You may be wondering how the West Clare Railway gets a place on a waterways history site. I think I could justify its inclusion by saying that it had a branch to Kilrush, a harbour on the Shannon Estuary that had been served by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, which also operated on inland waterways. Or I could say that one of those currently involved with the WCR is a Welshman, Richard Gair, who ran a carrying business on a narrow boat up to fifteen years ago. From narrow boat to narrow gauge: the WCR used the 3′ 0″ Irish narrow gauge (the broad being 5′ 3″).
But I think that the clinching argument is that L T C Rolt, after his journey around Irish waterways (recorded in Green and Silver), did not go directly from Athlone to Waterford: he went via Limerick and Ennis so that he could take the West Clare Railway from Ennis, around the north coast of Co Clare, down to “the triangular platform of Moyasta Junction” and thence “into the single coach of the Kilrush train”, arriving in Kilrush exactly on time. After a night in a hotel there, he and his wife caught a bus to Limerick and then took the train to Waterford. If it was good enough for Rolt, it’s good enough for me.
I shall always remember my journey over the West Clare line. It was an experience which I should have been very sorry to miss, and one which is the more precious because I fear that before many years have passed, unless the public taste for travel changes, it may no longer be possible to repeat it.
He was right. But there has been a long struggle to get some small section of the line opened with a steam engine to run on it. The campaign seems to have advanced in fits and starts, a bit like the WCR trains themselves, at least if we are to believe Percy French, whose most famous song landed him in court. However, despite some disagreements along the way, and some delays, Jackie Whelan, er, acquired the locomotive Slieve Callan and had it restored. The WCR has now gained support from Clare County Council; it hopes to extend its short length of track to two miles with a level crossing over the main road, and eventually to link Kilkee to Kilrush via Moyasta. It also intends to provide broad gauge (5′ 3″) track for its main-line diesel locomotive and for others that may be based there. No doubt the WCR website will have news of progress.
My first visit was in June 2009, after which I put up the first version of this page, with photos of the station itself. My second visit was in late August 2009, after the West Clare Railway tank engine Slieve Callan had returned from Alan Keef’s workshop, duly fettled and ready for duty. That has led to a major increase in the number of photos on this page.
I am grateful to TC, BLD and ED for identifying and commenting on various aspects of the equipment on display. I now know that the Slieve Callan’s bow fender is more correctly described as a chopper coupling and that a giant tap is a water column. Further corrections and comments welcome: there is a Comments facility at the bottom of the page.
Second update November 2009
Added a couple of photos of the pier at Cappagh and the site where the WCR turntable was.
Update November 2009
Added some photos of the station fire-engine and a weed-spraying vehicle.
The “triangular platform of Moyasta junction” and the station
The entrance gates (right) and the refreshment carriage, with good coffee
… that grounded coach body looks to be an LMS mainline coach of late 1930s origin judging by the windows and the ribbed roof panels. They may have been sold on to Ireland by BR when the new Mk1 stock appeared in the late 1950s, or possibly have come direct from the Northern Counties Committee in Ulster, who were owned by the LMS and thus largely ran mainland designs built to the 5′ 3″ wheel gauge — much preserved NI steam is distinctly Derby-shaped round the cab.
The station building
Looking down the platform. Note the old Irish script on the upper line of the sign
It looks better with an engine in the background
This giant tap is, ED tells me, called a water column
Looking back up the platform
The domestic side
Rolt said: “… we settled ourselves in a compartment that was a period piece in itself. The seats were covered with black American cloth well studded with buttons. Braided arm rests (were they ever used?) were looped on the door pillars, and the captions of the ancient and faded photographs over the seat backs were hand written in painstaking copper-plate. To do justice to such an interior I should, I felt, be wearing a deer-stalker and an ulster, for it was in just such a compartment, one imagines, that Sherlock Holmes and his Watson sped down from Paddington to Devon to investigate the mystery of Silver Blaze.”
Rolling stock on the Kilrush branch (which currently ends just beyond the right-hand side of this photo)
Engine (June 2009). This is currently on loan to the Tralee & Blennerville railway, whose own steam-engine needs much fettling
Pit being constructed in June …
… now covered by an engine-shed (August 2009)
The track is interesting to a Brit too, being chaired bullhead rail whereas most NG rail here,
certainly of industrial origin, is spiked flatbottom.
The Kilkee line
These photos were taken in the rain, so there are some blurry bits.
The main line diesel
Main-line diesel on the far side of the main road
Closer view of the diesel
My expert adviser TC says:
… the diesel is one of the Bo-Bo “small GMs” (071 class?) that used to haul a lot of the mainline cross-border services in the 1970s. The coaches behind it are ex-BR ones, late Mk2s, sold abroad and regauged, in CIE livery …. Judging by the variation in roof line I take they’re NOT on their wheels?
Mark says (see below):
The diesel loco is a Metropolitan Vickers “A” class, Co-Co arrangement No. 015, formerly A15.
I don’t know whether the coaches are on their wheels, alas: I didn’t go to check.
