The Branch Line Society


Island of Ireland III Day 3; All the way to Galway,
Saturday 5th May 2018

Report by Chris Yewlett;

This was sandwiched between the previous day, up and down the Sligo line on several different DMUs, and the subsequent all day railtour around the Dublin area in one 3-car unit. In contrast travel on the Saturday was by luxury coach, visiting several places of railway interest on a journey across Ireland.

Travel on the Saturday was by luxury coach
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

In glorious sunshine the party set off west out of Dublin, past the prosperous mixed farms of eastern Ireland, into the peat bog heartland. Incidentally in Ireland, peat is universally referred to as 'turf' - not to be confused with 'instant lawns' or 'accountant'! Peat has been a major fuel for many years in Ireland, both domestically and more recently, despite its poor calorific value, on an industrial scale for electricity generation. The latter became strategically more significant in Southern Ireland after independence in the absence of any significant coal measures. Industrial level production is controlled by 'Bord na Móna', an important state corporation established in 1946, which runs a very extensive narrow gauge (3ft) network [note shown on Baker's Atlas] - one of Europe's largest industrial rail operations - in several areas, using temporary tracks moved as different parts of a bog are extracted.

Our first call was at Lullymore Heritage Park, in the Bog of Allen,near Rathangan, County Kildare. The park was established by a local (Sean Judge, alas now deceased) and is currently run by his son and son-in-law. The latter gave our members a fascinating wide ranging introduction to local Celtic history, as well as peat extraction, which involves first draining the bog, then cutting the peat, by hand and now also mechanically. A demonstration was given and some tried it themselves with a 'sleán'… a turf cutter and thrower. Thus the aftermath of peat extraction is lakes rather than waste tips. However, the industry is in decline, for environmental reasons, including the general reduction in fossil fuel burning, and also the specific problem of loss of peat bogs, which are a rare habitat in Europe west of Siberia.

Peat cutting demonstration with a sleán, the turf is then thrown to the man on the right who (hopefully) catches it and stacks it up on the wooden barrow.
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

The heritage park aims to explain the local history and provide more general tourist opportunities, creating employment for former peat workers. There are various buildings expounding historical life in the bog, as well as a large café and play activities centre.

The whole operation is excellent, and is described by the Irish Tourist authorities as the only attraction in Ireland offering a comprehensive insight into the Irish Peatlands and the people living there. The prime BLS target was the 3ft gauge railway which has very few running days. The train was an ex-Bord na Móna loco with a comfortable plush large windowed carriage suitable for all weathers. It gave a 1,160yd circuit around the 'peatlands biodiversity' (nature reserve) area. Ex-Bord na Móna rolling stock, including a decrepit railcar, was carefully shunted to the end of a long siding to allow maximum track access, and the nose of the shed line was also covered. After a second circuit (to ensure overlap) members walked the shed line to the doors! Alas there were no other operational locos to be seen.

The park also has a road train, much more popular with the public as included in the admission price (the 'Peatlands Heritage Railway' is €5 adult; €2.50 child extra), which departs from the café and calls at the railway station. Some participants took the interesting 'trackless' tour behind a Dotto p/90 (built Castelfranco V Italy Feb 2002). One result of the peculiar pricing structure is low demand for the train; so the railway rarely runs and the otherwise excellent website is not regularly updated with the dates.

The 'proper' 3ft gauge train at the platform.
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

The 'improper' road train which gave a good view of the peat bog.
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

From Lullymore it was further west to the Bord na Móna's own Lough Boora Discovery Park, a 50 acre heritage site, County Offally. This is another ex-bog peat production site still with a large Bord na Móna narrow gauge depot and workshop adjacent, with many parked wagons and a main line to the active workings. However there was no activity or operational locos in sight on the Saturday afternoon. The whole public area is now a large 'country park' with walking and cycling (including hire) options. There were various fixed ex-peat locos and sections of track remains; 'sculptures' included the famous 'Sky Train'- a former peat train arched in an improbable looking curve across the skyline.

