Steam blown off as engine returns to glory

 

THE LAST time Ennis businessman Oliver Moylan stood on board the 117-year-old Slieve Callan, Jackie Whelan gave the order that the steam engine be hauled 40ft in the air in front of a stunned crowd.

The rancorous scene was at Ennis railway station in April 1996, as a defiant Mr Moylan and three other protesters attempted to stop the removal of the 40-tonne Slieve Callan to west Clare. With gardaí watching, Mr Whelan placed the engine and Mr Moylan on a truck and headed for Moyasta in west Clare, to a restored section of the West Clare railway. Thirteen years on, the Slieve Callan returned to Ennis for the first time since those events yesterday, but this time it was all smiles as the one-time adversaries stood together in the Slieve Callan to celebrate its return.

The steam engine, which worked the West Clare railway between 1892 and 1952, was making its first appearance in Ireland after a 10-year restoration job in England that cost Mr Whelan between €500,000 and €1 million.

Admitting to being “absolutely bowled over” by the restored Slieve Callan, Mr Moylan said: “It is an outstanding achievement. I have to take back everything I said about Jackie in 1996, because I always thought he was bluffing. He has achieved what I thought he wouldn’t.” Shaking hands with the west Clare businessman, Mr Moylan told Mr Whelan: “The Clare people should never forget you for this. I thought I would never see this day.”

He said: “It’s one of the most outstanding pieces of conservation I have ever seen. It is a piece of our past. What is done here is authentic, real and is exactly the way the Slieve Callan was before.”

A former president of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce and current chairman of the Clare Association of An Taisce, Mr Moylan remembered the other three protesters had fled “like scalded cats” in 1996 as he remained on the Slieve Callan for its 45-mile journey by road to Moyasta.

The local chamber had established a committee to ensure the Slieve Callan remained in Ennis, and Mr Moylan said he had made his stand as the engine was an important part of Ennis’s heritage. Services on the West Clare railway ended in 1961.

Mr Whelan said the Slieve Callan will today be transferred to the restored 2.5km of track at Moyasta, and will take passengers from August 1st.