(by Declan Quaile)
Born in Thunder Hill, Termonfeckin in 1901, Michael Cumiskey was a son of Laurence Cumiskey and Elizabeth McCabe. As a young boy the family moved to the house where the Sweeney family now resides, across the road from the Catholic Church. Michael was educated by Nellie and Ned Feran in the school at the Yellow Gap and as a young man enlisted in the IRA during the War of Independence. He joined the newly founded Irish Army on 4th April 1922, was made a corporal and served at Gormanston military camp, Co. Meath.
A story is told that while at Gormanston he was on sentry duty on the gate one night when the Commander of the Free State forces, Michael Collins, arrived unannounced with his entourage. Mick Cumiskey looked for identification and when satisfied he let them through. Unfortunately others on duty that night were unprepared for the visit and were found sleeping on duty. Collin’s is supposed to have said that if they were all as vigilant as the man on gate security he would have a great army!
He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 1st January 1923 and was involved in the training, control and welfare of troops, as well as having responsibility for stores and equipment.
He married Elizabeth (Ida) Byrne in 1923 and they had seven children: Fiona, Declan, Eithne, Michael (Mick), John (Gus), Cyril and Joseph (Joey).
Mick Cumiskey joined the fledgling Irish Air Corps after the Civil War and flew planes from Gormanston and Baldonnel aerodromes, the planes probably being Avro or Gipsy Moth bi-planes.
One early exploit he undertook, and which is proudly remembered by his family, was to fly under the Drogheda Viaduct! Approaching the viaduct from the sea he flew beneath the two centre columns, aiming for St. Mary’s Bridge. His problem going through the viaduct was to gain as much height as possible, as quickly as possible, to avoid becoming entangled in wires or cables spanning the river. As he flew under he had to ‘stand the plane on its tail and claw for height’ to get back up into the air. Word got back to his superiors at Gormanston and needless to say his return was not greeted too cordially.
Captain Michael Cumiskey at Griffith Barracks, Dublin in February 1935.
(Photo courtesy of Joey Cumiskey)
Mick was also inclined to use his plane for personal use on occasions, as Fintan Murphy, a young neighbour at the time, remembers:
“It was usually Saturday that we would hear the plane arrive in the village and circle over a very large tree at the corner of Billy Reilly’s garden. That was the signal for us to go to a particular field about half a mile away to chase the sheep or cattle out and into another field. All the time we were doing this (Capt. Cumiskey) would keep circling overhead, preparing to land. Needless to say we were thrilled to bits with the excitement and adventure of it all”.
Eventually on making the perfect landing and bringing the plane to a stop he would release his harness straps and jump out of the cockpit, having switched off the engine. He would leave Derry and myself to look after the plane while he went to visit (his wife) in his fine big house on the hill. On one occasion, when the weather was bad and not safe for landing he would discard a big red stocking with a letter inside which we would find and deliver to his wife. Sometimes the stocking would fall into a very thorny hedge but we would retrieve it and do the needful.
Normally on Saturday when the schools were closed there would be plenty of young folk around and they would appear as if from nowhere to witness all this excitement and Derry and myself had to assume some great authority to keep the gathering crowd away from the engine. After an hour or so Captain Cumiskey would return, thank us for minding the plane, then he would start up the engine, face the plane into the wind and take off to our complete amazement.”
“He came through his flying career by always having a healthy respect for the dangers involved. Engine oil was like treacle at that time and the engine had to be hot before attempting to take off. One of his fellow officers neglected to do this; with his plane ascending forty feet before plunging to the ground, due to engine cut-out, killing himself in the process.”
In January 1936 he attended a course in Civil Transport Control at Croydon Aerodrome, London and thereafter was Control Officer for military and civil aircraft at Baldonnel and Foynes Airport between 1938 and 1940. He was promoted to Lieutenant around this time and finally Captain on 1st November 1937. After the Air Corps career he went on to Dublin Airport first as a Pilot and later Controller working until he was 66 years.
He encountered Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan when the American airman landed at Baldonnell on 18th July 1938, having flown across the Atlantic in error. According to Mick, Douglas Corrigan had only $9 in his pocket when he landed at Baldonnell!
Aer Lingus began operating from Baldonnel in 1936 and Mick flew with them briefly on the run from Baldonnel to Croyden in London. Later Mick and Ned Stapleton became Ireland’s first air traffic controllers at Baldonnel.
Afterwards he spent time in Amsterdam as an Aer Lingus rep at Schiphol airport before returning to Dublin and spending the remainder of his career in operations. At retirement age he was asked to stay on for a further year to ensure a smooth handover of his area.
In July 1973 he was appointed a Peace Commissioner in Co. Louth.
Mick Cumiskey died on 15th June 1990 and was buried in Termonfeckin cemetery with full military honours, on account of his service with the Old I.R.A. during the War of Independence.