The Donegal Corridor

Image of the memorial plaque of the Donegal Corridor, black with white text set on a wall
Memorial in Ballyshannon, unveiled by Sean Slevin, a Local Defence Force wartime member

The Donegal Corridor was a narrow strip of Irish airspace that linked Lough Erne to the Atlantic Ocean through which the Irish Government permitted flights by British military aircraft during World War II. This was a contravention of Irish neutrality and was not publicised at the time.

The Battle of the Atlantic commenced soon after war was declared. German U-boats attacked Allied shipping convoys in the Atlantic Ocean, where hundreds of ships were sunk and thousands of lives lost, resulting in a very serious situation for the Allied forces. Some limited protection could be given to the convoys coming to the UK from the US and Canada but there was a gap where the U-boats could create havoc unhindered. This mid-Atlantic area was known as the Black Gap.

A total of 320 men died in 41 missions involving Erne-based flying boats and Ireland came under extreme pressure from the British and even the USA (who at this time were themselves neutral) to dispense with its neutrality policy and join with the Allies. A meeting took place in January 1941 between Éamon de Valera and Sir John Maffey, the British representative in Dublin. An agreement was reached whereby the Lough Erne-based flying boats were permitted to fly across a four-mile stretch of neutral territory from Belleek in County Fermanagh to Ballyshannon in County Donegal and thereby gain access to the Atlantic Ocean.

This flight path became known as 'The Donegal Corridor'. The boundaries of this path were clearly defined, as was the height that planes would fly for the benefit of the Germans. In order to preserve neutrality the purpose of the flights was officially air/sea rescue exercises. This agreement meant that the un-protected gap in mid Atlantic was reduced by at least 100 miles. The first official flight along the four-mile 'Donegal Corridor' took place on February 21, 1941. The original agreement and rules were soon changed and the flying boats went on missions to the mid-Atlantic, the west coast of France and to Iceland protecting convoys en route. This was a turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic which was the longest battle of the Second World War.

In May 2009 the Second World War veteran Ted Jones retraced his flight-path from Northern Ireland along the top-secret Donegal corridor for the first time in more than 60 years. He explained the historical significance of his trip to a local paper: "The last time I took off from St Angelo in a Catalina was May 26 1945” and recalled his fondest memories of the period, the night-time missions from Killadeas in Co Fermanagh towards the St John's Point lighthouse in Donegal Bay: "We used to hone in on the lighthouse with radar and shine a really strong light on them, scaring the hell out of the lighthouse keepers," he laughed.