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Pulling Back the Clouds: Mike Kelly

Pulling Back the Clouds: Mike Kelly

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Pulling Back the Clouds: Mike Kelly

108 pages
1 hour
May 5, 2020


This is the story of Michael Kelly, collector and curator of the die-cast model aircraft display in Shannon Airport’s Departure Lounge. From his native Limerick Michael networked and befriended some of the world’s most renowned model aircraft distributors and the collection has some of the rarest and most prized aircraft models in the world. The dream, which began when he was a boy, has come to be realised by mutual collaboration with the Airport Authority and is a ‘must see’ for all who pass through Shannon Airport.
Mike Kelly was born in the 1950s at a time when aviation was about to herald in a golden age in air travel. Shannon Airport was in its infancy when Mike was bitten by the bug for all things aeronautical.
For over 45 years he has collected die-cast model aircraft, amassing over 2,300 individual models and spending an estimated €500,000 in the process. It is the largest public display of die-cast model aircraft in the world.
This is the story of this remarkable man and the times he lived through.

“This collection is an obsession, an act of love by Mike Kelly...and it has found its home here in Shannon Airport.” (Niall Moloney, Operations Director, Shannon Airport).

May 5, 2020

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Pulling Back the Clouds - Kieran Beville







Limerick Writers’ Centre Publishing

Copyright © Kieran Beville 2020

First published in Ireland by

The Limerick Writers’ Centre

12 Barrington Street Limerick, Ireland



All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Book Design: Lotte Bender

Cover Design: Lotte Bender

E-book Formatting: Máire Baragry

Internal Painting Images: Con Kelly

Photographs: Lydia Jaber

Additional photography: Arthur Ellis & Dominic Taylor

ACIP catalogue number for this publication is available from The British Library

I have learned the significance

of my own insignificant life

-Frank McCourt




Pulling Back The Clouds



‘The Noodling Gardener’




Bringing the dream full circle

A wonderful life

Magdalene Laundries


Formative years



Brotherly love

A terrible beauty is born

Living through history

Daedalus and Icarus

Aviation history


Wright brothers

Pioneer Era (1903–1914)

Barnstormers and competitions

Aviation in World War II

Speed king

Digital revolution

Ireland’s role in aviation


History of Shannon Airport

A phoenix from the ashes

Arthur Toppin

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Moon landing

Trips abroad

Exploring and developing interest



Popular culture

The World Cup

Where the dream began


Muhammad Ali

Ireland joined the EU

Early memory

About the Author

About The Limerick Writers’ Centre



This is the story of Michael Kelly, collector and curator of the die-cast model aircraft display in Shannon Airport’s Departure Lounge. Mike’s dream began the day he first went to Shannon Airport with his parents, Michael and Mary and his brother Con to watch those magnificent men and women in their flying machines. He was mesmerised by the different aircraft types from the global collection of airlines flying through the international airport.

Of the great variety of aircraft at Shannon his favourite was the BOAC’s VC10 with its well proclaimed modern design, shape and splendour. The four Rolls Royce Conway engines vibrated the Shannon countryside as this beauty of the skies roared down Runway 24.

Life’s twists and turns brought Michael in various career directions other than flying but he would continue to be fascinated by and develop a specialised knowledge and long association with aircraft. From his native Limerick city Michael would network and befriend some of the world’s most renowned model aircraft distributors. He flew through Shannon to meet them and brought home some of the latest, rarest and most prized aircraft models to grow his collection.

After forty-five years of dedication to amassing one of the world’s most unique and spectacular model aircraft collections he found an equally unique and permanent home for them in Shannon Airport. This was realised by mutual collaboration with the Airport Authority. His boyhood dream lives on in Shannon Airport.

I was approached by a friend of Mike Kelly and asked if I would meet Mike because he was looking for somebody to write his story. I arranged to meet him one Friday morning together with his good friend Eamonn Walsh in the library café at the Savoy Hotel in Limerick, where we had an informal chat. I was impressed, not only by his knowledge but also by his passion. There is something about that kind of intensity of interest that is engaging. He reminded me of David Bellamy(1) who impressed me many years ago or David Attenborough, with his infectious enthusiasm and love of his subject – it’s contagious. Just like these wonderful men Mike has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his specialism and can cross-reference, what would otherwise be a rather unexciting catalogue, with stories that are remarkable. I soon learned you don’t necessarily have to love aviation to appreciate the worth of this truly exceptional man and his astonishing achievement.

I agreed to meet Mike at his home the following Monday. In many ways he is an ordinary man but in other ways he is extraordinary. He is intelligent, sentimental and very likable.

By way of example, to demonstrate Mike’s sentimentality, ingenuity and magpie (collector) instinct – in the living-room of his comfortable Harry Potter style, secluded home in Limerick city there is an impressive fireplace with a wood-burning stove in the hearth. Fitted into that rustic wooden fireplace there is a Yale lock with a key inserted. Dangling from that key there is a chain and at the end of that chain there is a gold fob watch. It is an eye-catching curiosity amongst many other objects. I asked about it and learned that the lock is from the front door of his late mother’s home and the chain and watch belonged to his late brother, Con. Mike is deeply connected to the items he collects and everything that can be seen and touched in his quite unique home has a story.

The huge collection of die-cast model aircraft(2) which he donated to Shannon Airport in 2018, is central to this book. But this is not a specialist book only for aviation enthusiasts – hopefully it will engage the minds and hearts of a more

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