Having been abandoned in the 60's the Westclare Railway hit the headlines in 1996 when 'The Great Irish Train Robbery' took place. Jackie Whelan ‘stole’ the original, rusting steam engine the Sliabh Callan from Ennis Station, sadly most of the other wagons had been sold off for scrap at £100 each several years before. His dream, now a reality, was to restore it to its former glory at Moyasta junction between Kilrush and Kilkee and have it running again during the summer as a tourist attraction
The Westclare Railway was immortalised in a song written by Percy French which went like this 'Are you right there Michael are you right? Do you think that we’ll be home before the night?’ which may have seemed funny at the time that a train journey of 49 kms could actually take four and half hours. But it was true, the train was so slow that you could actually jump off, have a wee and hop on again! But at the time 1887-1952 there wasn’t an alternative, in fact it was a vital commercial link for the region. It employed 300 people and transported 400,000 passengers, not to mention livestock and goods, which where then ferried by horse and cart from the various stations along the route to local shops and businesses by ‘carters’.
Jackie & his chief engineer Richard Gere (yea...) are not just passionate about their railway, they are mines of information about the whole West Clare region which has been largely been forgotten about yet is stunningly beautiful with lots of other things to see and do in the area. Although you will have a real job tearing yourself away from Moyasta as anything can happen there, in a day there and often does, but thats another story.
There are visitor attractions and there is the Westclare railway, where you won't find any computer generated simulations or neat little audio displays or stuff you cant touch....Jackie is a living museum, a great story teller and a walking ambassador for Ireland who genuinely has an interest in all who visit, especially the children. And besides its not everyday you get to shake hands with Richard Gere, he even said if he'd known I was coming he would have had a shave and got rid of the greasy overalls. Julia Roberts eat your heart out......
For 10 more things to do and see in the area, including golfing at Doonbeg, a scenic drive around Loop Head, and a pub where the owner goes out into the bay to fetche the oysters himself for you? click here
Talk to you next week Susan Byron author of Irelands Hidden Gems. com