05 July 2019

A journey begins on
‘a wing and a prayer’
in Dublin Airport

Prayer mats on a shelf in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The old phrase ‘on a wing and prayer’ sometimes comes to mind when I begin a journey.

The phrase seems to date from World War II and the 1942 film The Flying Tigers (1942). The screenplay was written by Kenneth Gamet and Barry Trivers, and John Wayne stars as Captain Jim Gordon, and co-stars John Carrol land Anna Lee.

Captain Gordon refers to the flight of replacement pilots, and asks: ‘Any word on that flight yet?’

The Rangoon hotel clerk replies: ‘Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by Japanese aircraft. She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer.’

The phrase was repeated by the songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh in their war-time song Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer (1943).

The phrase and the song inspired the title of a second war-time movie, Wing and a Prayer (1944), starring Don Ameche and Dana Andrews, and based on the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

These allusions to stricken aircraft limping home may have been inspired by an earlier theatrical phrase, ‘winging it,’ that refers to actors struggling through lines they have recently learned on the wings of the stage.

Prayer books, pamphlets and tracts on a shelf in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Although I am in and out of Dublin Airport regularly each month, I generally fly with Ryanair, which means I usually use Terminal 1. Even on one recent Aer Lingus flight I was redirected to Terminal 1.

However, I recently passed through Terminal 2, and before boarding my flight decided to look at the Prayer Room before passing through the passport and security checking areas.

This is a simple room, with very few markings and emblems, apart from an ambo or lectern and a qibla on the floor pointing the direction for Muslims to pray facing Mecca.

The qibla in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A few shelves hold prayer mats in colourful array, while a facing set of shelves hold an array of religious books, texts and tracts, mainly copies of the Quran, but also a small number of Bibles, many evangelical pamphlets, some Bibles, and a few copies of the Book of Mormon.

It seems Christian fundamentalists, both evangelical and Catholic, are more proactive than mainstream religious groups in placing their publications in the room.

Two stucco alcoves are the only decoration on the walls. These were once part of Corballis House, which stood on the site of Terminal 2.

Corballis House was a protected structure dating from the late 18th or early 19th century. It stood on the site of an earlier house dating from 1641 or 1642, and this in turn may have been built on the site of an earlier mediaeval castle or tower house levelled by Lord Ormond in a battle around 1641.

Corballis House was a listed protected structure, but despite its ‘protected’ status, Fingal County Council agreed to its demolition after proper archaeological and historical recording.

The interior decorative plasterwork of Corballis House dated from the late 18th century, when the house was owned by the Wilkinson family. The musical theme of these decorative plaster niches inside one of the upper-storey bay rooms indicated the room may once have been the venue for fashionable recitals and parties hosted by Sir Henry Wilkinson’s daughter, the poet Anna Liddiard (1773-1819) around the turn of the 19th century.

The design team for Terminal 2 considered incorporating Corballis House into the project and also looked at the feasability of relocating the house.

The two stucco alcoves in the prayer room are a tiny remnant of this graceful old house.

A sign tells visitors ‘They stand here in this multi-faith room in memory of the house and its people and to also remind us that only faith, hope and love are immortal.’

One of the two 18th century stucco alcoves from Corballis House in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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