Restored steam engine back on the tracks after 57 years

 

AFTER A gap of 57 years, the 117- year old Slieve Callan steam engine is set to once again power a train on the west Clare railway.

Thirteen years ago in dramatic circumstances, the 40-tonne Slieve Callan was lifted off a plinth at Ennis railway station despite the efforts of protesters and brought back to Moyasta in west Clare.

The man responsible for the daring raid was west Clare native and businessman Jackie Whelan who has spent up to €1 million on restoring the Slieve Callan over the past decade.

Between 1892 and 1952, the Slieve Callan powered the west Clare railway – immortalised in song by Percy French – and it is due back in Ennis tomorrow fully restored.

The railway line was shut down by the government in 1961 with losses running at £22,000 a year. The Slieve Callan remained on at Ennis railway station until 1996.

Mr Whelan had secured agreement from the CIÉ to remove the Slieve Callan in April 1996 with the aim of running it on the restored 2.5km of west Clare railway track at Moyasta for tourists.

However, protesters opposed to the removal stood in his way and occupied the Slieve Callan. Gardaí were called and the protesters said that they would not vacate the engine.

Gardaí told Mr Whelan that he could not touch the Slieve Callan with the protesters inside without a court injunction. The operation was costing Mr Whelan £1,000 an hour. He recounted yesterday: “I said ‘are they breaking the law there, Sergeant?’ ‘Oh, they are’, he says. ‘Well, sure I can break it as well,’ I says, and we then lifted up the Slieve Callan.”

He added: “We lifted it up a few feet and three got scared and jumped out. Oliver Moylan stayed on and stood his ground.”

Restoration ended up taking 10 years, with a two-year delay caused over what boiler EU regulations could approve.

Mr Whelan said: “The general public might say ‘wasn’t he an awful lunatic to put that money into that train’, but this train will be there for the next 100 years.

“A lot of money was put into it, but it is money well spent at the end of the day, because it is part of our most important heritage in west Clare.

“When this was built in 1892 at a cost of £1,900, we had nothing only a donkey.”

The Slieve Callan will take passengers again in August. “It will take three hours to put steam on it,” said Mr Whelan. “You can’t turn on a key in this thing.”