• Stephen Callaghan

An Early Irish Aviation Accident - 2nd Lieut McDonagh

Esker Cemetery, Lucan, County Dublin is a fascinating place. Opened in 1877 it is a typical Victorian style cemetery with lodge house and segregated burial plots for Protestants and Catholics. Some of the interesting burials include an RIC policeman who was fatally wounded during the Battle of Ashbourne (1916), veterans of the British Army and IRA volunteers who were killed during the War of Independence and Civil War.


Today we are looking a soldier of the National Army who died accidentally as a result of a plane crash in Fermoy, County Cork. Probably one of the earliest aviation accidents in the Irish Free State.


John Francis McDonagh was born in Dublin circa 1902. Newspapers reports claim he took part in the War of Independence (WOI), but these claims need to be substantiated.


John served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the National Army, which was established from the IRA of the WOI on 31 January 1922. In 1923 he was posted to Fermoy Aerodrome as part of the National Army Air Service, which had been established in June 1922. The aerodrome had been built in 1918 by the British Army, but was taken over by the National Army in 1922.

On the evening of 25 June 1922, 2nd Lieutenant McDonagh was acting as an observing in an Airco DH9 plane, a British two seat biplane which acted as a bomber during the First World War. This particular aircraft had been purchased from the Aircraft Disposal Company and had been delivered to Baldonald Aerodrome on 1 January 1923. Lieutenant McCulloch was the pilot. While flying, the machine began spiraling at about 400 feet and going into a dive at high speed the plane collided with a tree resulting in the machine being wreaked, Lieutenant McCulloch was thrown from the plane receiving serious injuries, while 2nd Lieutenant McDonagh remained in the machine receiving fatal injuries, which he succumbed to on the 26th. A court of inquiry was held in Fermoy the next day, where it was found that crash was purely accidental.


Lieutenant McDonagh’s funeral was held at Baldonald Aerodrome and he was interred in Esker Cemetery.


John’s younger sister Rita wrote the National Army inquiring about an allowance or gratuity, claiming that she was an orphan since the age of 17 and that John was her sole provider.

Lieut McDonagh's grave in Esker Cemetery.

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