The final chapter in the history of the ‘Donegal Spitfire’ was written on Friday afternoon, when a memorial plaque was unveiled close to where the aircraft crash landed in 1941.
The aircraft was discovered avid aviation and war historian Johnny McNee, from Claudy, and his daughter Grace and on Friday proud father and daughter were at the unveiling ceremony at the Cnoc Ui Uininn view point overlooking Gleneely village, just across the border in Inishowen, Donegal.
Undertaken by Gleneely Development Association the unveiling marked the culmination of years of research and planning by both Mr McNee and the development group. Over 100 invited guests and friends attended the event, bringing the story of American fighter pilot Ronald Wolfe (Bud) full circle.
Bud’s plane lost it’s battle against gravity on November 20, 1941, and nose-dived into peatland.
The pilot ejected to safety, and on Friday, Stephen Sealey, the managing director of Brown Thomas, on behalf of George Weston Ltd, the company which donated eight Spitfires to the war effort at the behest of Canadian businessman Garfield Weston, performed the official unveiling.
Other guests included Air Vice Marshall David Nevin, CB CBE, of the Royal Air Force, Max Joyce QFSM, Group Commander Emergency Response, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and Lt Col Dave Sexton, Colonel and Director of Ordnance with the Irish Defence Force as well as councillors and TDs and other distinguished guests. MC for the occasion was Brigid Miller, chairwoman of Gleneely Development Association.
Johnny McNee told how the story of the spitfire had been a global success and was known throughout the world.
He said those who visited the plaque were a couple of thousands feet closer to where those pilots used to fly during the war.
Mr Nee also read a letter from Roland Wolfe’s daughters Barbara Kucharczyk and Betty Wolfe, thanking the association for the memorial to their father, while Mr McNee’s daughter Grace said she was very proud of her father’s achievement and of the picturesque memorial.
The memorial has been created within a picnic facility designed to maximise its appeal to the tourism market.
Speaking at the celebrations afterwards in Gleneely village, Mr McNee said Bud Wolfe’s daughters “remain humbled by the efforts of so many to bring this piece of history into the present day. We never imagined this chapter of our father’s life and military career would result in such a warm welcome to your land and to our joined histories.”
Others who also spoke were John McLaughlin, Inishowen manager and director of roads services Donegal County Council, who said the project would help boost tourism and also connect with the Wild Atlantic way route and Andrew Ward, representing the IDP, who said it was great to see the community working together and achieving so much.
He noted they had worked with their neighbours across the border and also incorporated the history and beauty of the area.
Mr Ward added that the images of the day would be beamed across the world, showing how beautiful this area was.
Air Vice Marshall David Nevins, on behalf of the Royal Air Force, commended the community and said the memorial was a great attraction not just to American tourists but also to the British who wanted see where the aircraft landed.
He reflected on how Roland Wolfe had been flying over the Atlantic on the day in extremely poor weather and would have had “great, great fear.”
He said Wolfe knew he probably would not reach Eglinton and would have to bail out but survived the parachute jump and was then welcomed by the community. He said the Royal Air Force wanted to show their appreciation for the support given to that pilot and to other aircrew who landed inadvertently in Donegal.
Donegal North East TD Charlie McConalogue said it was important for a local community to appreciate what they have and its history. He said this development had done credit to both, while Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn said it was a proud day for the community who embraced the story of the spitfire. He said Inishowen was blessed to have a community which stepped up to the plate and, in turn, inspired others.
On his first visit to the area, Col David Sexton said the project was a living representation of the vibrancy of the area and was evidence of great cross-community co-operation.
Councillor Nicholas Crossan congratulated those involved, describing the memorial as “a stunning asset to Inishowen and the North West”.
Tributes were also paid to McDaid’s (Halfway) for their work on the project and to association members Joe Kearney and Barney Lafferty for their work in preparing the viewing point and memorial.