DUNMANWAY has many famous sons and daughters.
From freedom fighters to sports stars, the heart of West Cork has produced many to be proud of, internationally, nationally and locally.
However, there is one local name that, for many years, has regrettably, been sidelined.
Francis Victor Beamish was born on September 17, 1903 in Dunmanway. Later in life he went on to become one of the best pilots of his time and to have city streets named in his honour.
Indeed, his brothers, George, Charles and Cecil also distinguished the family’s name, both in the air and on the rugby field.
FV Beamish was capped for Ireland on numerous occasions and also turned out with the Lions. But it was his career with the Royal Air Force that brought his flying talents to the fore.
There are still members of the Beamish family living in the same house where Francis and his brothers and sisters were born.
‘My father was FV’s first cousin,’ Frank Beamish told The Southern Star. Frank and his family live at the Beamish home place, ‘Acres’, just over the border, so to speak, in Drimoleague parish.
‘FV’s father was the principal of the Model School in Dunmanway and we all knew about the history of the family and of their sporting prowess, but we really didn’t know a lot about their war experiences and their flying skills. That all changed a few years ago when that side of the story began to come to the fore,’ Frank continued.
And what a story it is. The Beamish children from Dunmanway – Francis, George, Charles, Eileen, Cecil and Kathleen – all went on to have very distinguished wartime careers with the RAF.
However, it was Francis who was to become one of the top fighter pilots to serve with the Force.
Born in 1903, Francis Victor Beamish was 36 years old when the world was plunged into war once more, in 1939. Having been a serving officer with the RAF since 1923, Francis was appointed to command No 504 Fighter Squadron on September 13th, 1939. After a brief time in Canada, Beamish returned just in time to take a major part in the Battle of Britain.
FV was credited with over 15 enemy aircraft destroyed, making him a triple ace and second only to another famous fighter pilot and fellow Irishman Brendan ‘Paddy’ Finucane from Rathmines in Dublin.
Now Wing Commander FV Beamish DSO and bar, DFC and Flying Cross, Francis was known to use every opportunity to get into the fight.
Indeed, at the age of 37, Francis should have been ‘flying a desk’ back at base and he was often ordered to remain at his post. But whenever the alarm sounded and he watched the rest of his squadron take to the skies, he would rush to the Spitfire he had ordered to be fuelled, armed and ready, often in his pyjamas, and take off in hot pursuit of his men.
On March 28th 1942, Francis was flying with a New Zealand Squadron high over the English Channel when they spotted a flight of German fighters. In the battle that followed, Wing Commander Beamish was last seen in his badly damaged Spitfire heading to a cloud bank over Calais. The last his Squadron mates heard was FV calling for a position check before his stricken Spitfire headed into the clouds. He was never seen again.
And so, 74 years later, a very special tribute to Francis Victor Beamish is scheduled to take place, not in his home place of Dunmanway, but in Listowel in Co Kerry.
The Listowel Military Tattoo (LMT) takes place over the May Bank Holiday Weekend (April 29th-May 2nd) and in honour of FV Beamish the members of the LMT are building a life-size replica of FV’s Spitfire.
‘This is only our fifth year holding this unique event. As part of our celebration, we are currently building a full size replica Spitfire and she will be painted in Beamish’s colours,’ Denis Carroll of the LMT told The Southern Star. The Spitfire will be unveiled by the members of the Beamish Family who are travelling to Listowel from across Ireland and the UK, and of course Dunmanway, he added.
A real WW2 Spitfire is to be flown from the UK to Listowel for the event and it is hoped that the fighter plane might make a pass over Dunmanway in a fitting tribute to Francis, and indeed his brothers and sisters who served. ‘We will be traveling to Listowel for the event, but I would like to see the Spitfire fly over Dunmanway. I am very proud of the Beamish story and it is fitting that we remember them and all they achieved both in the air and on the sports field,’ Frank said.