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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 66 - Winter 1989 / 90
Guinness and Steam - The 1988 RPSI Spring Tour to Limerick by John Hatton
As family commitments have always deterred me from offering my time regularly to the Society, the 200 Club offered a way of providing financial help. There was also the thought that one day I might win a small prize such as a Society bookstall token, plus the free footplate passes, but these were not serious considerations in my decision to commit a regular monthly sum. I was therefore, both delighted and at the same time quite apprehensive when I heard my name called in the draw at the Society AGM as having won the star prize of the year - 2 free tickets with travel and hotel accommodation for the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland's 'Shannon Railtour' of 14/15 May 1988.
I am sure I am not alone in having regarded the Emerald Isle as somewhat of a no-go area for the past 20 years and I certainly would not have considered making the trip otherwise. Travelling with my son, Robert, we flew to a beautifully sunny Dublin on Friday 13th.
Staying the first night at the Ashling Hotel beside the Liffey, opposite Dublin's Heuston Station, we soon met Sullivan Boomer, (the RPSI Chairman), his wife Heather and son Christopher, together with Heather's sister Isabel and her husband Ernie Gilmore all of whom play leading roles in the RPSI and who, together with many other members of the Society, worked long hours to make the tour possible.
The membership is a happy mix from both the north and south of Ireland who are quick to make it abundantly clear that, contrary to popular belief, Irish people work well together. Unfortunately. Ireland does have a particular problem with vandalism and both the Society and the Irish Railways suffer badly at times, especially from stone throwing. Travelling round the Dublin loop line the previous Saturday, a number of windows had been broken and whilst the stock had been left at Inchicore works during the week vital equipment and stores had been stolen. The 1987 tour had been similarly plagued , with the RPSI ex-CIE set based at Mullingar having its windows smashed throughout by vandals just before the tour took place.
When Saturday 14th dawned it was clear our luck with the weather was holding as it was a fine sunny morning. At Heuston as we milled around the loco I realised that our party included a few 'Characters' who would much enliven our tour. Not least the chap with the skate board carrying roller skates round his neck and the party of Oarsmen from the Belfast Rowing Club, who came complete with Blazers and Straw Boaters. Not surprisingly the latter were also good drinkers who, with their ready wit and Irish charm, naturally gravitated to the bar in the restaurant car. It was here that I discovered how Guinness should really be drunk. Against all the odds the effect of trundling round the countryside in the train and manhandling the kegs into position when required (frequently) adds greatly to the quality. Every available vestibule seemed to have its keg ready to be moved up the train and into pole position to ensure the flow would not stop. The result was a marvellous brew with a lovely smooth consistency. The barmen usually have around 16 or 17 pints lined up along the bar, in various stages of preparation, which are topped up progressively until required. Each pint probably takes at least ten minutes to pour. This experience alone made the tour worthwhile.
But back to the tour itself. The wooden bodied RPSI Whitehead set is not permitted to carry passengers on the main line to Cork, so we joined a Cravens Mk I set for the trip down to Ballyphrophy. This was pulled by ex-LMS/NCC 2-6-4T (Jeep) No 4, which then transferred with us to the waiting RPSI set for a pleasant run through the lightly undulating countryside.
On Saturday afternoon, after arrival at Limerick, there was the option of either a trip by train to Tipperary with the Mulligar Set and GS & W 114 0-6-0 No 184, or a coach trip to Fenit and Tralee to see the closed lines in the area. A third option was to remain on the main train and to on to Galway for the night, rejoining the rest of us on Sunday lunchtime.
On Saturday night there is always a banquet, which this year could be attended by all except those travelling on the train to Galway. Unfortunately, the Hotel in Limerick where this is scheduled, had double booked us with a wedding party and 10 days before the tour the RPSI had to make alternative arrangements at a hotel in Castle Connell , some miles outside Limerick. An excellent spread was laid on but the need to catch the buses back to Limerick inevitably curtailed the festivities.
On Sunday morning the weather was more overcast but still very pleasant. We travelled behind the J15 up the line through Ennis and Gort which was until recently freight only but now has a three-days-aweek passenger service on the stretch from Limerick to Etmis. We stopped first at Ennis to water the loco and to see the remains of the erstwhile West Clare narrow gauge line. Here, there is a delightful little West Clare 0-6-2 Tank, sitting on a short length of track beside a large map of the line.
The next stop at Gort was the scene of a run-past by the No 184 which put up a fiery performance belting forth what looked like most of the contents of the firebox. Here some of us took a lineside bus and were able to see our train pass us on two occasions as it crossed the pastoral country which is typical of much of Ireland.
We caught the train up at Athenry, a few miles east of Galway, where we also rejoined the main train with No 4. Here we had problems as our IR guard did not turn up. This delayed us for 45 minutes and further problems were encountered at Athlone where it seemed the IR had forgotten that after crossing Shannon Bridge we were to take the now almost unused line to Mullingar. The service from Galway and Westport was diverted after 1973 to run via Portarlington into Dublin Heuston via Cork main line instead of the old route into Connolly.
Somewhere across the great central plain of Ireland I understand No 4 touched 79 mph, which I was told was the highest speed seen by steam in Ireland for many years. For much of this journey back to Dublin the line follows the route of the Royal Canal, which links the Shannon with Dublin. Sitting in the old wooden coaches with the smell of smoke wafting in through the open window, sipping yet another Guinness and with the green fields rolling by, it was easy to imagine we were travelling perhaps 60 years ago.
All too soon, we arrived at Dublin's Connolly Station where the magnificent Great Northern Railway of Ireland No 85 Merlin was waiting to hitch on the back of our train and to whisk us back to Dundalk and Belfast. This really is a beautiful loco in its bright GNR Blue Livery. The train must have been a glorious sight speeding along the coast through Drogheda to Dundalk where sadly we had to leave, to travel back to Dublin.
We had elected not to 'risk' Belfast, but by that time I was entirely convinced this was the wrong decision and had also joined the RPSI to keep in touch with new found friends. I will certainly be returning someday, to a most hospitable country, to enjoy again the unique experience of steam train travel with the RPSI, something I would heartily recommend to everyone. Although the star prize next year for the 200 Club has not yet been decided it will have to go someway to match last years prize.
Since returning from this trip I have been appointed by the Executive Committee as administrator of the 200 Club. It is my aim that the number of members contributing should be expanded considerably. Remember that in addition to the chance of prizes, membership also carries other benefits including payment of Society membership for both you and your family. I would like to see every contributor covenanting their subscription. The minimum payment of £5 per month totals £60 per year but with tax recovered, the Society receives a total of £80. This is at no extra cost to the member as this tax has already been deducted from income by the Inland Revenue and can only be diverted to the Society through the covenant.
A application form for membership is enclosed with this issue of the magazine and further copies can be obtained from me. If you would like more information please telephone me on xxxx- xxxx.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 28 November 2017