A short trip
The carriages were built or restored on the spot. The seating layout replicates that used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; in the 1920s face-to-face seating was installed instead.
Inside the first carriage
The Slieve Callan awaits
Richard Gair in the cab
Jackie Whelan (who paid for the Slieve Callan restoration) checks for late-comers
The green flag
The view from the cab
Looking forward from inside the carriage
That last shot was included for artistic merit rather than informational content.
The return leg
Reversing into the station
Alongside the platform
The Slieve Callan is a 0-6-2 tank engine, with what I am told is an unusual feature: that the 2, the rear wheels, are the same size as the 6 driving wheels.
All eight wheels
The driving wheels
The front wheels, cylinders and valve gear
The gap between driven and undriven wheels with injector overflow pipe
The off sides (non-platform sides) of the carriages
The couplings between the carriages and the points operating lever (in the foreground)
The couplings also act as centre buffers, unlike on standard (or broad) gauge railways where the two are separate
The outside of the engine
The engine number
Alan Keef plate on one of the front sandboxes, used to store dry sand that can be sprayed on to the rail via a steam pipe by the wheel treads to stop wheelslip in wet or icy conditions
The back end of the engine
Actuating cylinder for brakes beneath the cab
I described that as “Unidentified black thing underneath the engine” but I’m told it’s the actuating cylinder for the loco brakes. My expert adviser said “one might expect it to be vacuum with steam, but judging by the relative newness of the loco and the distinctive brake hose couplings seen on the buffer beam I suspect it’s actually air-braked.” I can confirm that: I was told that it is air-braked.
The towing arrangements for the butty (I’m told the technical term is “coach” or “carriage”)
Boiler safety valve, possibly Salter pattern (anything expert-sounding like that comes from my expert advisers and does not reflect my own level of knowledge)
Letting off water
Looking forward along the engine
Inside the cab
The boiler backhead
The controls for the whistle
The steam pressure gauge
Brush stored across the back of the cab
Firebox dart stored across the back of the cab
Turf (for decoration)
Coal (for use). The sliding vertical lid is original equipment
Manual brake (the vertical column)
Oil and oilcan at front left
Can and gloves
There are two dampers, one mounted on the floor and one on the left of the boiler, above the oil container. The pipes and handwheel control one of the two steam injectors, feeding the boiler with water (thanks to TC).
The central section
The large swing lever for the firedoors (secondary airflow)
The fire (low)
The fire (warming up)
The regulator (throttle), which opens and closes steam access to the cylinders
The small wheel …
… is the right-hand injector control
The black handle is the driver control for the cylinder cocks
Steam trapped in the cylinders at a standstill and left to cool will condense: water being incompressible, it can cause hydraulic lock on restarting and blow the cylinder covers off their studs. So a little relief valve is left open for the first few strokes to blow through the residue, then closed to seal the pressure for hot steam. Look on it as like using the valve lifter to crank over a diesel engine.
The reverser, controlling the direction and setting of the valve gear
The gauge marking …
… the cutoff setting
The gadget on the right is the control for the air brake
The dual air pressure gauge
… the dual gauge is air pressure: train pipe and reservoir tank, connected by a system of non-return valves to ensure there’s always a supply to hand even with frequent applications of brake. You need to know the state of both when driving. The RH gauge — I can just see the word “pipe” — is at 0 as the brake’s applied in the station, and will need to rise to disengage the brakes from the wheels (brakes have to fail safe, so a leak anywhere in the system applies the brakes as a default state, with pipe pressure applied to hold them OFF). The LH gauge is the reservoir and 80psi clearly suggests it’s air braking, as vacuum standard gauge was usually around 23-25psi or its equivalent in inches of mercury.
I can confirm that the brakes are air brakes. On the full-size photo, I can see that the RH gauge says “b. pipe” (in lower-case letters) and runs from 0 to 100 lb/sq in; the LH says “m.r.” and runs from 0 to 200.
Thanks again to ED, BLD and TC for their expert advice and to Richard Gair and Jackie Whelan for information and access.
The line from Moyasta to Kilrush was, strictly speaking, the South Clare rather than the West Clare Railway, but the two were operated as one, and the distinction seems to have had little practical importance. The line curved around Kilrush Creek to Cappagh Pier, which had been the steamer pier since the 1820s: as you can read on this page, Kilrush Creek itself dried out.
Here is the pier in a gale in October 2009, with the wind blowing the pilot boat off the wall.
Here is the pier at low tide in better weather.
Here is a photo looking back along the pier. The railway station was to the left of the pier; passengers had a short walk down the pier to their steamer.
The next photo is taken looking across the base of the pier: it shows the line of the railway and the site of the turntable. Rails ran down the pier: passenger carriages did not go down the pier but goods wagons were hauled down and back by ponies or horses.
Moyasta Junction is on the N67 road from Kilrush to Kilkee in West Clare.
The WCR website is here.
Clare County Library has many photos of the WCR.
Photos of the West Clare fleet at Inchicore works (Dublin) in 1963.
You might be interested in my page about the Lartigue monorail at Listowel, Co Kerry.