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First Irish excavation of Battle of Britain Spitfire set to begin

By Donna Deeney

Josie McCusker was just five years old when, on a bright Sunday morning in September 1942, a Spitfire crashed on her father's land and almost set the family farmhouse alight.

The impact, just across the Irish border in Co Monaghan, caused an enormous explosion and sent pieces of burning wreckage flying across the nearby fields.

While most of the wreckage remained above ground, parts of the Battle of Britain fighter were buried when it crashed.

Luckily, the plane's pilot had bailed out in time.

Tomorrow, an excavation of the site will begin, and among those watching will be Josie, now 80 years old.

"I was with my two sisters in the house (at the time)," she told this newspaper.

"My mother was at church and my father was in the byre milking the cows when we heard the almighty bang.

"My father came running into the house because a piece of something that was burning had landed on the roof.

"There were bits of the plane scattered all over the yard, but we didn't know what it was at that time.

"Around 200 people gathered to see what it was, but then the Army came to keep everyone back and to make sure there were no bombs on board.

"It was very close to our house and we could have been killed, but thankfully no one was and the pilot had got out before the crash."

The excavation will be carried out by a team of aviation historians, Queen's University surveyors and professional archaeologists, supported by Monaghan County Museum.

Among them is Londonderry man Jonny McNee, an aviation historian who discovered the wreckage and organised the dig.

"Although the site was largely cleared by the Irish Army at the time of the crash, it is suspected that parts remain buried in the impact crater," Mr McNee said.

"The aim of the project is to safely excavate the impact crater of this aircraft and recover any remaining pieces of wreckage.

"Wreckage will then be sorted, identified, catalogued, cleaned and preserved before being returned to the Monaghan (County) Museum later in the year for display.

"This will enable the museum to put on a display of artefacts from the only Battle of Britain Spitfire to be legally excavated in Ireland.

"We won't know exactly what we will find, but we will be able to keep anyone that is interested up to date on our Facebook page, The Monaghan Spitfire."

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