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Culture Magazine

The story of the egg-shaped cairn in a Galway bog commemorating the first transatlantic flight

How the adventures of William Alcock and Arthur Brown transformed a bog in the West of Ireland into a significant site in aviation history.

AMIDST THE VAST and unassuming Derrigimlagh Bog, located in the west of Ireland, stands a rather unusual large egg-shaped monument. Surrounded by sheep and wild landscapes, this statue signifies one of many fascinating histories to have occurred on this site.  

Over a century ago, in 1919, two enthusiastic and adventurous English aviators, William Alcock and Arthur Brown set out to complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight. Their journey would meet an unexpected end when they descended on Derrigimlagh Bog, which has since become a significant spot in aviation history.

Their courageous undertaking started in Newfoundland on June 14, the motivation for the momentous endeavour originated in the most unlikely of places; a newspaper competition. In 1913, the Daily Mail published details of a £10,000 prize for any aviator who crossed the Atlantic in an aeroplane. The stipulations for the quest specified that the starting point could be anywhere in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and to be deemed successful, the aviator was required to land in either Great Britain or Ireland within 72 hours. 

Alcock and Brown, aged 27 and 33 respectively at the time of the event, had previously served in the British military during World War I; Alcock as a pilot and Brown an engineer, who would take on the role of navigator on this transatlantic flight. 

irishfieldwithgreengrassfencesandlimestonerockmountains Shutterstock / Foto Para Ti Shutterstock / Foto Para Ti / Foto Para Ti

The pair embarked on their journey in the early afternoon, accompanied by two good-luck charms in the cockpit; two toy cats named Lucky Jim and Twinkletoes. Their voyage, however, was far from uneventful. They had to navigate difficult weather conditions, as they faced fog, heavy rainfall and a snowstorm. Along with the extremities in the atmosphere, their aircraft was compromised by a number of issues, namely failed generators and frozen carburettors.

At approximately 8:40 am the following morning, June 15, after 16 hours total in the air, Alcock and Brown crash-landed in Derrigimlagh Bog near Clifden in County Galway. Their aircraft was damaged by their precarious landing in the bog, which they had thought to be a solid and suitable landing strip.

Screen Shot 2022-10-07 at 13.19.48 Wild Atlantic Views via Instagram Wild Atlantic Views via Instagram

In spite of the hazardous end to their trip, Alcock and Brown were successful in completing the first non-stop transatlantic journey by aircraft. Triumphant in their quest, the accomplished aviators received the prize money and were knighted by King George V a few days later. 

It is perhaps no surprise that Alcock and Brown descended in Derrigimlagh Bog given that 500m away from their landing spot stood Marconi wireless radio station, built in 1907.  There, some of the first transmissions between Europe and North America were made. Not much of the Marconi station remains today other than dismembered walls and the unusual egg-shaped cairn which now commemorates the location where Alcock and Brown were able to transmit the news of their accomplishment to London.

Another monument was erected in Alcock and Brown’s honour in 1959, on the fortieth anniversary of the event. Shaped like the tail of an aircraft, this sculpture is more aesthetically conventional in marking the event on Errislannan Hill.

Today, the cairn remains a popular tourist attraction in Connemara, as does the surrounding bog. In 2021, Derrigimlagh Bog even became an exhibition site. Mirror Pavilion, an impressive structure made of reflective mirrored walls, by artist John Gerrard inhabited the 4,000-year-old bog during the Galway International Arts Festival, between August 28 and September 18, 2021. 


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