How a transatlantic flight in 1937 inspired this Irish TikTok sensation to tour Newfoundland

Gearoid McCarthy grew up in a small town in County Limerick, surrounded by music and folklore. In a country known for its stories, there was one he heard over and over — one that involved a place he says always felt mythical as a child.

"When I was a kid and I heard Newfoundland, I guess I thought it was a place they had just found because it was 'newfound land.' I was always fascinated by it," McCarthy told CBC News.

He grew up in Foynes, a village of about 500 people in the middle of a bay that juts in from the sea. It's deep water seaport was deemed an ideal location in the early days of aviation, when planes took off and landed on water.

Foynes became famous in 1937 when it landed the first transatlantic passenger flight, which took off from Botwood, Newfoundland.

Throughout the rest of the decade, and up until the end of the Second World War, planes would often fly between the two small towns on opposite ends of the Atlantic, carrying some of the richest and most important people in North America and Europe, including then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

McCarthy followed in the footsteps of his family members, and became a full-time musician. He's been to 60 countries around the world, but saw his online following begin to gather steam after he started posting on TikTok.

Among the comments, he noticed several requests for him to play in Newfoundland. He had no idea the Canadian province had such a vibrant culture of Irish music, but realized quickly after asking a question on social media.

Flying boats were the latest in aviation technology in the late 1930s, carrying the first passengers across the Atlantic by air.
Flying boats were the latest in aviation technology in the late 1930s, carrying the first passengers across the Atlantic by air. (Foynes Flying Boat Museum)

"I put up a status one day on Facebook to see if there was any interest [in Newfoundland] and within three hours we pretty much had a tour booked," he said.

McCarthy was about to go on stage a few days later in Dublin when he got a text that tickets were about to go on sale for the first show in late June.

"She texted me 90 seconds later and told me it sold out," he laughed.

They kept adding more shows, and they kept selling out. The shows begin June 20, but McCarthy said more will be added this week.

He's now playing shows at Broderick's Pub and Holy Heart of Mary Theatre in St. John's, along with the Princess Sheila Nageira Theatre in Carbonear. There are plans to add shows in Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor.

Along the way, McCarthy plans to pop into Botwood.

"I do want to go see the Flying Boat Museum," he said. "And we're going to get screeched in somewhere. I've heard a lot about the tradition, I'm looking forward to it."

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