Gallery Post 3: Irish Steam at Mullingar; Dawn of the new Millennium

The year 2000 marked a new Millennium, or at least a big change in the way we wrote out the date. Has anyone forgotten the Y2K nonsense that led up to the first of January 2000? I recall predictions that planes would fall from the sky; crops would fail; and mass starvation would ensue! Anyway, I spent much of the first half of the new year in Ireland, doing as I usual do; keeping cameras busy. At that stage I’d been photographing Irish railways for two years, and had begun to figure things out to my satisfaction. (There’s always a learning curve when photographing a new place).

Driving wheel detail; locomotive 461 on RPSI excursion.

Among my projects were Railway Preservation Society of Ireland trips, and I rode and chased quite of few of them that year. I could fill an album with the images; instead I’ve decided to limit these to just a few that I exposed in colour around Mullingar, County Westmeath. Irish Rail at Mullingar was a working museum in its own right, albeit not a preserved one! Among its features was one of the last Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) ‘double junctions’, which was still entirely operated with traditional mechanical signaling. A gem of an old station straddled between routes to Sligo and Galway, the latter devoid of traffic, save the very occasional permanent way (maintenance) train.

Taking 461 for a spin at Mullingar in April 2000.

Operationally, Mullingar was a throwback to another time, add in a bit of steam, and for me it was like stepping back to another era altogether. While today, the RPSI still routinely runs steam on the MGWR route, Mullingar underwent a series of rationalizations during the 2000s that stripped way crucial elements of its historic character; including removal of the classic double junction and most of the semaphores. While I recognise that these ‘improvements’ were allocated to the necessities of ‘progress,’ my feeling is they unnecessarily ruined one of the great railway towns in Ireland. Collateral damage? While its easy to sniff romantically about grinding steam roller called ‘progress’, regarding Mullingar, I write with the insight of having visited hundreds of railway junctions around the world. Had the whole operation been preserved in working order, it would be a national treasure; if not a gift to the world. It’s too late now.

Cabin and station at Mullingar the way it was. Simplification and Mini-CTC transformed this classic MGWR junction.

These photographs were made with Nikon cameras (an F3T, and N90S) using traditional manual focus 24, 50, 105, and 135mm lenses and Fuji Sensia 100 slide film, processed on Abbey Street in Dublin. A topic for a later post are the black and white images I made during the same occasions using an old Rollei Model T.


Locomotive 461 at Mullingar.

Locomotive 461 shunts a carriage in Mullingar on April 21 2000.

The signalman at Mullingar assists locomotive 461 as it shunts a carriage.
Locomotive 461 catches the sun looking toward Moate.

Great Northern Railway (of Ireland) 171 at Mulligar on July 15, 2000.

Irish Rail 071-class General Motors diesel works a passenger train toward Sligo in July 2000.

Room with a view.