Lartigue's monorail is ready to return to Listowel

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When an American high school band leads a curious locomotive and two carriages through Listowel, Co Kerry, on March 20th a success story of the National Millennium Committee will have unfolded.

Mr Jimmy Deenihan TD, chairman of the Lartigue Monorail Restoration Project, running 500 metres along the old Great Southern Line, said that "but for the allocation of over €220,000 the Lartigue project would not have happened."

The project has survived on chicken suppers in Cricklewood, modest grants from the County Enterprise Board, and donations from the Ireland Funds and other bodies.

Running sometimes three times a day between Listowel and seaside Ballybunion from 1886-1924, the rail service carried scholars and sand. When the 20-m.p.h. train failed to scale a small hill it was dismantled and scrapped, its several parts dispersed among farm gates and shed roofs. But for farmer Mick Barry, who collected carriages and a large piece of track, there would be nothing whole.

An 11-member restoration committee put together by Mr Deenihan in 1998 all have connections with the original. Mr Jack McKenna drove on the Lartigue, for example; three generations of Mr Christy Holyoake's family worked on it, Mr Michael Guerin wrote a book about it.

The monorail was designed by French engineer Charles Francois Marie-Therese Lartigue, as a cheap, easily-built railway that was ideal for areas of low population. He based his design on his observation of camels - legs high with the carriages on top.

As it ran on trestles at least a metre off the ground it would suit desert conditions and cope with mountain floods. The Lartigue monorail had been tried in Algeria in 1881, transporting esparto grass, using mules instead of engines. Kerry, however, proved the most successful.

The Lartigue's reconstruction will also attract rail enthusiasts, Mr Deenihan says. But then, at its height, much of its revenue came from tourists.

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