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Home Ballooning History
Ireland's First Aeronaut

Sir Richard Crosbie

Richard CrosbieOn 19th January 1785, Richard Crosbie made the first successful manned flight in Ireland. He was just 30 years of age at the time and ascended from Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin and landed safely near Clontarf a short time later. This was a remarkable achievement occurring just fourteen months after the first ever manned flight of the Montgolfier balloon.

Richard Crosbie was born at Crosbie Park, near Baltinglass in Co. Wicklow. From an early age he was mechanically minded, a trait he inherited from his father, Sir Paul Crosbie. However his father tried to suppress his son's interest in mechanical experiments lest they interfere with his studies and often destroyed his creations and deprived young Richard of his tools. Unfortunately Sir Paul Crosbie died in 1773 and did not witness the success of his son's ballooning endeavours.

Richard Crosbie was seen as a mechanical genius by his fellow students at Trinity College where his room looked more like an artisans workshop than a study. He had a practical knowledge of many trades and sciences and with his inventive genius often considered the possibility of flight and discussed the idea with his friends and colleagues.

When Crosbie read newspaper reports about the early Montgolfier discoveries he decided to carry out some experiments of his own. He wisely chose to use hydrogen rather than hot air to create lift in his balloons. This was a safer option and eliminated the risks involved in constantly stoking a furnace with straw, sheep's wool or other combustible materials which could cause sparks that would ignite the balloon fabric.

It was in a hydrogen balloon that the French physicist Professor J.A.C. Charles achieved the second manned flight just days after the Montgolfier brothers, confirming the suitability of hydrogen as the balloon stayed aloft for more than 2½ hours and travelled a distance of 27 miles.

Crosbie's intention was to cross the Irish sea and become the first aeronaut to make a sea crossing. This would have been possible with a hydrogen balloon which had greater lifting capacity and was capable of making a much longer flight than a hot air balloon of the same size. Crosbie also invented what he called an Aeronautic Chariot to carry his equipment, scientific instruments and ballast which he exhibited to the public charging a moderate price in order to raise much needed funds to complete his project.

To raise additional money and to prove the practicability of his voyage he tethered a balloon 12 feet in diameter successively for several days at Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin, each day sending up some animal or other. He eventually launched the balloon for free flight with a tame cat on board. The balloon travelled north west and was seen passing over the coast of Scotland that same day. The following day, with a change in the wind direction, it was seen descending near the Isle of Man and fortunately for the experiment it was recovered by a passing ship.

Crosbie continued with preparations for his great aerial voyage and according to newspaper reports at the time he had plenty to occupy his mind. With huge crowds expected to witness the historic event, a traffic plan was announced. Although in 1785 Ranelagh was virtually in the countryside, the ladies and gentlemen attending the event were requested to park their carriages in an orderly manner at the rear of Ranelagh House and avoid blocking the drive. Carriages were not permitted to stand on the road between Northumberland Street and Cold Blow Lane and their drivers were advised to carry on towards Milltown.

Crosbie's Flight from Ranelagh GardensIt was also discovered that forged tickets and passes were in circulation. This caused great inconvenience and resulted in genuine tickets being recalled and replaced with new tickets. With all the stress and fatigue of the project, Crosbie suffered a severe bilious complaint and his colleagues who were organising all matters relating to his aerial voyage prevailed on him to defer his voyage.

Bad weather prevented an attempt on the 4th January and Richard Crosbie eventually succeeded in making his historic flight on 19th January 1785.