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Stabroek News

Palisadoes and its airport
published: Saturday | January 26, 2008


Hartley Neita

The Palisadoes strip which hugs the Kingston Harbour was not always a single finger of land. Centuries ago, it was a series of tiny isles. Then over many years, the sea and wind built sand mounds between these isles until it became what we know it is today.

Port Royal was the largest of these islands. It was called Caguay by the Spaniards. The English gave it its royal name and the buccaneers invested their lives to make it the wealthiest piece of land in the world.

In the beginning of air flights, planes landed in water and for years they did so at Harbour Head, the juncture of the Palisadoes strip and the mainland of Jamaica. Sometime in the 1930s, the Public Works Department used the labour of inmates at the General Penitentiary to build the road from Harbour Head to Port Royal, the department used that experience to experiment with different types of road surfaces.

To accommodate planes with wheels, the Palisadoes Airport was built halfway between Harbour Head and Port Royal. This was the site of one of the larger original isles in the Palisadoes. Memory is of a wooden terminal building where, passengers arriving and departing mixed with their families and friends in the departure and arrival areas. In fact, memory is that both areas were the same.

Sunday afternoon ritual

Going then to the Palisadoes Airport to see off families and friends and watch planes landing and flying off was a pleasant picnic outing. Travelling abroad was then a novelty. It was also newsworthy and the Daily Gleaner had a reporter and an office at the airport to interview and write about persons leaving and arriving. Then when the old wooden terminal was replaced by a modern airport - which became international during the 1950s - family visits to the airport became a popular Sunday afternoon ritual.

Memory also recalls the hundreds of Jamaicans who travelled to the airport from all across Jamaica to weep as their loved ones took off to migrate to England at that time. Since then, the airport has been renamed the Norman Manley International Airport.

At the same time, the Palisadoes strip became a popular night-time picnic and romantic rendezvous. It was so popular that two beaches, Gunboat Beach and Buccaneer Beach, were developed on it and for years - before Hellshire was discovered - these were the favourite bathing beaches for Kingstonians.

For Jamaicans, therefore, there is a sentimental attachment to the Palisadoes, its highway, Port Royal and the airport. Early suggestions for Kingston's main airport to be moved to Cumberland and Hellshire in St. Catherine were shot down.

New location

It is likely, however, that nature will sooner or later decide that sentiment or not and big-business interest or not, the airport will have to be moved, cost it what it may. Nature has a way of reclaiming what man borrows for a while, and those isles may well return.

Then there will be thre Vernamfield, a suspension bridge from Victoria Pier to the airport, or hovercraft service. The latter was tried some years ago but was sabotaged.

We have been getting warnings from nature that she is coming back for what was once hers. Let's not waste time in taking action. If we do, persons using Norman Manley will have to travel to the Sangster Airport International in Montego Bay.

Like going from one political party to the other.

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