Below is a summary of talks and events hosted by the IRRS London. If you would like any further information about a subject or wish to get in touch with the speaker, please use the Contact Us page
Fri 21 April 2023 LIVE & ZOOM at 1800
“Rails through Connemara” by Jon Beaumont
The Galway – Clifden Line
For the last meeting of the 2022/23 season Leslie McAllister and the London Area welcomed Jon Beaumont to the new venue at Farringdon. Jon presented an informative and interesting explanation of the railways of Connemara.
Lifetime enthusiast, preservationist and author, Jon Beaumont, drew from his
recent book about the life and times of the Galway-Clifden line, open from 1895-1935, setting it in the economic and social circumstances of the time. He preceded this with the various proposals (mostly stillborn) for railways in the
district. The line was opened to support (abortive) plans for a major fishing
industry and a transatlantic shipping terminal at Clifden. He described the
route, stations and infrastructure and the services on the line through its
relatively short life. Compounded by the burning down of the railway hotel at
Recess in the ‘Troubles’, the line struggled to an early demise, even though it
had stimulated early development of a local tourist industry. Jon showed many
An audience of 20+ members enjoyed the lecture and excellent facilities of
the new venue. The meeting was also broadcast on-line so being a hybrid event
Fri 17 March 2023 ZOOM at 1900
“On Tour with Lance King 1961-70” by Leslie McAllister
J15 No.125 at Ballybrophy on 1961 Joint Tour
Leslie McAllister presented a selection of photographs from Lance King’s collection to members and guests. Lance travelled to Ireland from the UK for some of the early IRRS and later RPSI rail tours from the ’60s onwards, travelling on many now closed lines in the country. Leslie gave a knowledgeable commentary on the photographs explaining that some of the lineside shots on the first presentation of the 1961 ‘Grand All Ireland Tour’ were the work of another London Area member David Soggee.
Lance King left a collection of quality images and Leslie based his presentation on Lance’s coverage of the railtours, after 1961 he followed with the 1964 tour and further tours including the RBAIRS tour to Ballylinan. After 1964, Lance covered the early RPSI tours extensively, especially after 1968 when there was little or no main line steam in Great Britain. En route, Lance also photographed the modern railway evolving, and turned his camera away from steam on many occasions. The usual mix of steam, diesel and remarkable photography by the revered Founder of the London Area.
It was fascinating to observe, compared with the limited resources in locomotives for the RPSI today, the large number of different locomotives used to haul the trains and be available even when a booked loco failed en route. Photographs included two of the ‘Queens’ (E C Bredin’s masterpiece) 800 Maeve in store and 801 Macha hauling one of the legs of the ’61 Tour.
Leslie took great pleasure in attempting to identify individuals on the tours including himself and Chairman Tim Morton. A very enjoyable evening for everyone.
Thurs 16 February 2023 ZOOM only
“From Derry to Kerry : the photos of AE Bennett” by Ciaran Cooney
To an enthusiastic audience of 135+ participants on Zoom, IRRS Photographic Archivist, Ciarán Cooney gave a professional presentation of the photographs of AE Bennett. Ciaran has skilfully restored these classic photos and he explained the process he uses to achieve his results. In the Q&A afterwards one observer said “Ciaran is such an asset to the society. the work he does preserving the photographic history of Irish railways is amazing”.
Bennett made three visits to Ireland during 1955-58 recording railways throughout the island, including the GNR lines in the north, the narrow gauge Cavan & Leitrim and the erstwhile CIE branch lines in the south and west of the country, such as Ballinrobe, Loughrea, Valentia and Kenmare – to name but a few locations. Bennett’s extensive travels document the wide variety of Irish steam locomotives then still operating but which were slowly giving way to diesel traction. The ubiquitous J15 class both as built and as rebuilt with the larger boiler appeared in many images as did the equally elderly 4-4-0s.
Bennett’s photos provide a great insight into the railways of Ireland 60-70 years ago, observed through the eye and camera of an informed visitor. The local enthusiast can easily take the “normal” for granted and can be tempted to focus on the unusual. The visitor, on the other hand, is there to observe the “normal” and return with a comprehensive record of the day-to-day, although Bennett had a particular eye for the quieter parts of the network. Ciaran shared this unique record of Irish railways of the time with us.
One final observation after the usual vote of thanks suggested that “Ciaran perhaps could give a future talk as a masterclass on how to scan slides, medium format, 120 and 35mm!
Thurs 19 January 2023 ZOOM only
“Digitising the IRRS Archives + GNR(I) carriage design” by Richard McLachlan
Richard spearheads the photographic digitisation of IRRS archives. In a very interesting, scholarly and knowledgeable lecture, Richard explained the technical challenges and the use of modern camera technology to produce top-quality readable images, particularly of text and dimensions on old drawings when graphical standards were variable. As Richard said “Drawings are not the same as Photographs” He was very clear on the purposes of digitising. He had policy decisions to make about which drawings and photos to scan. In deciding what to scan he eventually decided to scan everything! DIgital is the new normal and printing copies is time consuming and costly. Storage of the scanned images with cataloging was enabled. Access of the images for members was vital particularly for model makers. After the interval Richard used internal papers passed between the General Manager and the Locomotive Superintendent to illustrate the design process for new carriages, followed by Diagrams and photographs of the resulting vehicles, including innovative internal features and the introduction of bogie coaches.
