A lot has been written over the years about the history of Ireland’s Railways.
This modest attempt aims to provide a basic list of the Irish steam locomotives that have been preserved. It is illustrated mainly by (colour) photographs of the exhibits at the RPSI museum at Whitehead and the Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra.
The Replacement of Steam
The lack of locally available coal, a factor that had been strongly highlighted during World War Two, combined with an ageing steam locomotive fleet, meant that both CIE and the UTA were much quicker to switch to diesel than British Railways in the 1950s.
Although the very last steam-hauled train in Northern Ireland didn’t run until 1970, steam was eradicated in the Irish Republic in 1962 six years earlier than in Great Britain. This much faster onset of dieselisation compared with Britain, is perhaps one of the reasons why there are only a few preserved steam locomotives to be found in either part of Ireland. Sadly, just nineteen Irish 5ft 3in gauge locomotives have been preserved and only one of them is on permanent display in the Irish Republic.
The only preserved 5ft 3in line in the whole of Ireland is the Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR) which utilises around three miles of the ex-BCDR Belfast to Newcastle route. As well as a fleet of diesels, it operates three of the nineteen remaining steam locomotives.
The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) is an Irish railway preservation group which was founded in 1964 and operates both sides of the border. It rosters a few of the ten steam locomotives in its care on mainline railtours from both Dublin and Belfast using IE and NIR lines. It has a base in Dublin but only its main site at Whitehead is regularly open to the public. Here, the museum includes the old excursion platform, signal box, tea room and a tour around the workshop.
The final location hosting 5ft 3in gauge Irish steam locomotives is the Ulster Transport museum at Cultra which has its collection of five locomotives on static display alongside passenger carriages and goods wagons from the various eras.
5ft 3 inch Gauge – Industrial Locomotives
Of the nineteen preserved locomotives five are small industrial locomotives which worked in dockyards and factories. Three are British-built and can now be found at Cultra or Whitehead, whilst the other two are German-built, originally employed in Irish Sugar factories but now working on the Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR).
1891 (Robert Stephenson) 0-6-0T – Londonderry Port #1 now at Cultra
1919 (Hudswell Clarke) 0-4-0T – Guinness #3 now at Whitehead
1928 (Avonside) 0-6-0T – Londonderry Port #3 “R H Smyth” now at Whitehead
1934 (Orenstein & Koppel) 0-4-0T – Irish Sugar #1 now at DCDR
1935 (Orenstein & Koppel) 0-4-0T – Irish Sugar #3 now at DCDR
5ft 3 inch Gauge – Main Line Locomotives
Of the remaining fourteen locomotives, the oldest, an 1847 engine for the GS&WR, (Information on historic Irish Railway Companies) is on display at Cork Kent station. Another GS&WR locomotive is at work on the Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR). The final twelve are all on display at Cultra or based at Whitehead.
1847 (Bury, Curtis and Kennedy) 2-2-2 – GSWR #36 now at Cork Station
1875 (Inchicore Works) 0-6-0T – GSWR #90 now at DCDR
1879 (Sharp Stewart) 0-6-0 – GSWR Class 101 #186 now at Whitehead
1880 (Inchicore Works) 0-6-0 – GSWR Class 101 #184 now at Whitehead
1895 (Dundalk Works) 2-4-2T – GNR (I) Class JT #93 “Sutton” – now at Cultra
1901 (Beyer Peacock) 4-4-2T – BCDR #30 now at Cultra
1901 (Neilson Reid) 4-4-0 – GNR (I) Class Q #131 “Uranus”now at Whitehead
1913 (Beyer Peacock) 4-4-0 – GNR (I) Class S #171 “Slieve Gullion” now at Whitehead
1922 (Beyer Peacock) 2-6-0 – DSER Class 15 #15 now at Whitehead (as GSR #461)
1924 (North British) 4-4-0 – NCC (LMS) Class U2 #74 “Dunluce Castle” now at Cultra
1932 (Beyer Peacock) 4-4-0 – GNR (I) Class 5 #85 “Merlin” based at Whitehead (Currently in Dublin)
1939 (Inchicore Works) 4-6-0 – GSR Class 800 #800 “Maeḋḃ” now at Cultra
1947 (Derby Works) 2-6-4T – NCC (LMS) Class WT #4 now at Whitehead
1949 (Beyer Peacock) 0-6-4T – SLNR Class Lough –“Lough Erne” now at Whitehead
3ft Gauge Locomotives
A total of fifteen Irish 3ft gauge locomotives of seven different designs remain, although only twelve are still in Ireland. Some of these locomotives are in active use at heritage 3ft gauge lines north and south of the border.
