Nearly a century ago, two young English aviators named William Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight, and landed in a bog. They didn’t mean to end up there—they thought it looked like a nice, flat field. So rather than skittering down a smooth patch of green, their mistake meant the record-setting trip from Newfoundland to western Ireland came to a nose-down in a sea of peaty muck.
Today the site of this significant event is marked by some concrete ruins, a peculiar egg-shaped cairn, and a herd of sheep. It’s only accessible down a tiny, poorly marked road full of potholes (pray you don’t meet another visitor coming the other way), in a windswept, desolate place that belies the importance of this turning point in aviation history.
The level of bravery involved in flying a flimsy, open-cockpit, bi-plane across the Atlantic is hard to comprehend in this age of quotidian air travel, and the achievement of transatlantic telegraphy seems trivial when compared to our ubiquitous mobile phone connections. But groundbreaking events like Alcock and Brown’s crossing should not be so easily forgotten or neglected. It may be just an odd egg in a muddy bog, but it represents a major milestone.
It wasn’t completely by chance that the two pioneers landed in this remote spot. Only 1,600 feet (500 meters) away is a marker of another transatlantic first: the Marconi radio station that sent the first messages from Europe to North America. This was no little amateur operation: At its height, about 400 people worked at the station at any one time. One of those people was the radio operator on the Titanic.