema and on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, RTÉ, PBS, SBS Australia, and the History Channel amongst others.

His many film credits include The Road To God Knows Where, God Bless America, All Souls’ Day, The Green Fields of France, Zulu 9, The Ghost of Roger Casement, Timbuktu, The Dark School, The Bloody Canvas, The Irish Mind and The Yellow Bittern as well as the acclaimed documentary series The Asylum, The Hospice and I See A Darkness. Most recently, he has completed a cinema documentary Eliza Lynch: Queen of Paraguay.

Alan Gilsenan also served on the Irish Film Board (2000 – 2008); as Chairman of the Irish Film Institute (2002 - 2007); as Chairman of Film-Makers Ireland - now Screen Producers Ireland – (1995 - 1998); and as a member of the Board of the International Dance Festival Ireland (2001 – 2007).

In March 2009, Alan Gilsenan was appointed to the Board of Ireland’s state broadcaster RTÉ. He is also on the Board of Fighting Words, a creative writing centre for young people.

Jackie Larkin Managing Director of Newgrange Pictures

The history of Irish aviation has never been tackled properly in the documentary format and this project has enabled a wealth of wonderful stories to be told. As it transpired there was too much to squeeze into one hour which had been the original intention. The other overwhelming appeal of this story is that it was a celebration of Irish aviation. We were literally astounded at the success story of the modern Irish aviation financing industry and its impact globally and felt that the rest of the country (indeed the world) needed to hear this story too. Finally there was something to celebrate in recession Ireland.


The first step was to hire a researcher who uncovered some wonderful material and started to unearth stories of characters and unsung heroes who had largely been forgotten in the aviation story. People like Colonel Fitzmaurice from the Irish Air Corps for example. We all felt we knew a lot of the story of Irish aviation but quickly learned that there was a lot more to discover.

The pleasure in making this documentary has also come from the personal stories of those who worked in the industry. From the pioneering days of Foynes to the heady glamour of Shannon Airport in the 60’s. The stories of the real workers on the ground along with the celebrities that visited our small Island. From air hostesses to engineers each one had kerosene in the blood! On every occasion we were met with courtesy and cooperation.

Childhood memories flooded back of visits to Shannon Airport as children on a Sunday afternoon. The sheer excitement of watching the planes take off from an outdoor viewing area. The chances of getting that close to a runway today are unthinkable.

Jackie Larkin is a highly experienced producer who has been involved in Ireland’s film and independent television industry for the past 20 years. Jackie is joint Managing Director of Newgrange Pictures a film company she formed in December 2005.

Jackie co-produced A Thousand Times Good Night with Paradox, Norway and Zentropa, Sweden and has produced / line produced numerous documentaries, TV dramas and short films to include No Tears, Ballykissangel 6, Ahakista and Nation Building. Jackie’s feature film credits include Stella Days and Kings. She is a former board member of SPI (Screen Producers Ireland), a member of ACE the European Association of Producers and graduated from the Media Business School in 2003.

Lesley McKimm Producer and Co-Managing Director of Newgrange Pictures

We’ve had a lot of luck in producing this project. Firstly to get a director of Alan Gilsenan’s calibre on board was a real coup and we knew from the get-go we were in safe hands. Then to attach the world renowned Irish composer Mícheál O’Suilleabháin who would go on to record an outstanding score with our own RTÉ Concert Orchestra was a rare privilege. Along with that a hugely experienced crew with Richard Kendrick shooting, Kieran Horgan recording sound, Gabriel Levy ensuring everything was technically in order and Aishling Ahmed who kept the show on the road.


Finally we were delighted that Brian Walsh from RTÉ came on board and that the film will be broadcast as a 2 x 52 minute documentary on RTÉ in 2014.
We’re very excited about this documentary and hope that the audience will enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed the journey of making it.

A graduate of the Samuel Beckett centre for Theatre Studies in Trinity College, Lesley produced, line produced and post supervised feature films, documentaries, TV dramas, and shorts as a freelancer prior to founding the production company Comet Film and Television in 1998.

At Comet, she produced the TV series Any Time Now and No Tears. She joined Newgrange in 2006 and produced the feature film Happy Ever Afters. Lesley is currently financing My Name is Emily with Kathryn Kennedy of Kennedy Films. She has been on the board of the Irish Film Board since 2005 and is a graduate of EAVE (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs 1998) and the Media Business School (2002).

a subject matter steeped in inspiration


The experience of working with Alan Gilsenan has been inspirational. Firstly, his decision to cut the film to the music rather than the usual other way round left me entirely free to explore the poetics of the film idea without constraint. Secondly, Alan provided me with a two-page document setting out in imaginative and expressive prose what he felt were the essential emotional charges behind his vision of the filmed story.

My response was to write a sequence of seven distinct orchestral pieces addressing the various emotional landscapes.


Once that was done, rewriting the whole series of scores to have them emerge as a single concert piece for public performance was a task that brought
its own rewards.

Recording the music with the world-renowned RTÉ Concert Orchestra was, as always, a joy. The conductor Bobby Houlihan was in his usual top form, and I found myself swept aloft in the current of both his and the orchestra’s irrepressible musicality. Preparing scores and parts for an orchestral recording can be a daunting task. If anything is wrong with the parts or the score the whole venture can grind to a halt! But we recorded the entire score within one day according to schedule. Mark McGrath, the RTÉ sound recordist, was ahead of the curve all the way, and several days later he and I spent a day in the mixing suite putting the final polish to the recording. Within ten weeks the music was conceived, written, rehearsed, recorded, and now was in the can.

Making a film is a team effort under direction. The musician’s task in this team is to warm – or chill – the images in motion. To provide a potential sonic response to emotional spaces opened up by the story, the script, the camera work, the lighting, the editing, the thing itself. For me, this has been a joyful task, an honour to be part of the telling of the still unfolding story and a challenge to take the music through the sound barrier into its own sonic boom.

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin is Chair of Music and Founding Director Emeritus of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. Noted for his development of a uniquely Irish traditional piano style, he has recorded extensively with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. He was awarded an Honorary D.Mus from the National University of Ireland at his Alma Mater, University College Cork, in 2005 for his contribution to music in Ireland over the past thirty years. Recent recordings include Elver Gleams: New and Selected Recordings (EMI 2011), and the DVD Irish Destiny - music for the historic 1925 silent movie of the same name (Irish Film Institute: Dublin 2006).

Early rehearsals ‐ Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin
and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra


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Email: pioneersandaviators@avolon.aero

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