Eight locomotives that used to work on passenger carrying lines were saved. Two of them used to work on the Cavan & Leitrim Railway (CLR), one of which is now at Cultra whilst the other was exported to the USA. A heritage operation has now restored part of the old CLR and efforts are being made to repatriate the second locomotive from America.
Heritage operations at the Tralee and Dingle and West Clare also account for two more locomotives. The final four engines all worked on the County Donegal Railway Joint Committee network. Two are now employed on the heritage Foyle Valley Railway in Northern Ireland, one is on display in Donegal and one can be seen at Cultra.
1887 (Stephenson) 4-4-0T – CLR #2 “Kathleen” now at Cultra
1887 (Stephenson) 4-4-0T – CLR #3 “Lady Edith” now in USA
1882 (Hunslet) 2-6-2T – Tralee and Dingle Rly #5 now at Tralee and Dingle Rly
1892 (Dubs) 0-6-2T – West Clare Railway #5 “Slieve Callan” now at West Clare Railway
1907 (Naysmith Wilson) 2-6-4T – CDRJC #4 “Meenglas” now at Foyle Valley Rly
1907 (Naysmith Wilson) 2-6-4T – CDRJC #5 “Drumboe” now at Donegal
1907 (Naysmith Wilson) 2-6-4T – CDRJC #6 “Columbkille” now at Foyle Valley Rly
1912 (Naysmith Wilson) 2-6-4T – CDRJC #2 “Blanche” now at Cultra
3ft Gauge – Tramway and Industrial Locomotives
Two examples of tramway locomotive are preserved, one at Cultra and one in Hull, England, meanwhile five industrial locomotives of two types are also left. Two, one of each type, work on the heritage Giants Causeway and Bushmills Railway in Northern Ireland, one is displayed at Cultra, one has been exported to Wales and another works on the Stradbally Railway in County Laois.
1882 Kitson & Co) 0-4-0T – Port Steward Tramway #1 now at Hull, England
1883 (Kitson & Co) 0-4-0T – Port Steward Tramway #2 now at Cultra
1904 (Peckett & Sons) 0-4-0T – Aluminium Works #1 “Tyrone” now at Giants Causeway Railway
1906 (Peckett & Sons) 0-4-0T – Aluminium Works #2 now at Cultra
1949 (Andrew Barclay & Sons) 0-4-0T – Peat Board #1 now at Stradbally Railway
1949 (Andrew Barclay & Sons) 0-4-0T – Peat Board #2 now at Talyllyn Wales
1949 (Andrew Barclay & Sons) 0-4-0T – Peat Board #3 “Shane” now at Giants Causeway Railway
Geographical Distribution of Irish Steam Locomotives
Map showing the approximate geographical distribution of the remaining 19 5ft 3in gauge steam locomotives (shown in red) and the remaining 12 3ft gauge engines (shown in green). Out of a total of thirty one, twenty six are in Northern Ireland, with nineteen at either Whitehead or Cultra. This notwithstanding, at least one main line locomotive normally based at Whitehead is kept at Dublin Inchicore at any one time.
More information on Historic Irish Railway Companies
Sources / Further Reading
Main Sources –
The following are in my personal collection –
- Fergus Mulligan, “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Irish Railways” – (Belfast: Appletree Press 1990)
- Michael C Baker, “Irish Railways – The Last 60 Years” – (Stamford: Key Books 2021)
Website Links (Valid in 2023)
- RPSI (Whitehead) – Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (Whitehead Museum)
- Ulster Transport Museum – Cultra – Museum’s own website
- Downpatrick and Country Down Railway – Ireland’s only heritage 5ft 3in gauage line