I purchased a copy of “In the Tracks of the West Clare Railway” by Eddie Lenihan on a visit to my native County Clare. If there was ever a book that needed writing this is it. No better man than Eddie to do the job. This is not a short list of boring facts and figures such as we were accustomed in history books going to school. No, this is a 319-page account of just about everything to do with the West Clare Railway.
Eddie, along with his son Keith, walked the entire route of the famous railway. No taking the easy way out for those boys. They encountered the physical landscape of the train’s route. The actual day-to-day running of the West Clare became clear to them unlike some author who would glean the information from written accounts alone. It is not to insinuate Eddie did not glean information from written sources. He did that also. He acquired great photos from various sources, as well.
I will refrain from commenting on the short-sightedness of the people who authorized the tearing-up of the entire West Clare Railway infrastructure in the 1960s. There was a great deal of destroying stuff in Clare, and Ireland in general, at the time. Unfortunately, there was no rush to replace what was destroyed. It would not have taken a genius to see the tourism potential of preserving at least some part of the infrastructure – part of the line, a station or two, whatever. It is a wonder they did not tear down Bunratty, Knappogue, and Dunguaire castles.
I recently went up to a place called New Freedom just a bit west of Madison, Wisconsin. The Mid Continent Railway Museum is located there. After purchasing a ticket in the historical depot building I went out to the platform to await the train. The engineer gave an interesting and informative talk to the people who had gathered for the train ride. Soon we were taking a seven-mile, 50-minute spin through the scenic Baraboo hills in 1915 restored railcars pulled by a 1940s diesel locomotive. Unfortunately, the steam locomotives are undergoing repairs at the moment. After the spin I spent several hours examining the equipment which includes steam and diesel locomotives, freight cars, cabooses, service equipment and a plethora of railway paraphernalia. It was one awesome day. In the United States they called 1880 – 1916 the “Golden Age of Railroading”. It was a golden age for the business in other countries, too. If that Henry Ford guy had applied mass-production to trains instead of cars ... well, who knows. In 1876 there was 77,470 miles of railway tracks in the United States. By 1915 that figure had increased to 253,789. In the same period the number of motor vehicles went from zero to 2,490,932. It is ironic that cars were delivered from the factories to the dealers by train. In 1910 the railroad business employed a staggering 1.7 million people. The track I traveled on was not a passenger line but it serviced an iron mine and later a quartzite mine. We passed the old mining town of LaRue where the only building remaining is a tavern. You can be sure there was many an Irishman who entered those hallowed portals. Among the many interesting items at the museum are: A refrigerator car built in 1912 to haul meat, dairy products, beer and other perishable items. It used ice stored in special compartments. The ice was harvested from frozen rivers in wintertime and stored in sawdust. Talking about winter there is a 1906 55,000 lbs. Russell snow-plough that could clear drifts up to 16 feet deep. There is much, much more at the Mid Continent Railway Museum. As I wandered around looking at this and examining that I couldn’t help but envisage a West Clare Railway Museum with steam and diesel locomotives, carriages ... ah, well.
Hould on a minute, lads. Is that a steam engine I hear? And someone singing “Are You Right There, Michael”? Yes, it is the station at Moyasta and, thanks to the dedication of an enthusiastic bunch of people; the West Clare Railway is alive and steaming. School groups have been visiting and seeing a wonderful piece of County Clare history.
Check it out at www.WestClareRailway.com or contact them at Info@WestClareRailway.ie or 065 – 905 – 1284. There is some justice in the world, after all. I can’t wait to visit Moyasta on my next visit to Clare. Thank you, Eddie Lenihan, for writing the book. While you are on the computer you may as well check out www.MidContinent.org for comparison purposes.