Happy Glam­per: Planes, trains and tanks in En­nis­crone

Un­der­taker David Mc­Gowan at­tracted global head­lines when he brought a 767 jet to a Sligo sea­side town. But will his odd idea for a glamp­ing vil­lage ever take off ? KIM BIE­LEN­BERG pays him a visit

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD - RE­VIVAL

Ifirst catch a glimpse of the tow­er­ing 767 jet through a fence op­po­site the car­a­van park on the road out of En­nis­crone. There it is in front of me, a Rus­sian jet air­liner with its white and blue body, gleam­ing in the twi­light. Vis­i­tors to the Sligo sea­side town who have not heard the leg­end of the vast aero­plane in a “back gar­den” must do a dou­ble take as they pass through the re­sort on a sunny af­ter­noon.

They must won­der if the sea­side town, fa­mous for its wide ex­panses of sandy beach and its gen­teel Ed­war­dian sea­weed baths, has a lit­tle-known in­ter­na­tional air­port across the road from the car­a­van park in the dunes.

Or if there is no air­port, why is there is a Transaero jet that used to fly all over the world out of Moscow peek­ing out over the top of a fence? And why is there a tank and an ar­moured per­son­nel car­rier next to it? Has there been some kind of in­va­sion?

In 1,000 years, ar­chae­ol­o­gists who find the air­craft may be mys­ti­fied about how it ar­rived in this re­mote cor­ner of Co Sligo. They will spec­u­late that the 21st-cen­tury na­tives of En­nis­crone must have had spe­cial aero­nau­ti­cal pow­ers.

I am here to meet the vi­sion­ary fig­ure who suc­ceeded in bring­ing the jet to En­nis­crone by trans­port­ing it on a barge to the nearby beach, and car­ry­ing it by truck through the town.

David Mc­Gowan, a lo­cal fu­neral di­rec­tor and em­balmer, bought the plane for €20,000 to be the cen­tre­piece of his now long-awaited Quirky Nights Glamp­ing Vil­lage.

When it fi­nally opens, the un­con­ven­tional des­ti­na­tion will en­able guests to sleep on board the jet, and en­joy the en­tire avi­a­tion ex­pe­ri­ence — apart from the fly­ing bit, of course — even down to us­ing the air­line bath­rooms. Al­ter­na­tively, if sleep­ing on board a 767 is not their idea of a per­fect hol­i­day, guests might choose to spend the night in an ar­moured per­son­nel car­rier, a tank, a vin­tage train, a dou­ble decker bus, a yacht, or the back of a Lon­don taxi.

Long term, Mc­Gowan is also look­ing at plans to ac­quire the train used in the film, Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press, and the truck from the film, Black Dog, which starred Pa­trick Swayze and Meat­loaf.

David is a hard man to pin down for a ren­dezvous. He apol­o­gises po­litely, hav­ing warned me in ad­vance that the du­ties of an un­der­taker — and the need to soothe be­reaved rel­a­tives of the de­ceased — must al­ways come first. The dead must be buried — and that is only fit­ting and proper.

He resched­ules a cou­ple of meet­ings with me at the planned glamp­ing vil­lage, as he has to at­tend to fu­ner­als.

So I have time to am­ble along the nearby beach, and visit the Ed­war­dian sea­weed baths, where vis­i­tors bathe in vast an­cient tubs with solid brass taps. The sea­weed is col­lected in sacks along the shore­line every day by the Kil­cullen fam­ily.

En­nis­crone is the sort of town where kids wan­der up and down the street in their bare feet, car­ry­ing buck­ets and spades and eat­ing ice creams.

A lo­cal man by the pier tells me that hav­ing suf­fered a pe­riod of de­cline dur­ing the Trou­bles, which curbed cross­bor­der traf­fic, En­nis­crone has been re­vived by the emer­gence of the Wild At­lantic Way.

Through the dunes, there is a trail of young­sters head­ing to the golden sands to surf.

When I even­tu­ally meet up with David Mc­Gowan at the en­trance to the fu­ture tourist at­trac­tion, he con­veys a pas­sion for his project — de­spite many ob­sta­cles that have been put in his path.

First he had to bring the plane to En­nis­crone two years ago. He says of that mon­u­men­tal feat: “Ev­ery­one in the ma­rine world and in avi­a­tion said that it could not be done.”

Then the un­der­taker turned nov­elty-tourism im­pre­sario had to get plan­ning per­mis­sion for his Quirky Nights Glamp­ing Vil­lage. De­spite some bureaucratic hic­cups, he has suc­ceeded in win­ning ap­proval, and he is grat­i­fied that there were no lo­cal plan­ning ob­jec­tions.

But now David has to raise the fi­nance to

I re­alised that I must have been known as the grim reaper, and it would send a shiver down your spine, but now I am now known as the plane man

com­plete the project, and trans­form the train, the plane and the rest of his vin­tage col­lec­tion of odd­ball ve­hi­cles into com­fort­able ac­com­mo­da­tion.

David says the project will cost a fur­ther €4.5m to com­plete and he says the banks want his house and his two fu­neral homes as se­cu­rity if he is to bor­row the money to fin­ish the job.

The busi­ness­man is now look­ing for an in­vestor. Now that Face­book is out of fash­ion, surely this an op­por­tu­nity.

Tak­ing me up the stair­case to the plane, David is still keen to out­line his vi­sion of the fu­ture, and it knows no bounds. In the hol­lowed-out shell of the air­craft, which he plans to have re­fit­ted, he tells me that he hopes that cou­ples will be able to get mar­ried in the cock­pit — and kids will be able to slide down the safety chute.

Look­ing out on one side of the plane, I see the dunes be­hind En­nis­crone Beach and Kil­lala Bay in the dis­tance. On the other side of the plane are the rolling hills of Sligo.

While the front of the plane will be like a nor­mal jet with the cock­pit and rows of seats, there will be bed­rooms at the back for those with a han­ker­ing to have a Boe­ing as their hol­i­day abode, hav­ing tired of the hum­drum apart­ment in Ibiza.

The new glamp­ing vil­lage will be like a re­cre­ation of a trans­port hub.

“The con­cept is to turn all types of trans­port into ac­com­mo­da­tion,” says David.

The un­der­taker has plan­ning per­mis­sion to build an air­port ter­mi­nal next to the plane with a cof­fee shop, cin­ema and ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre. The con­trol tower at the top of the ter­mi­nal will be a bridal suite. What bet­ter way could there be to em­bark on mar­ried life?

Around this air­port scene there will be dou­ble decker buses, the train and five Lon­don taxis.

Proudly sit­ting atop his ar­moured car, the glamp­ing supremo tells me he has al­ways had a pas­sion for vin­tage ve­hi­cles. He claims to be the owner of the old­est car in Sligo — a Model T Ford that was used in a bank rob­bery dur­ing the Civil War.

So what has ac­tu­ally mo­ti­vated Mc­Gowan to bring his quirky fa­cil­ity to En­nis­crone?

David says one of the mo­ti­va­tions was that the high-pro­file ar­rival of the aero­plane had given him an op­por­tu­nity to change his pro­file in the lo­cal­ity, from just be­ing an un­der­taker.

As a fu­neral di­rec­tor, David says that when he went out so­cially he was often the tar­get of pranks

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