The famous 'Sky Train'- a former peat train arched in an improbable looking curve across the skyline.
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

Continuing west into County Galway, our coach crossed two relatively new bridges over Bord na Móna main lines still in use (as well as one clearly not) passing the peat fired Shannonbridge Power station. The next 'station stop' however, was Dunsandle, once the only intermediate station on the 9 mile Loughrea branch (CP/CA 3 Nov 1975 - but proposed for closure in 1947!). The traditional single track branch latterly had four - the same as in 1910 - loco-hauled trains (SuX) with one or two coaches; some were 'mixed' (both passenger and goods). They ran round at Attymon Junction and Loughrea stations. Two return bus trips were provided in lieu and only one of our party had done the branch before closure. Dunsandle is being converted to a dwelling with substantial expansion. Some rolling stock was stabled on track in the former platforms - including a mainline diesel loco (E428) which had served in preservation but probably never again. The branch track bed is severed by the M6 Galway motorway.

Dunsandle station, looking north towards Loughrea, 32 day returns please (if only)…
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

Dunsandle station looking north towards Attymon Junction (open as Attymon).
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

Leisureland Express (2ft gauge) with the beautiful Galway bay as a backdrop.
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

Pressing on ever west to Galway itself, the coach struggled through the city traffic past the station to Salthill Leisureland seaside amusement park, where the prime attraction was a 2ft gauge railway. Set on a very scenic bay this is a continuous loop, with a couple of knocked together containers on the back run doubling as a 'tunnel' and storage shed. Motive power was an American steam outline loco powered by a tender-concealed diesel engine! Three laps were enjoyed to the surprise of the locals.

However, as time was pressing, participants did not sample the other rides here (at least one was on rails…) but set off for the final destination, Glenlo Abbey Hotel, after dropping some participants at Galway station for the last train to Dublin. Glenlo has acquired an original 'Orient Express' Pullman car, (used in the famous Sean Connery and Co 'Murder' film!) and a TSO. The dismounted coaches are now on a solid base and are used for a 'fine dining' experience - it was too, and we were to round off our first three days there. The interiors were excellent with a superb attractive view out over the golf course and route of the former 48 mile long, 5' 3" gauge, Galway to Clifden branch (a light railway) - the last train ran on 23 Apr 1935. The chef could not be faulted on 'quality', but 'quantity' seemed lightly loaded as is the norm with fine dining, while the service, impeccably formal, was more 'branch line' than 'express' (well, we are the BLS…) It was an enjoyable experience, a great social occasion.

After dinner and acquiring a relief coach driver, as the day was so long, despite leaving 45 mins late (21.15), an express run made Dublin within our booked arrival time of 23.55 in time for our 07.30 tour on Sunday! (2hr 40min non-stop largely on motorway compared with 2½ hrs by train with 8/9 stops.)

Dusk at Glenlo Abbey Hotel luxury dining, the Clifden branch went across behind the trees.
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

Inside, we were honoured to be joined by our esteemed BLNI Editor (on the right).
[© Chris Yewlett 2018]

(Quail Vol 6 p10 D - Feb 2004) Galway station (the main platform for Dublin services is off left) showing the short platform (bottom left corner) now used by Western Corridor Limerick trains. The siding far right is the start of the Clifden branch, which ran beneath the underbridge seen. This bridge can still be seen from the end of the station platform now. The disused bricked up loco shed is top left with the turntable right of the water crane.
[© Angus McDougall 3 Sep 2003]

Taken from that first bridge showing the remains of the Clifden branch looking towards Dublin. The former Galway signal cabin is top left with the station platforms right and the 'bay' (as in sea) in the background.
[© Angus McDougall 3 Sep 2003]

48 miles west of Galway the single platform Clifden terminus is now a hotel.
[© Press Release 2018]

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