The sleepy village of Dromod in County Leitrim has retained a mainline railway station (the trains from Dublin to Sligo actually stop here - Irish rail travel is not dead yet)), but the main visitor attraction is just beside it - where once the coal trains from the Arigna mines met the mainline, a section of the original Cavan and Leitrim Railway narrow gauge track has been restored. Complete with a typical rural station ensemble. And a collection of vehicles and paraphernalia that is nothing short of stunning.
A Voluntary Effort by Enthusiasts
Like most museum railways, the Cavan and Leitrim Railway is very much dependant on volunteers and many hours of toil and trouble that can never be remunerated. And on the entrance fee charged to visitors, who mainly come to ride the trains. Which is, truth be told, a short experience.
The old station house, the water tower and the engine shed have been lovingly restored, you almost feel like you are on the set of an Agatha-Christie-movie when you exit the booking hall and find yourself on the platform. Where carriages and locomotives usually await the visitor. For a ride on the re-laid track bed of the original Cavan and Leitrim Railway. Never mind that most of the running stock has been assembled from diverse, non-local sources ... the feeling is there and the feeling is good.
Though you might be feeling your back once the train trundles off, past the workshop ... the trackbed is rough, rail joints are not the smoothest and the carriages are certainly not Pullman. But by then visitors are mostly absorbed by the running commentary provided, on the history of the line, the museum, the rolling stock. And the line curves. And quite suddenly ends. Redevelopment has meant that somebody's garden is now a bit in the way, so after a photo opportunity you already head back.
But then the tour through the workshops and the yard starts.
A Technological Treasure Trove
Hidden away in a pre-fab building are a few industrial locomotives that actually run - another part of the fun, you ride the loco yourself (it is pushed by another loco crewed by somebody who knows what he is doing, so it is a safe experience). A locomotive from the Guinness stable awaits restoration, a rail bicycle (that should be quadcycle, I suppose) stands in another corner, the complete crew section of a mainline locomotive can be explored. Further on, in the original engine shed, a stem locomotive stands ... idle at the time of writing as the boiler inspection is due. A costly endeavour. And yet to be financed ...
Between the two sheds, you can get lost in tech-nostalgia. The enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guides will point out the highlights (which might vary dramatically, reflecting the guide's personal interests) and more than happy to answer questions. So keep your eyes open ond don't be afraid to open your mouth as well.
More than half a dozen fire engines, two ambulances and some military hardware caught my eye first. All are Irish, some have an interesting history, a few are quite unique. The state of repair (or in a few cases disrepair) varies. There definitely is work to do here, a dramatically crumbling pump appliance breaks the heart of any fire buff.
Aviation enthusiasts will be delighted to find a few planes from the Irish Air Corps (one shot up courtesy of the Ranger Wing), gliders from pre-war Germany and Poland, cockpit sections of commercial airliners (the history of one alone is worth the visit), a jet fighter in sections, waiting to be completed. Other people simply buy the Airfix kit ...
And then there is the submarine, yellow, on top of a container. Not much detail was available during our visit, it could be a cramped one-man effort or even a ROV, but certainly it is unusual to find it here. Though the inland waterways are not too far off and it might have come in useful in the hunt for the Lough Ree monster.
Just a Junk yard ... or an Aladdin's Cave?
Now this depends - if you come just for a train ride and expect a museum setting, the workshops and yards may leave yo a bit cold. But you'll still get your money's worth. If you are a sucker for all things technical, you'll be likely to waste hour upon pleasurable hour here. What's a bit of rust between friends?
For a family outing a small café section would be nice, but this might be just too much of a logistical problem for a volunteer-run effort.
If the Cavan and Leitrim Railway tickles your fancy, you should also not miss the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra (which has some relics of the original Cavan and Leitrim Railway) and make a point to visit the National Transport Museum in Howth - another voluntary effort.