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Iona National Airways

 Fergal Goodman (C337 - First
© Fergal Goodman (C337 – First
Twin With Iona)









 Matthew McGrath
© Matthew McGrath
(DHL Iona Fokker F27)

  One thing that is often forgotten about Irish aviation in Ireland, now not only one of Ireland’s biggest proportionate industries, but also in a field that challenges some of the world’s biggest competitors is that aviation in Ireland truly only started, with one, privately funded “national” airline...

When Hugh Cahill started an aviation wing of his motor company- Iona at Cross Guns Bridge in Dublin in 1931, he was already well known as a great Dublin entrepreneur, but this new venture captured the imaginations of so many. Unfortunately, the Irish Government weren’t as pleased with this new proposal, and refused to allow Hugh Cahill to open Ireland’s First Civil Aerodrome, well that was until Iona National Airways flights became frequent, after only a few months in operation, and Baldonnel, was no longer seen as a location for civil aviation.

Hugh’s chosen site, was Kildonan House, Finglas, Dublin – about 3 miles from his garage, making it easy to service aircraft back at base, at Cross Guns Bridge! Iona National Airways, operated out of Kildonan for two years until mid 1933, when Hugh lost interest in Iona Airways, and focused his attentions again, on his motor business. Despite this decision, two other airlines were to operate from Kildonan, including Dublin Air Ferries DAF, which was run and owned by the legendary Lady Aviatrix- Lady Heath and he husband, Jack Williams.

In 1955 Pearse Cahill, Hugh’s son, realised there was a massive hole in the Irish Aviation, - Ireland had no major flying club, and no major secondary airline- Aer Lingus was also struggling to survive in the economic recessions of Ireland (which allowed for other enterprises to develop). The pure genius of Pearse, was that he didn’t rush into anything like modern day airlines, mainly because the money he received from his father to do other things (especially not to fly)- was probably not enough to buy larger aircraft. Nonetheless, Pearse bought and ferried in 3 ex-RAF DH Chipmunk aircraft into Ireland- this was to restart the Irish Aero Club (See Bottom Footnote 1.) Soon afterwards, Pearse soon realised that he could make aviation in Ireland profitable for Iona, he started importing aircraft for flying clubs around the country, firmly establishing the country with companies such as Cessna and Piper, as well as handling the majority of engine overhauls at Dublin airport, on all aircraft.

Iona flourished; media reporters would rent out Iona aircraft for air-to- ground photographs, and for media reports. Iona was on the front line, even the ever-upsetting images of the Stardust Disco tragedy from the air, which have never been forgotten, and have been immortalised in the recent Irish Independent- 100 Years Of magazine; were taken from an Iona aircraft. Iona had earned a place in Irish hearts and in the late seventies, Iona delivered Cessna 172’s to the Irish Air Corps, most of which are still flying today, thanks not only to years of Air Corps servicing, but also, in earlier years, to the Iona Engineers who kept the aircraft flying. Iona throughout the early eighties served Ireland, with international air ambulances, regional services and flight training.

Although Iona National airways was never funded by the government (see footnote 2 at end), Iona was fast becoming the fastest growing airline in Ireland and the UK, they had received cargo contracts for operating Fokker F27’s for DHL & F27’s & Cessna 208’s for Federal Express, Iona seemed unstoppable, particularly with the added fact that Iona had also received contracts to train new airline pilots worldwide. Iona opened at a base at Cork Airport, and moved training operations to Cork, but not all was well at the top.

By the early 1990’s, Iona had suffered major economical problems, because of the fact that Federal Express and DHL had decided to end services to Ireland, this led to the already falling apart airline to crumble even further. Other problems to be faced by Iona, included complete un-professionalism on the part of many governing bodies, and the fact that foreign policy, became in jeopardy, by training certain nationalities. Iona, once a great airline of the world, was wasting away to a sad end, and the Cahill family could do nothing, it is probably fair to say that Iona could have restructured, if politics were on their side, but all of these major financial strains led to the liquidation of Iona National Airways Limited, in 1995, having flown the last flight on 14th December 1994.

Iona and the Irish Aero Club had kept learning to fly cheap and easy, Iona had always enjoyed enthusiasts visiting their facilities, Iona was the people’s airline to many extents. When Iona left, there was a much bigger hole in the market, than there was when Iona joined it, in times of economic recession. Ryanair, Loganair and Aer Arann have taken over most of their passenger routes, and today, Air Contractors are one of Europe’s biggest cargo carriers operating from Knock, serving several of Iona’s cargo routes.

But as anyone in Irish aviation today will tell you, the biggest problem in aviation, since Iona National Airways went bankrupt is… there is no non-commercial aviation infrastructure- Iona had organised Fly-ins, open days, aviation events, even their flying club had over 20 aircraft (club and Iona craft)- that ideal situation in Irish Aviation has never been replaced, and today, for enthusiasts, student pilots and private pilots alike- aviation is a scary place in Ireland - that is the true legacy of Iona- a friendly place to get flying and enjoy flying no matter how much money you had, creating a friendly atmosphere for pilots and enthusiasts alike, even in a hectic international airport – a legacy which will take a very long time to be replaced, if ever.


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