Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
These words were written by John Gillespie Magee, Canadian aviator and poet, and sum up the adventurous spirt of the pilots of the 1976 plane crash, up in the Galtee mountains.
The words are inscribed on a piece of Longford stone that remembers the death of the three men, Tom Gannon, Jimmy Byrne and Dick O’Reilly.
The men were members of the Abbeyshrule Aero Club in Longford, and earlier on the day of September 20th, 1976 had landed in Kilbrittain in West Cork. They were travelling back home when their aircraft crashed.
In 1976, there was no formal mountain rescue association, but hillwalkers and local people from Tipperary went up the hill that day to recover the bodies of the three men. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the tragedy, and a few years after it, the South Eastern Mountain Safety Organisation was set up, which morphed into South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association (SEMRA) some years later.
Former SEMRA member, Jimmy Barry, was one of the people who organised the placement of the stone in 2006 that remembers the three brave men.
Mr Barry, a seasoned hillwalker and former member of the mountain rescue organisation, spoke about the history of the incident.
“When anyone joins SEMRA, it’s one of the first places we take them to – it’s a reminder when anyone passes by that this is where it all began. A lot of people went up on the day, from different parts of the county of Tipperary. Two were with Tipperary Adventure Sports club, and local hillwalkers and locals from the area went up and recovered the lads that were killed.”
Tom Gannon was piloting the single-engine French-built Morane aircraft when it crashed, according to contemporary newspaper reports, in thick cloud.
“Tom Gannon was a well-known solicitor, and well-liked. Jimmy Byrne, he had converted some of his farm into an airfield, and Dick O’Reilly was a garage owner. The three flew down to Kilbrittain, and were flying back on the 20th, and that’s when the crash happened. They were only 50 metres from the top of the mountain”
A LASTING CONNECTION
Jimmy was contacted by a man who knew the victims, and asked for help in putting up a stone to remember his three friends on the 30th anniversary, in 2006. The stone, a stylised tail of the plane that crashed, is just off the Black Road route, on the southern approach to Galtymore.
“I spoke to local landowners, and got their permission. They, the friends of Tom, Dick and Jimmy, brought down the stone from Longford in the back of the car. I ‘discreetly’ borrowed a mountain rescue Landrover(!), and myself and my son took cement up there and placed the stone. Myself, Seamus Delaney, Jim Mitchell and my son.”
The stone was unveiled in 2006 by sons of the three men, young Tom Gannon, David Byrne, and Joe O’Reilly, and was blessed by Fr Joe Flynn.
“We went up the Black Road very carefully. It was a pleasure to do it for the families. There’s a lasting connection between the two communities – myself and my wife have visited Abbeyshrule, and there’s a huge connection between the families and SEMRA that’s still ongoing.”
SEMRA is a volunteer search and rescue team comprising of approximately 50 members, and in 2020 responded to over 40 call-outs. They provide volunteer search and rescue service to upland and mountain areas of the South East of Ireland, including the Knockmealdowns, the Galtees and the Comeraghs.