Ringsend International Airport 

By Ray MacAodhagain

While it may seem strange to the readers to think of an aerodrome at Ringsend, the concept is not a particularly new one. Indeed, it had been floated as far back as 1930 and was taken even further in 1935 when a proposal by Desmond McAteer was published in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. McAteer envisioned the reclamation of a large region of Merrion Strand with the boundary line from the Pigeon Fort to Blackrock Station, adjoining the South Wall ‘a pool for aquatic sports’ and an amusement Park. 

However, the proposal was not seized upon by the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. Alternatively, by 1936 Collinstown near Swords, approximately 10 km north of Dublin City, was being considered.

Dublin Collinstown 1937 (Image: Archiseek)

McAteer, however, had not changed his viewpoint and he felt that the question of price had overshadowed the construction of a more suitable airport. Going back to his original proposal (the reclaiming Merrion Strand) he estimated the works at  one-and-a-half-million, he argued it was viable as the material could be purchased at home rather than abroad and that, “the money would be merely turned over here, and as it would be used to provide a public necessity, it would be a very suitable form of unemployment relief.” The 1930s was marked by economic crisis and change.   

Proposal rejected

The area also had a nearby rail service and as most visitors and Dubliners alike will know  the current airport is without such amenities. It will be 2025 before the proposed MetroLink is underway, with an estimated cost of 23 billion euro.

McAteer gave consideration to the flying boat which had by the 1930s made it possible to have regular air transport between the U.S. and Europe including Ireland. He noted that, “say fifteen years hence the whole question of aviation is so mixed up in aeroplanes and flying boats and land and sea transport that it would be unwise to have the decision made by some anonymous department official.”

The flying boat, however, did not become a dominant feature of passenger air travel. Ultimately, it made its mark during WWII, but not at Ringsend. Alas! McAteer’s plan proved fruitless as did alternative proposals. For instance, architect Frank Gibney’s adventurous proposal for a site at Fairview. 

McAteer’s proposal revised: The Boom Years

In the late 1990s Dublin was in the process of rapid change. It was the early stages of what became known as the Celtic Tiger’ and it brought with it what can be described as ‘Celtic Tiger fever’ (1995-1997) in which new and exciting possibilities seemed to be at a grasp. Evidently, Ireland had changed considerably since 1936. Aviation, for one, was now a bigger business than earlier comprehended. Aer Lingus, the national airline of Ireland whose inaugural flight (from Dublin to Bristol, England occurred in 1936) had by 1997 taken steps towards privatisation. It purchased a fleet of Airbus jets and with the introduction of direct transatlantic services, their fleet became a feature of the skies above the city. 

McAteer’s proposal resurfaces in 1997

This is the context in which Ringsend International Airport, which had lay dormant for over sixty years, emerged. Eamon O’ Brien published a letter in a July edition of The Irish Times in 1997. His proposal, which is quite comparable to McAteer, considered the tracts of land near Ringsend as unused or underused. O’ Brien, however, considered Ringsend International as but 5 or 10 minutes from the new IFSC centre, and could serve the hub. While Car ownership had increased in McAteer’s time, by the 1990s it had expanded by unimaginable proportions. O’Brien cited the appalling traffic congestion which made it  impossible to get to and from major European cities. He dismissed Baldoyle International Airport on the same grounds. 

Regarding noise pollution he felt that any additional noise suffered by air flight. The sound of outgoing or incoming aircrafts would be minimised by the sea.

He concluded his proposal with, “Let’s get this campaign in the air.’’ 

One of the biggest developments locally, was the IFSC (1997) which was coming close to fruition under the Custom House Docks Development Authority. 

(Image: Lucas Allmann)
Local opposition

However, O’Brien’s campaign remained quite firmly on the ground. It received a response from one Robert Walpole of South Dock Street. He proposed an alternative location “Foxrock International Airport”, which he felt might be more convenient for O’Brien’ who lived in that area. This is an amusing anecdote as Foxrock residents may not have welcomed an airport in their own backyard. After this, Ringsender Catherine Cavindish wrote to the paper. She likewise reminded the readers that the suggestion is being made by those who do not live remotely near the proposed airport.

Environmental factors 

Her argument, however, was based on environmental factors and she quoted the noise suffered during the visit of a warship in 1996. That the people of this area suffered noise abuse from the helicopters which were operating for a private company from our park, Sean Moore Park, from 7am to 10pm. That the area was noisy enough, and she noted a new turbo powered electricity generator and the relocation of a metal shredding park.  She concluded with, “Sean Moore park and Ringsend Park were hard won sport and amenity areas since McAteers pipe dream.” 

Reflecting on the Ringsend International

If Ringsend International had become a reality it most likely would have surpassed Collinstown as Europe’s busiest airport. It could have expanded if possible and that would have brought with it opposition. As it has currently with the expansion of the current Airport. 

Noise, including traffic congestion are factors to be considered. Therefore, the issues mentioned by Catherine Cavindish would be acute today. Not only environmental noise mentioned by her, which remains a factor affecting health and well-being worldwide, but also pollution such as greenhouse gases. 

In fact, air pollution is not only understood to be  a serious risk factor but one of the leading causes of death. To illustrate this,the global affairs think tank ODI, formerly the Overseas Development Institute considers it to be the fourth largest feature of human health universally. With the information available today I am guessing that most Ringsenders are happy that Ringsend International never occurred.