All aboard Dunshaughlin man Murf's magic carpet
There must be something magical about being able to float 2,000 ft above the Meath countryside soaking in 360 degrees of stunning views and sun-kissed scenery.
And for Dunshaughlin’s Aidan Murphy’s and his kaleidescope-coloured hot-air balloon there is, but even more special is the joy the air-borne experience brings to his passengers.
“I could say every flight is a wow moment and it’s true but the people you get to meet and the friends you make for life are really what it’s all about.
The 48-year old father of one has just aborted a planned flight for the evening on the evidence of the weather forecast. However his mood is far from downbeat despite the weather limiting his flying time this summer.
Typically he loves to get between 15 and 25 hours flying in each season which runs from April to September. July has not been kind.
“The day I get bored with it is the day I give it up. I describe ballooning as ‘The Three Mysteries’. The first mystery is you never know where you’re going; the second is you never know where you’ll end up and the third is you never know who you’ll meet when you land and that makes it fascinating.
“I call it a magic carpet ride. ‘Well, what’s that like?’ people ask me. I tell them it’s like a hot air balloon ride but I don’t have a magic carpet so I’m not sure.
“Most people don’t know what to expect when they set foot into the basket for the first time. And for Aidan, or ‘Murf’, as he’s affectionately known, putting passengers at their ease comes first.
“For most people it’s the anticipation, people can get nervous. They don’t know what to expect. I tell them to relax, give them a passenger briefing, tell them where to hold on and where not to hold on and landing positions.
“When you take off in a hot air balloon it’s like the basket is staying still and the ground is sinking away below you. I don’t do rollercoasters, there’s no queasy sensation in your stomach and because you’re flying with the breeze, there’s no wind in your face.”
He’s flown hundreds of flights and made hundreds of passengers dreams come true.
However, there is one special passenger, that comes first on Murf’s list of basket buddies.
In August 2012, Dunshaughlin lad Jack Kavanagh dived into an oncoming wave while on holiday in Portugal. In that moment his life changed – he broke his neck. He is now paralysed from the chest down with only limited movement in his arms and wrists. Son of Peter and Elmarie who run Kavanagh’s Pharmacy in Dunshaughlin village, Jack (pictured above) is now confined to a wheelchair but determined to live life to the full.
“Jack is real go-getter and I wouldn’t have known Jack up until then.
At the time I had one or two hot air balloons, equipment I wasn’t using, so I decided to put them all up for sale on a website you might call the ebay of hot air ballooning and I ended up with enough funds to buy my own wheelchair accessible hot air balloon basket.
“The balloon itself had to be modified to work with the basket. The flight itself is no different to a normal flight but the landing is different in that you land backwards so the person in the wheelchair doesn’t tip forward.
“We call it Jack’s basket, and we flew Jack up in it along with another experienced crew member and it was the best thing I ever did.”
Jack is full admiration for the man who has devoted so much time to others in the local community.
“Aidan is a friend of my father’s and when he found out about my accident he just started researching wheelchair accessible baskets and upskilled himself before one day inviting me, out of the blue, to come along.
“The team Aidan has around him is just fantastic, a really great crew and he’s a great captain for the whole of them. He embodies the whole spirit of the group. He’s so selfless. He’s in it for the community and just loves sharing his enthusiam for his sport and wants to infect as many people as possible with that enthusiasm.
“The first night we went up was lovely and sunny and the conditions were just right as they have to be. And just as the sun goes down, you get these glorious views and you also have the craic with the radio and the chase cars coming after you because you have no control on where you’re going. It’s such a great adventure but Aidan has it all under control.”
Aidan has flown plenty of wheelchair sortees since Jack’s inaugural flight and his ambition is to do even more.
“I want to get more wheelchairs up there. The challenge there is to get more people up and to promote that. Jack was the first person we flew and we’ve about 10 or 12 wheelchair flights since. Jack was the catalyst for the whole thing. And it’s funny, if it wasn’t for Jack we would never have got those people up there.
Aidan’s passion for aviation began as a child with Sunday afternoon drives out to the airport with his family to watch the planes land and take off.
“The ice cream van would pull up and we’d get a cone but I was always more interested in looking up at the planes.
But my first real hobby was ham or amateur radio. As a teenager I’d be talking to people from all over the world on shortwave radio. I actually ended up communicating with the astronauts on the Mir space station – that made the front page of the Meath Chronicle at the time.
“My father had no real interest in the amateur radio thing but he did come rushing into me with the Chronicle and said ‘if that thing crashes it’ll be your fault.’”
Aidan’s love of radio would eventually be replaced by a curiosity about hot air balloons after a friend who saw a giant inflatable land in Trim discovered there was a club in Dublin and encouraged Aidan to join.
“I was thinking more about operating radios from inside the balloons but first I had to help out with the club for two or three weeks before I got my first chance to go up. I enjoyed using the radio but I soon realised it was boring me a bit and I was loving the ballooning.”
Aidan began considering the concept of flying his own ballon but one major obstacle stood in his way.
At just three years old, he miraculosly survived being hit by a truck on Dunshaughlin’s main street. He fully recovered, or so he and his family believed until at age five, it was discovered that he was blind in one eye. In an early sign of things to come, the plucky youngster wouldn’t let a detached retina stop him.
“I knew the having sight in just one eye would be a problem. I wrote to the Irish Aviation Authority and explained and they wrote back saying ‘Thank You, Mr Murphy, but this isn’t going to happen because of section x paragraph x etc etc’.
“It knocked me back but my attitude was that I needed this more than they were saying no to me.”
Perserverance paid off. The Civil Aviation Authority in the UK were willing to assist Aidan’s ambition but only after vigorous testing and examinations. It would be the starting point for a long road of tuition and eventual certification here, but in 2000, he became the first licenced pilot for hot air balloons in Ireland to only have sight in one eye. He would top that by obtaining his helicopter licence soon after.
The PayPal employee, who is married to Alison with daughter Aoife, works three very long shifts per week in order to keep four days free for his pursuit.
With good weather forecast for this week, it might be no harm to keep looking to the skies for that magic carpet.