The Lure of the Dingle Train...
David Rowlands writes...
It was Spring 1953 and I was 12 years old and on a working party on the Talyllyn, digging out drainage ditches. In so doing I managed to slip into a deep sort of sump and get thoroughly soaked. I was not popular - we were miles from anywhere and no transport until we were picked up late in the day. The nearest phone was two miles away and I was sent off at a jog-trot with an adult who had been directed to phone Wharf station and get me collected. In the event Tom Rolt turned out in his old Alvis. He was not very communicative - until we got back to Wharf. There I was stuck in front of the stove, wrapped in a borrowed towel, to dry off. While my clothes were steaming gently I passed the time on a rickety chair by reading a paperback book - "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" by M R James. T R spotted this - he wrote ghost stories himself - and thawed considerably, chatting about M R James and others. He also gave me an old copy of "Trains Illustrated" from 1952.
I started flipping through that and was arrested by a group of pictures (and article) taken on the Tralee & Dingle in the 1950s. Little did I know it then but I was to meet all those photographers in due course! Had I only mentioned the T&D to Tom Rolt, I would have got more from him, too, for he had travelled on the cattle specials in 1951 and was to feature the line in his "Lines of Character" which was either "in press" or had just been published. One F N Swift wrote the article - a graphic account of a trip on a cattle special in 1951 - and I was hooked! I even wrote to a cousin in Dublin suggesting that he "pop down" to Tralee (which I insularly imagined to be on his doorstep!) and take a few photos for me! He did, later that summer...but of course it was closed and the stock piled up in the station yard. He took me a few box camera views of the chaos. However it was gone and that seemed to be that.
In 1964 my fiancee gave me a copy of Pat Whitehouse's "On the Narrow Gauge" as a present. Among many evocative essays, PBW wrote an amalgam of all his trips on the T&D, awakening memories of F N Swift's. There were some marvellous photos by someone called Ivo Peters, whom I had previously noticed in "The Railway Magazine" writing about the Somerset & Dorset. I wrote to Mr Peters c/o the Rly Mag and ultimately got a reply (he was ill in hospital at the time) - he put me in touch with "Cam" (W A Camwell) and with Pat Whitehouse and I was on my way...
At this time a newcomer joined the staff of our Lab and I was not too pleased at being told I had to share my office with him. However when he first looked in, he took a look at a picture on my wall and said "That's 'Russell' "...and the Ministry of Agriculture had sent not just a railway enthusiast to share an office, but a narrow-gauge enthusiast AND a modeller. The first model he showed me was a 7mm/ft model of a T&D 2-6-0T (Hunslet)...thus I met Dave Pinniger, who is still a close friend today.
I had been chasing (A) John Powell from pillar to post around outposts of BR...only to find (after three years of forwarded letters) that he was living almost on my doorstep: five miles away. He kindly invited me to visit and another friendship link was forged...that same evening, another coincidence: he had just received an article in the Cork Evening Echo from Walter McGrath, on the Curraduff and Lispole disasters. Needless to say I wrote to Wally for a copy and we found we had MUCH in common (not just the T&D)...almost daily letters resulted in my writing a long article on the railfans who visited the T&D for the Cork Holly Bough (their Christmas mag) that year.
At the time Whitehouse & Powell published their superb little history of the T&D, publishing techniques and costs did not allow of the inclusion of many photos - nor were they very well printed. It dawned on me that there was now room for a pictorial book on the T&D to provide a sort of "picture supplement" to their book. No publisher wanted to know (what? the Irish NG? You must be mad!)...but again luckily, I struck Denys Barton who was interested in the history of Kerry and in the T&D; we were both also interested in animal welfare. He didn't think the book would sell much, so we decided to donate all profits to the Irish SPCA of which Denys was a committee member. In the event they did very well out of the book, because it sold out surprisingly quickly - the main surprise being the large number of copies sold in Tralee itself, thanks to a two-page plug in the "Kerry's Eye" local paper by the proprietor, Padraig Kennelly - another T&D enthusiast who had purchased Driscoll's crossing cottage at Skylough.
The book received generous reviews. There was only one dissenting voice: dear old Paddy Flanagan, who wrote the excellent book on the Cavan & Leitrim, who reviewed it for Cuisle na Tire, the CIE Journal and disliked it for being a pictorial and for having too many pictures of cattle trains
It went out of print fairly quickly and was not reprinted in the life of Bradford Barton Ltd. The name and rights to BB books were acquired by a group called Roberts Wholesale Books Ltd of Dublin. They reprinted a poor facsimile edition without consulting myself or Dave Pinniger and of course made no payment or donation to the ISPCA. I can understand that those who had unsuccessfully tried to get a copy of the original edition found it "better than nothing".
Following the BB book, Padraig Kennelly put Walter and myself in touch with the late Tom Francis: a truly delightful character who seemed to have a close relation in just about every village and township in Ireland! He and Walter catalysed each other's interest and began digging out the surviving memories of the railway in earnest. They did the legwork and I did the writing - firstly as a long article on the lore of the Dingle Train in the Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society. This formed the bones of what became the second book.
At the time of loco 5T's return to Kerry there was much talk of fund-raising and so we offered to write the book as a fund-raiser, giving all profits for the restoration of 5T and building the short line to Blennerville. The new "Tralee-Dingle Steam Railway Company" would publish the book and sell it. Luckily I wrote an "escape" clause into our gift, that if not published within five years, it would return to us for publication elsewhere. After about three years it was clear nothing was going to happen and Plateway Press very generously attempted to recover the book and publish it. on excellent terms for the railway. Their attempts foundered and when the five years were up I wrote formally withdrawing the book from the railway, and Plateway then set about publishing it. Sadly the delay meant that Tom Francis had died before seeing the book in print.
On the day of publication, Walter McGrath who had been due to attend a launch of the book in Tralee, was knocked sown by a bus and taken to hospital. He awoke from concussion to find a copy of the book (taken there by his brother) and thought he was dreaming it! Apparently the medical and nursing staff showed great interest in the book and I have an amusing picture in my mind of them gathered round his bed discussing the aesthetic merits of the Inchicore chimney!
As you will know, Plateway made a magnificent job of the book with excellent design/presentation by David Smith. Only two things spoiled my pleasure in it. For some technical reasons I did not get to see proofs of anything except the actual text (ie not the photos with the captions nor the maps/drawings). I had got John Gillham to agree to my using maps he'd drawn of the line and station areas. Unfortunately these were redrawn and any reference to him omitted and I was not aware of the fact until after publication. John was very hurt and I fear he still blames me for what he saw as a betrayal. Also, the fact of not seeing complete page proofs to jog my memory, resulted in a few errors that made me look rather silly in the eyes of folk who knew the line.
Those errors are corrected as follows:
Walter McGrath and I decided that all the royalties from the book should go to the Dublin SPCA (the Tralee branch having closed) in memory of Tom Francis.
I hope the next generation of T&D enthusiasts and modellers will continue to add their research and findings to the story of the Tralee & Dingle, and my congratulations are already due to Simon Starr, Ken Elliott and Paul Titmuss who have made some most interesting discoveries.
David Rowlands - forever connected with the history of the Dingle line - describes how he came to write his books about the Tralee & Dingle Railway...