Woman’s coffin dropped from helicopter on way to Inis Meáin

galway daily news mary folan coffin helicopter inis meáin

A documentary on RTÉ Radio 1 this Saturday will recall the bizarre series of events which occurred during an attempt to bury a woman on Inis Meáin in 1967.

Mary Folan emigrated to Boston in 1929 when she was 18, and had a dying wish to be buried on her native island of Inis Meáin.

But a series of unfortunate events occurred when her body was being transferred from Shannon, including the coffin falling from the helicopter into a field in Co. Clare.

A listener from Clare wrote to RTÉ in 2019 about a story that made the headlines in April 1967, and has intrigued him for most of his life.

Mary spent most of her life as a nanny for an American family before dying of cancer at the age of 56. It was her final wish to be buried at home.

The man tasked to bring Mary Folan’s remains back to Ireland and to Inis Meáin was a Cork-born Boston undertaker, Gene Sheehan.

He came up with the idea of transferring the coffin from Shannon airport to the island by helicopter.

Mr Sheehan said the helicopter arrangements were made to avoid any difficulties involved in the sea crossing to Inis Meáin.

As there were no berthing facilities on the island at the time, a transfer by sea would have meant transferring the coffin from a fishing vessel out of Galway to a currach to reach the island, which he said he was reluctant to do at that time of year.

Mary Folan’s death notice, which appeared in the Boston Globe newspaper, outlined the unusual arrangements:

“Remains will be removed to Shannon airport, Ireland, by Irish International Airlines, arriving Sunday at 9am.

“Casket being transferred to helicopter for flight to Aran Islands for Mass of Requiem and interment on Inishmaan Island.”

In Shannon, the helicopter company carried out various tests to carry the cargo – the coffin was to be placed in a sling attached to ropes which were then hooked underneath the helicopter.

It was a method of carrying cargo that the helicopter company has not used before.

On Inis Meáin the islanders, including Mary Folan’s brother and four sisters, were making preparations and awaiting the arrival of the helicopter.

A grave had been dug for the burial and the local priest was preparing for the funeral mass. White blankets held down by stones were laid out in a field beside the church to act as a landing pad.

On attempting to transport Ms Folan’s coffin, the unthinkable happened.

The coffin broke away from the sling and fell into a field near a place called Paradise, Co. Clare.

But this was only the start of things to come.

In Miss Folan’s Last Wish, Sarah Blake from RTÉ Documentary on One teamed up with Treasa Bhreathnach from Raidió na Gaeltachta to find those connected to this story, in Ireland and beyond, and reveal what happened that led to these events fifty-five years ago.

It will be first broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 29 October at 2.00pm and will be available on all podcast platforms as well as rte.ie/podcasts