Following my post on JJ O’Leary https://durrushistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/j-j-oleary-businessman-dublin/ I was contacted by John King, a Transport Historian about his connection with the foundation of Aer LIngus.
Ireland was a late starter in aviation, the troubles not help and links to Britain were in the hands of British based shipping and railway companies. Seán Lemass, the Minister of Industry and Commerce was anxious to develop aviation but only if at least 50% of any structure was under Irish control. Dublin was also handicapped by having no airport apart from the Military Aerodrome at Baldonnel. From such modest beginnings Aer Lingus developed and recent spin offs include European low cost travel through Tony Ryan/GPA/Ryanair and Dublin/Shannon as centers of worldwide aircraft leasing.
John has sent a note of conversations with JJ O’Leary re the origins of Aer Lingus and the part he and Seán Ó h-Uadhaigh (formerly John Kirwan Woods) 1886-1959: http://www.ainm.ie/Bio.aspx?ID=205 to and Colonel Charles Russell played:
I first had contact with JJO in the early 1970s when I first started researching the formation of Aer Lingus in the 1930s. My notes do not indicate who suggested that I contact him but it is clear from my notes that I first spoke him by telephone on 15th March 1973. He asked me to write to him which I did the following day.
He replied on 27th March, offering any help he could. He noted that he was one of three who drew up proposals in 1934 for an Irish airline, the others being Sean O’hUaghaigh, a Solicitor, (he would be the first chairman of Aer Lingus in 1936) and Col Charles Russell who before leaving the Military had been in charge of the Irish Air Corps from 1922 to 1926.
I first met JJO on 15th May 1973 in the Irish AA Club in Dublin. He described Russell as being the driving force for an Irish airline (in fact, I knew that Russell had been pushing for civil aviation since at least 1928.) O’Leary helped Russell with details of costs etc while Col Delamere helped with technical aspects – the latter was still a serving officer with the Air Corps.
The completed document of Russell, O’Leary and O’hUaghaigh was submitted to the Minister for Industry & Commerce. (I think that I have a copy of the document which I obtained from Aer Lingus – unsigned, it is dated April 1934).
The document asserted that in Ireland it was not considered sound business practice to invest money in any enterprise that would not show a reasonable return in a short period. In the absence therefore of Government assistance by way of certain guarantees as to principal and interest, it was thought not to be possible to obtain the whole of the necessary capital. The following paragraph was headed Capital Arrangement. It stated that the capital necessary for carrying through the first objective – a Dublin-London Air service- was estimated at £60,000. It suggested that a Public Limited Liability Company be formed with an authorised capital of £100,000 divided into 80,000 4½% £1 preference shares. THE NECESSARY CAPITAL COULD THEN BE OBTAINED BY A PUBLIC ISSUE OF 48,000 PREFERENCE SHARES AND 12,000 ORDINARY SHARES.”
Another scheme for an Irish airline had been prepared by a Cork group which was headed by R F O’Connor, the Cork County Surveyor. At the request of Lemass, JJO incorporated the Cork scheme into Russell’s.
I wrote to JJO on 1st April 1975 with a number of questions which he answered but in a rather negative “no knowledge” way.
I first met JJO in Dublin on 29 May 1975. He was friendly and not unhelpful but I appeared to make few notes other than his assertion that private capital would have been forthcoming in Ireland for an Irish airline as he and the other two were in contact with businessmen in Ireland
I wrote to him again on 16th June with more questions. Again he answered the questions but not in the way I had hoped for, I mentioned a meeting at the Shelborne Hotel on 8th June 1934 which he presided over for the amalgamation of the two schemes; and that in October John Leydon, Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce and longtime confidant of Lemass, said that Lemass was not happy about the new scheme. He queried this and said his impression at the time was that Lemass did not think the time opportune to seek cabinet approval. (I am not sure that I agree with his interpretation)
My final meeting with JJO was at the Military & Navy Club, Piccadilly on 29th November 1976. We discussed the availability of capital again and he was of the opinion that this would have come partly from the Industrial Credit Company which Lemass had set up to foster the start up of Irish industry. JJO was a director of the company.
The other interesting note I made was that JJO went with Col Russell and Bonass (a Senior Civil Servant in the Dept of Industry & Commerce ?staff section) to Greystones for the weekend. After mass (on the Sunday), Russell opened an envelope with the details of the Cork scheme. He blasphemed violently when he read the document as he reckoned that it was copied from their scheme. What had happened was that the Cork people had gone to the home of Eddie Smyth, the Assistant Secretary of the Marine & Transport Section of the Dept of Industry & Commerce, to talk about their scheme. Smith told them to get it onto paper. There was a typist present and Smith dictated details of aircraft and airports etc from Russell’s paper. The typist muddled the details. (Who was Miss Hamilton? – she was present)
Unfortunately I never asked JJO if he had kept his diaries and other records. He did not suggest that he might have.
In my file of this scheme, I have many press cuttings relating to Russell and a very small number of notes from railway archives in Britain.
John King, London SE12