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Táilte, Dublin's last express steam locomotive

Updated: Apr 9

Locomotive No.802 Táilte at Dublin Amiens Street on the Dublin-Cork leg of the "Enterprise" service in the 1950s.

In the early 1950s, Táilte is seen at Dublin Amiens Street (now Connolly) on the Dublin-Cork leg of the "Enterprise" service. Photo from the Philly Maher Collection, kind courtesy of Billy Maher.

Our railtour operation's namesake, Táilte, was the name of the last conventional steam locomotive to be built in Dublin’s Inchicore Works, and Ireland in general, and was completed in 1940. Despite her modernity and her being one of the most powerful locomotives to run in the country, Táilte had a relatively short working life of just under seventeen years, being withdrawn a good five years before her sisters. We will explore the question as to why that was later in this article, but first, let us take a look at her working life.

During the late 1930s, the Great Southern Railways invested in track improvement works on the Dublin-Cork mainline, with some curves eased, bridges strengthened, and longer rail lengths laid. Around this time planning had begun on the development of a new three-cylinder 4-6-0 locomotive, capable of hauling the prestigious mail trains out of Cork without assistance from a second locomotive under A.W. Harty, and was completed in 1939 under E.C. Bredin, with H.A.J. Beaumont as draughtsman. Development began in 1937. The first of the class, No.800 Maedbh, emerged from Dublin's Inchicore Works in 1939, followed by No.801 Maca. Our heroine, No.802 Táilte, followed in 1940 and was reported as having entered service in the August Railway Magazine of that year. It was originally for further locomotives to be built but ultimately Táilte proved to be the last. All three had been named after Celtic goddesses, and not, as if often erroneously stated, queens. They were known as the 800 class or B1a class. These were the most powerful steam locomotives in Ireland, and, indeed, the second most powerful 4-6-0 locomotives in Europe (the most powerful being the Great Western Railway’s King class in the UK). One feature was a double blastpipe and chimney; one nozzle served the inside of the cylinders and the other the outside.

Initial reviews in the railway press of the time compared the new locomotives very favourably to the express engines of Britain, with a team from the London Midland & Scottish Railway even coming over to Ireland to study the engines. The locomotives set to work hauling the all-important Dublin-Cork mail trains, and what a fine sight they must have looked hauling the GSR’s new modern steel-panelled carriage stock. They were originally painted in what has been described as a blue-green with the initial ‘G S’ on their tenders, with the GSR crest between the letters. You can see one of the class painted as such in the 1946 film I See a Dark Stranger, starring Deborah Kerr. The class featured heavily in the GSR’s publicity material and held sway as premium motive power into the early CIÉ era (which took over the GSR’s operations in 1945). Under their new owners, they were repainted into a darker green with the CIÉ ‘Flying Snail’ logo on their tenders. The class was used on a series of ‘Centenary Express’ excursions from Dublin to Cork to commemorate the centenary of the line in 1949 (not unlike the commemorative railtours of today). They were also used on specials for Archbishop Cushing’s pilgrims in the early 1950s, with locos such as Táilte sporting elaborate headboard decorations on the front. In 1951, the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise service was extended through to Cork. At Amiens St (now Connolly) one of the GNR 4-4-0 locomotives would be changed for a CIÉ locomotive to take the train on to Cork, and Táilte and her sisters were common features here, along with members of the older 800 class. This was not the only instance of the class working through to the east side of the city, for they were not unknown on sporting specials there either. They were too heavy to operate through to Landsdowne Road so a smaller locomotive would work these trains between there and Amiens St, though in practice the loco swap sometimes took place at Inchicore. In 1951 the double blastpipe and chimney were replaced on Táilte by a single variant as an economic measure under the direction of O.V.S Bulleid. The same modifications were later carried out on Maca though Maedbh retains her double arrangement to this day. Táilte underwent a heavy overhaul at Inchicore in the summer of 1952, this may have been her last.

While AEC diesel railcars started to encroach their way onto the CIÉ system, the three 800s continued to race between Dublin and Cork on the top link expresses for which they were designed, although the aforementioned Cork leg of the Enterprise working was taken over by such a set in 1953. It was not until the arrival of the A Class diesel locomotives in 1955 that the bells truly began to toll for the class. With the introduction of a mainline diesel fleet looming, the locomotive superintendent and CME staff started to plan for the gradual elimination of steam from the network. Despite being relatively young, the 800s were among the first on the target list. While they did find their way onto goods work, they were still very much restricted to Dublin-Cork workings, and justification could not be found to continue overhauling them as they became due. In contrast, much older classes from the 19th century such as the ex-GSWR J15 goods locomotives managed to continue working into the 1960s, they could travel more places and were adaptable for more kinds of work than the big, heavy express engines.

Táilte may have been the youngest of the class, but she had racked up the most mileage of the three since her last overhaul, which meant her withdrawal came significantly earlier than her two sisters. For context, by 1955 Táilte’s mileage since overhaul was estimated to be verging on 12,500, Maedbh’s was a mere 7,000, with Maca estimated to be around 45,000. Given the lack of work for these engines after the diesels took over the Cork line, it’s not hard to see why the decision was made to withdraw Táilte at such an early stage rather than commit to an overhaul

And so Táilte was taken out of service in March 1957 a mere 17 years after she was built, and the same year, with her boiler being noted for sale that September according to the January 1958 edition of Irish Railfans’ News, an enthusiast-published magazine of the time. And thus ended the tale of the last conventional steam locomotive to be built in Inchicore, and indeed, Ireland, to date. The class itself would continue for a few years, with Maca being the last in service, principally on goods work (including sugar beet) in the Cork area, though did some passengers stints including the Cork-Mallow leg of the joint RCTS/SLS/IRRS railtour in June 1961. The remaining pair were withdrawn in 1962, although Maedbh had been stored out of service for some previously. The pair were hauled from Thurles to Inchicore by a Sulzer diesel, and while Maca was scrapped, Maedbh was fortunately preserved by the Belfast Transport Museum (now Ulster Transport Museum), and be viewed in their gallery in Cultra today.

Not all of Táilte was lost, however, with one of her nameplates surviving in the Irish Railway Record Society’s collection in their archive at Heuston station. The other nameplate can be seen in the Casino Model Railway Museum, Malahide.

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1 commento

Very informative article on the life of this, for me, little known locomotive. It's also a testament to the skilled engineers and craft workers at Inchicore to produce a class of locomotive that was, with the exception of the GWR King class, the most powerful in Europe. This they did, at a time when the fledgling state was less than twenty years old. A truly remarkable achievement and sad to think as a nation, we couldn't see that and preserve part of that heritage to inspire future generations of what we can do with hard work and determination.

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