She did not remain on my ‘To Find Out More’ list for long.
Two weeks ago, I took the long road to Ballyferriter for my conversational Irish weekend. I travelled roads not previously travelled in search of signs, grottos, and other items eclectic. I headed north to Newcastle West before turning west for Kerry.
There, and then, I first came across the name of Sophie Pierce on a plaque with an old airplane. Interest was stirred and she was filed on that ‘Ton Find Out More’ mental list.
She may have stayed there for a bit longer except this morning the daily update from Stair na hÉireann advised of it being the anniversary of Lady Mary Heath who was an aviator from Newcastle West. I thought of the plaque and how there might be two famous pilots from that part of county Limerick – but they were one and the same.
Wikipedia does provide some information but it tempts this reader to find out more of the life of a child whose father murdered her mother and the first woman to have a commercial pilot’s licence, was a founder of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association, who was three times married, and whose portrait was painted by Sir John Lavery – all before she died at age 42. I suspect that she will remain on the list for some time – Lady Icarus. I sense a book purchase is imminent.
There is something about aviation in the early part of the twentieth century that does intrigue me. Maybe it was started as a teenager with Illusions by Richard Bach and reinforced with the likes of Waldo Pepper.
A year ago, having read Little Prince top our then 8-year old, I delved into Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. That well and truly re-ignited the attraction and perceived thrill of such flight. I strongly recommend a read to relive the excitement of isolation and adventure.
In that airplane, in control of her own destiny without air traffic control, she had so many roads not yet travelled. Shades of green envy for such a period are appearing as I write.
Yet another reminder to self that life is for living.
“The squalls of rain no longer trouble me. The magic of my profession is revealing to me a world where within two hours I shall confront the dark dragons and the crests crowned with a mane of blue lightening: and then, set free by the coming on night I shall chart my course in the stars.
“1939 – Death of Mary, Lady Heath. Born in Co Limerick but moved to Newcastle West to be raised by her aunts because her father was declared insane after bludgeoning her mother to death. Heath excelled in sports and after moving to London she co-founded the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association. She set records in the javelin and the high jump, however, it was when she learned to fly that she really earned her fame. Heath was the first woman to hold a pilot’s licence in Britain, and was also the first woman to parachute from a plane. She was the first person, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London.”
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