Saturday 24 March 2018

Full steam ahead as iron dragons have day in sun

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

THEY were the iron dragons that once huffed and puffed their way up the highways and byways of the land, threshing corn and carrying loads of stone, the only form of mechanical transport in a rural world.

From its invention in 1712, which heralded the start of the industrial revolution until it eventually fell into disuse as late as the 1930s, steam power reigned supreme.

And then petrol took over.

The old steam engines had just 30 years to rest, rusting in ditches around the country when the steam movement started slowly puffing off again in 1964, and their rescue began.

They might look like dinosaurs but they are anything but extinct. The National Stradbally Steam Rally is now a firm fixture of the Irish summer, with more than 20,000 people expected to attend the 48th event in Co Laois over the bank holiday weekend.

President of the Irish Steam Preservation Society Ken Graham said it was a great family day out, and that there would be 40 steam engines on display.

The Irish Steam Preservation Society yesterday announced details of the rally at Dublin's Phoenix Park, where the Lorna Doone steam engine took centre stage.

Huge gushes of steam billowed out, to the delight of onlookers, who included little Ruby Conroy (5) and Jacques Pretorius (8) from Laois.

Owner of the Lorna Doone, Tom Bermingham from Dublin, cautioned that the main danger with the engines was the extreme heat generated by the steam. "You have to be very careful, especially around children," he explained.

He bought the Lorna Doone, which dates from 1927, more than 30 years ago from a dealer in the UK, where it had been "lying idle in a ditch for years" and restored it himself.

Some years ago, Mr Bermingham took it on a road trip to Cork. Travelling at just 30mph, it took him several days.

It was not a comfortable ride. "The heat is the problem, and the oil. The seat would be quite uncomfortable too," he said. But, he added, as a hobby, steam engines can't be beaten.

Fellow enthusiast and society member Clifton Flewitt said: "What's worth it for us is seeing the wonder on the faces of people who see a steam engine for the first time."

Irish Independent

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