One of the primary objectives of Táilte Tours is to help raise both funds and awareness for Ireland’s voluntary-run heritage railway groups. Our first charter, the “Premier Rose” diesel railtour from Dublin to Kerry, hopes to support a selection of these Irish railway preservation groups from across Ireland. Let’s take a look at these and a little bit of their background. All have their own individual character and unique take on their role in telling the story of Ireland’s railway heritage, while all being great day trip locations in themselves.
Belturbet Heritage Railway Station
Historically, Belturbet station was an important interchange between the standard gauge Great Northern Railway’s branch from Ballyhaise and the narrow gauge Cavan & Leitrim Railway’s route from Dromod. Indeed, it was one of the few stations in Ireland that had a cross-platform interchange between the two gauges. Closed to passengers in 1959, the 1990s saw the station reopen as a museum and has gradually built up an interesting collection of rolling stock from both gauges over the years. These include one of the last Waterford Limerick & Western Railway carriages and a Cómhlucht Siúicre Eireann, Teoranta (Irish Sugar Company) standard gauge Ruston diesel locomotive. Recently, they have successfully started and run an ex-Bord na Móna narrow gauge diesel locomotive, and laid a section of narrow gauge running line. It’s an exciting project and one to keep your eyes on, and a must-see exhibit for those taking trips in the Cavan and northwest region. Belturbet is located on Bus Éireann route 30 from Dublin to Donegal so a day trip from Dublin is quite possible. You can view their website here.
The Cavan & Leitrim Railway, Dromod
Originally closed in March 1959, Ireland’s last steam-worked narrow gauge line, a section of the Cavan & Leitrim Railway was reopened by volunteers at Dromod in 1993; since then has collected a varied collection of locomotives, carriages, wagons, and other vehicles. Handily located right across from the mainline Iarnród Éireann station at Dromod, it’s possibly the most easily accessed heritage railway in Ireland with regular services from Dublin to Sligo calling at Dromod. This makes it an ideal location for volunteers and those looking for a day trip from Dublin alike. The line recently returned 1905 Avonside built 0-6-0T “Nancy” to working order from a near-derelict condition. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Cavan & Leitrim has some exciting projects underway including the overhaul of its other steam locomotive, Kerr Stuart 0-4-2T “Dromod” and an original Tralee & Dingle railway carriage—part of their “Vintage Train Project”. The prospect of two narrow gauge locos in steam together at an Irish narrow gauge railway AND an original vintage carriage in service is one to look forward to indeed. Their website can be viewed here.
Donegal Railway Heritage Centre
County Donegal was once home to the largest network of narrow gauge railways in these islands, with both the Country Donegal Railway and the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway operating narrow gauge services throughout the county. While the last of these closed in 1959, decades later the County Donegal Railway Restoration Society restored Donegal town station as a museum and built up a collection of vehicles and artefacts from the county’s railways. Recently, their original County Donegal Railways 2-6-4T steam locomotive No.5 “Drumboe” underwent extensive cosmetic restoration and now takes pride of place on display at the museum. They have some very exciting plans for the future, and a return to full working order is not beyond the bounds of possibility either... their plans are quite exciting, to say the least. Its location in Donegal town makes the museum a must-visit for those touring the region. Donegal is the terminus of Bus Éireann route 30 from Dublin and is an ideal spot for a weekend away in an Irish town steeped in tradition. Take a look at their website here.
Downpatrick & County Down Railway
Currently Ireland’s only working standard gauge heritage railway, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway is laid on the trackbed of the former Belfast & County Down Railway lines around the town. Perhaps uniquely for a standard gauge heritage line in these islands, the system includes a triangle of lines with multiple route options available. The collection includes a wide cross-section of carriages from various Irish railway companies from across the island, including a superbly-restored Belfast & County Down Railway railmotor carriage. Its motive power includes some delightful German-built tank engines originally used by the Irish Sugar Company, and a mix of large and small diesel locomotives, including some of the Irish Traction Group’s fleet. At the time of writing they are in the final stages of returning one of the iconic Northern Ireland Railways 80 Class diesel railcar sets to service. The station is located near Downpatrick bus station, making it an ideal day trip destination from either Belfast or Dublin. Find out more on their website here.
Stradbally Woodland Railway
Located in the grounds of Stradbally Hall, County Laois, the Stradbally Woodland Railway is Ireland’s oldest heritage railway, running since 1969. It takes passengers on a pleasant journey through the woods in delightful toast-rack style carriages. The pride of the line is Bord na Móna 0-4-0WT steam locomotive No.2 “Róisín”, which was one of the last steam locomotives to be supplied to an Irish railway system, dating from 1949. The line is also home to a collection of vintage narrow gauge diesel locomotives, many of which spent most of their working lives in the surrounding region. In addition, the diesel fleet includes 1936-built Hibberd locomotive “Nippy”, the oldest diesel locomotive in Ireland. The line is owned by the Irish Steam Preservation Society, which holds an annual steam rally on the grounds every August Bank Holiday weekend. Located near Portlaoise and about an hour’s journey from Dublin, the Stradbally Woodland Railway is yet another great day trip location for all the family. It is served by some local bus routes from Portlaoise operated by both Bus Éireann and J.J. Kavanagh. You can find out more on their website here.
Hopefully, this has given you some outline of the various Irish railway preservation societies and heritage groups that Táilte Tours is hoping to support with its first diesel railtour from Dublin. Of course, a paragraph each isn’t enough to do them justice, and we encourage you to visit their individual websites and social media pages to find out more about them and the work that their volunteers do. And if you can, we’d love to see you onboard our diesel railtour this August—we are an entirely voluntary-run organisation ourselves and any profit made will be donated to the groups listed above. For those of you coming to Ireland especially for the tour, why not make a ‘railway holiday’ out of it and visit some of the groups while you’re over?
To book tickets for our fundraising diesel railtour from Dublin to Kerry, click here.