The International Steam Pages
A Day out to the West Clare Railway, 2010
James Waite reports on a not totally successful trip to the West Clare Railway which reads more like a travel blog than a gricing visit, it's a good job the railway is in a beautiful part of the world... Click here for his earlier visit to the Tralee and Dingle Railway and the replica Listowel and Ballybunion Railway (the latter not steam but very interesting)...
For a good (German language) page on the railway including some historic
pictures, see http://www.schmalspur-europa.at/schmalsp_87.htm
James revisited in August 2010 and you can see some pictures of "Slieve Callan" in the daylight (added 4th November 2010)! Jackie Whelan (the owner of the railway) is optimistic of getting permission to reinstate the track across the main road and run trains alongside the salt marshes where the track is already present. James also recommends 'dolphin spotting' in the Shannon estuary based on Kilrush.
Greetings from a day trip to the West Clare Railway! The line is now the home of 0-6-2T loco no. 5 "Slieve Callan" (Dubs 2890/1892), named after the highest mountain in County Clare. It's the only surviving loco from the original line and returned to service last year after a protracted restoration at Alan Keef's works in Ross-on-Wye. This is an unusual looking machine - long for a 0-6-2T and with trailing wheels the same size as the drivers so that at first glance it looks like a 0-8-0T.
We were out of luck when we called and the loco was not in steam. We had to be content with a look at it in its shed which the young lady minding the site kindly opened up for us. There’s not much passing trade in the remote part of the county where the preserved railway operates and currently its owners generally only steam the loco when they have a group booking – understandable in view of the expense involved. The original intention was to operate a regular service and this is still set out on the railway’s website so – if you’re planning a visit it’s essential to find out in advance when the loco will be running. The phone number to call with the international dialling code is 00353 65905 1284 but you may need to persevere when calling if they’re busy. It’s worth the effort – this is a delightful railway. The cost of setting it up and contributing to the part of the loco’s restoration costs which weren’t paid by EU or similar grants must have involved a considerable act of faith on the owners’ part and I fancy that they need all the support they can get.
The loco is very pretty though she's painted in a shade of green which looks to me to be rather brighter than old photos suggest is right. The station building (at Moyasta Junction, where the lines to Kilkee and Kilrush divided) is very well restored but with enough general clutter around to look authentic. The station was bought from the railway when it closed in 1961 by the local farmer who owned the surrounding land as well as the adjoining pub. He'd been a lifelong enthusiast and had known the railway well since the 1930's. He was also responsible for the early moves to reinstate the railway though it now belongs to another family business. The line extends to the east in the direction of Ennis for rather more than a mile but there's no public access at the station. Immediately west of the station the old line to Kilkee crossed a main road. The track has been relaid for several hundred metres beyond the crossing, a most attractive stretch alongside a tidal creek, but the crossing itself has not yet been reinstated. There's also a yard with two broad gauge lines alongside the creek which is home to no fewer than 5 ex-CIE main line diesels, some of which are undergoing restoration. These are owned by a separate preservation group. Beware of driving too far off the road here as the entire yard is surfaced with what looks at first sight like gravel but is in fact finely crushed glass - definitely not tyre-friendly!
We moved on to Kilkee on the Atlantic coast, now a flourishing seaside resort, where the old station building is still intact and is used as holiday cottages, and then on to Loop Head, a promontory 20 miles or so south west of Kilkee on the north side of the mouth of the Shannon reached by an increasingly narrow and poorly surfaced road through beautiful rolling countryside. Very dramatic scenery at the headland with high cliffs where fulmars and other sea birds nest on the ledges, a lighthouse and quite a lot of unusual flora including lots of marsh orchids. Few tourists seem to get that far. A couple of miles before the end of the road there's a pub which claims to be the nearest to New York - a claim which may well be disputed by the publicans on the Dingle peninsula on the opposite side of the Shannon which must be a few miles closer!
Next we headed north to the Cliffs of Moher beyond Milltown Malbay - another place on the old West Clare line where the station building still exists though it's been incorporated into what looks like a quite extensive office development. The cliffs at Moher are very firmly on the tourist trail. We declined to pay the 8 euros demanded to park our car so can't tell you what they're like but it's hard to believe that they're any more impressive than Loop Head. Just down the road there's a large tourist shop selling souvenirs made from the local stone with an old hand crane and a mining tub truck standing on a short length of track outside.
We were amazed by how much the district has changed since we were last there in 2004. Vast amounts of new housing, often out in the countryside in locations which would be anathema to the planners here in the UK and a lot of it seemingly unoccupied. The main towns, Kilkee and Kilrush in particular, have changed from looking distinctly down at heel to exuding apparent affluence. I wonder to what extent this will change now that the country's days of prosperity are over.
The cost of eating out in Ireland is astonishing - the restaurant prices must be the highest in Europe. We'd planned to treat ourselves to a meal in a local hostelry before heading to Shannon airport for the flight home but ended up munching fish and chips in the car while parked outside a pub in Ennis. You probably don't need to be a World Cup junkie or to have a very long memory to work out what's going on here! We were back at the airport in time to watch the second half of the French game in the departure lounge. Great celebrations at the end when Uruguay managed to pull off a draw despite being reduced to ten men for the last part of the game.
Marsh orchid at Loop Head and the old station at Kilkee:
Loop Head cliffs including the bird life, (this size of reproduction doesn't do justice to the place RD):
WCR fire engine outside Moyasta station - it is probably the one from Inchicore Works - and (traditional) Irish pub.