Nutt’s daughter had her own tragic end despite patronage of Lady O’Neill

Nutts Corner air crash dead largely forgotten

By Liam Murphy

I often pass through Nutts Corner now the site of a Sunday market (I visited it but once on a December day many years ago and I think it is the coldest place in this country.)  Other activities such as the Irish Superbike Championships and rally cross were held there but abandoned  due to noise complaints from local residents. Some of the land is used by local businesses and training centres.Go karting  and model aircraft rallies are still held there but it is remembered by many as the chief airport serving Belfast.

It was used for civil flights in the 1930s but during World War II it was used exclusively  by the RAF. During the war Belfast Harbour Airport was used for civil flights but when the war ended it was thought that there was limited space for expansion and that the shipyard gantries  were regarded as dangerous obstacles. Many sites including Long Kesh were considered but in 1946 civil air flights once again returned to RAF Nutt’s Corner, the airport now being known as Belfast-Nutt’s Corner Airport.

At around 9.30pm on Monday 5 January 1953, a very dark night, there was no moon, and some drizzle,  a BEA Vickers Viking aircraft named Lord St Vincent was approaching Nutt’s Corner airfield having flown from Northolt in West London.

When the aircraft was three miles  out from the runway threshold it was 90 feet  above the glideslope. As the aircraft approached Nutt’s Corner, the pilot, Captain Hartley,  was informed by the air traffic controllers on the ground that he was flying a little higher than the path which would have brought him safely to the end of the runway. The aircraft then rapidly lost height and hit a pole supporting an approach light  a short distance from the aerodrome.  The aircraft hit further poles; it then hit a mobile standard beam approach van before striking a brick building, housing equipment operating the  instrument landing system about 200 yards from the runway. This impact caused the aircraft to break up and there  was a slight fire after the accident. Twenty seven of the 34 people aboard were instantly killed.

A  Board of Inquiry opened in London on 14 April 1953. After hearing evidence, the board concluded that the pilot, Captain Hartley, made “errors of judgement” but that no moral blame was to be attached to him regarding the accident. The approach lights were found not to be at the top of the poles, to ease maintenance. Although that was not judged a factor in the crash, the lights were moved to the top of the poles following the accident. It was also recommended that when the ILS building was rebuilt that it should be offset from the approach path, or that it should be sited underground.

Although this was  the worst air disaster ever to occur in the North of Ireland it is largely forgotten. January 1953 was a dark month as another tragedy occurred  towards the end of the month.

However most people remember the tragic loss of the car ferry MV Princess Victoria, 133 lives were lost when the ferry sank off Donaghadee while the air disaster has been largely forgotten. Moves are now afoot by the Ulster Aviation Society and Antrim Borough Council to have some form of memorial to the 27 people who lost their lives at Nutt’s Corner.

Within 10 years of this accident Aldergrove became the chief civil airport and Nutt’s Corner was abandoned.

The place took its name from a nearby small farm in the townland of Straidhavern owned by (yes you have already guessed) Mr Nutt. I’m not aware of his first name but I can tell you his daughter was famous.

Way back in the 1780s there was a tradition of making welcome in the big houses, members of the peasantry who were musically talented. Many a blind harper travelled all over the country staying in the big houses to entertain at special dinners. The gentry were always on the lookout for new talent to impress their visitors.

Lady O’Neill of Shane’s Castle near Antrim tells in one of her letters how she found “a chit of a girl, the daughter of a Dissenter (Presbyterian) peasant with a voice of feathered songster charm.” Her name was Molly Nutt from Straidhavern near Crumlin and Lady O’Neill heard her sing on the street at the fair at Randalstown.

She picked her up in her carriage and brought her to the Castle. Her threadbare dress was changed for one of green trimmed with white and yellow ribbons. Under the patronage of Lady O’Neill she delighted guests with her singing. Lady O’Neill was so enthralled with her singing of local folk songs that she sent for a master of music from Dublin to train her voice.

When the O’Neill’s repaired to Paris in 1785, Molly went with them and entertained guests in the drawing room of their town house throughout the season.

She liked Paris and at the end of the season when Lord and Lady O’Neill returned to Antrim she stayed on.

Her warbling voice and Irish charm made her a hit in the music halls of the French capital. She soon became engaged to a young army officer. Just as it looked as if she was destined for stardom she was smitten with a fever and died within a few days. She was laid to rest by the banks of the Seine in her prime and at the height of her fame. The only reminder we have of her today is the former airfield, and now a roundabout, Nutt’s Corner.

Some readers have contacted me to inquire about the well being of Mickey Lemon as he hasn’t made an ‘appearance’ here for some time. I can assure everyone he is fit and well. I met him last Saturday night at a birthday party in Glengormley’s newest nightspot, The Bridge Licensed Restaurant. Mickey was one of the team who fitted out the restaurant and bar and they did a great job.

St Enda’s conceded 5 goals in a recent game and John Gault tells me Mickey is seriously considering making a comeback!

 

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