Thurs 8 December 2022
“Reflections on being CEO of Irish Rail” by Dick Fearn + AGM
Dick Gave a most interesting reflection on his career in railways followed by a detailed explanation of his work with Iarnrod Eireann/Irish Rail, initially as Chief Operating Officer from 2003 to 2005, but more particularly as Chief Executive from 2006 until his retirement in 2013. Having previously spent 30 years with the railways in Britain before moving to Ireland, Dick recalled the very strong political support he found for the railways in Ireland, compared with the post-privatisation fragmentation of the rail industry in Britain. He looked back on the job satisfaction he gained from overseeing Irish Rail’s major growth and modernisation programme of the time, including the reopening of closed lines and greatly increasing the frequency and quality of service on others.
An anecdote was indicative of the state of the train service when he first joined IR. He asked about time for trains to Cork for a meeting. It’s the 0710 he was told. And the next train Dick asked – 1055! So service frequency was a big early issue for him + punctuality and reliability. But good relations with the Irish Government and substantial investment brought new rolling stock, and good relationships with staff paid dividends. So Dick concluded by saying Operating costs were lowered, the Service was more efficient and Passenger numbers grew. A lively Q&A followed including questions on re-opening of the line to Youghal only reaching Midleton, a potential line to Dublin Airport and co-operation with bus services.
The meeting was followed by the London Area AGM
Thurs 17 November 2022
“Recording Irish Railways Line by Line” by Jim Edgar
It was welcome back to some 20 members to the Calthorpe Arms for the second lecture of the 2022-23 season. Unfortunately due to technical issues only the second half of the talk was transmitted on Zoom. Tim Morton introduced the speaker Jim Eagar – author, photographer and railway modeller, Jim explained the genesis of production of his series of books illustrating a 35-year period of change on CIE and Irish Rail, from 1974 to 2008, a period dominated by diesel locomotives between the “end of railcars and the arrival of railcars”. Jim emphasised his interest is on railways in general – the lines, infrastructure etc – not limited to locomotives and preservation.
As well as passenger trains, his illustrations showed many long closed lines and the transition from loose coupled goods trains to mechanical handling and eventually to the present day block freight operation. During this period virtually everything on our railways, from the rails and sleepers to the tickets and signals had changed completely.
A fascinating part of his talk addressed the problem of restoration of faded and damaged photographic slides, with before and after examples.
IRRS (London Area) 60th anniversary celebration
The IRRS London Area, 60th-anniversary was celebrated on Saturday 5th November 2022 at the Dickens Inn in St Katherine’s Dock in central London.
CEO of Irish Railways, Jim Meade gave us a detailed lecture on the current state of IR and plans for the future. The talk followed a 3 course lunch in a private suite. Despite train strikes and dull weather members and guests enjoyed the day with plenty of opportunities to chat to friends. The proceedings were introduced by Area Chairman, Tim Morton and were prefaced by an address from IRRS President Dick Fearn congratulating the Area on its 61 year history and remembering the place London has within the Society. He brought congratulations from the parent body and the Cork and Manchester Area. After a Q&A session, the day concluded with sufficient time for everyone to travel home – often on last trains departing from London at an early hour.
Thurs 20 October 2022
“Dundalk Works 1880 to 1959 Revisited” by Charles Friel
Irish railway preservationist, photographer, and author, Charles Friel, brought us an updated and lavishly-illustrated talk on the GNR’s Dundalk Works, opened in 1880. Delivered on Zoom, Charles gave us a detailed exploration of the history, life and times of the Works. He carefully explored the geography of the site explaining the purpose and workings of the various departments from the Erecting shop across the transverser to the Machine shop, Smithy and Paintshop, Charles emphasised the noise of the machinery particularly the steam hammers. The Works maintained steam locomotives (including 47 built there) and built and maintained hundreds of carriages, wagons, railbuses, railcars and road vehicles. His illustrations showed the variety of locos repaired and constructed in the works. Every square inch of the confined space was utilised. Charles in an aside explained that a proposed, but never built, GNR 4-6-0 would simply have not fitted in the shops. The pictures included the people who made the place tick as well as stories from behind the scenes. Some pictures date from the 1890s, many having been rarely seen in public, if ever!
After the interval the he explained what happened after the Works became privately-owned in 1959 and what remains of the once-great institution today. Photographs of the Carriage shop and beautifully finished coaches was followed by the range of buses, fork lift trucks and Sylva caravans built there. Charles showed the alternative uses to which the Works were used. Included in this range of products were Heinkel Bubble Cars!
Charles selection of photographs and his knowledge of the subject was appreciated by the audience. A particularly poignant set of illustrations was the final steam locomotive out-shopped – No 174 and the lines of withdrawn locos awaiting scrapping!