Richard Crosby's ballooning exhibition in Ranelagh Gardens, Dublin in 1784 started a craze for aerial endeavour among the Irish. Even George Bernard Shaw got in on the act, viewing the ground through a hole in the basket, resulting in an early episode of air-sickness! After balloons came planes, and the success of the Wright Brothers was closely followed by a young Belfast mechanic, Harry Ferguson, whose monoplane flew distances of up to three miles. Harry later achieved fame as the developer of the famous Massey-Ferguson tractor. By 1912 the Irish Sea had been successfully crossed in flight and the Irish Aero Clubs set up. In the lead up to World War 1, Ireland became a testing ground for the Royal Flying Corps and the first aerodromes were commissioned at the Curragh and Baldonnell. Later its successor, the RAF, arrived and became involved in operations against the IRA; US Navy flying boats based in Wexord, Bantry and Lough Foyle patrolled the Atlantic searching for German submarines. In 1922, a daring escape was planned for Michael Collins, then negotiating a peace deal with the British authorities, in a plane appropriately named 'The Big Fella'.
With the coming of international and domestic peace, the race to conquer new heights and cover longer distances resumed, with transatlantic attempts and the success of the commander of Ireland's own Air Corps, James Fitzmaurice. Many other Atlantic attempts started from Ireland in the wake of this trailblazer. As well as recording Irish achievement, the book also tells of the many planes which crashed on Irish soil during the wars, the landings of international aviation pioneers such as Alcock and Brown, and how the Irish skies were filled with German planes during the filming of The Blue Max and other war movies. The story of Ireland's national airline, Aer Lingus, is told and the development of the modern airports under Aer Rianta. MacCarron also addresses the challenges that face Irish aviation in the future.