Ireland has an active rail network between major cities, and taking the train can be a very enjoyable and comfortable way to see the country. However, if you do your homework, you can also take a journey into the past on a vintage stream locomotive, in company of many people who share a passion for Irish history and rail travel.
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland restores and maintains steam-powered locomotives from the golden age of Irish railways. Some are fully operational and used for mainline excursions throughout the year, a couple are used for shunting and short journeys, and many others are actively being repaired and restored to their former glory. Their museum in Whitehead (near Carrickfergus) is an old train depot, where all the engines and vintage rolling stock are stored and restoration work is carried out — open by appointment only apart from “summer steam” open days in the summer months.
The society (currently celebrating its 50th anniversary) runs excursions throughout the year for enthusiasts to enjoy trips in vintage carriages and pulled by the original steam locomotives in company of others who share a passion for the age of steam. Excursions departs from Dublin or Belfast, and prices are very reasonable.
Among the society’s many locomotives is the “Guinness,” a broad-guage shunting locomotive originally used at the St. James’s Gate brewery complex in Dublin, that is among the oldest Irish locomotives still in operational condition. At the other end of the spectrum, the society also owns “461,” one of the last steam locomotives built for use in Ireland. The society’s trains regularly appear on TV and movie screens in various period-films such as The First Great Train Robbery and Michael Collins.
Details of the society’s various excursions and open days can be found on their website: www.steamtrainsireland.com. While excursions take place year-round, there are more scheduled in the summer months. They also run popular themed journeys at Easter, Halloween and Christmas, as well as other special events throughout the year.
Ireland has a rich history of train travel — some of the engines now owned by the society survived the Civil War in the 1920s — and the society works to preserve this history in an active, living environment, rather than as stationary exhibits in a museum. The opportunity to take one of the society’s day-trips on a restored steam locomotive pulling vintage carriages through picturesque countryside is a perfect combination of Ireland’s virtues: idyllic scenery, a rich history, and friendly, welcoming people.
Visit www.steamtrainsireland.com to learn more about this hidden gem…