Ever since I first encountered the wonderful work of transport artist David Briggs I have wanted to own one of his paintings but since the artist only works to commission there’s little chance of finding one in a gallery or auction. The only option was to get in line and commission a painting but of what – so many possibilities. My first love when it comes to Irish railways has always been the late lamented Tralee & Dingle Light Railway (1891 – 1953) in West Kerry.
Built on the cheap the line had some very severe curves and atrocious gradients. From the outset, the railway was beset by problems caused by the poorly engineered permanent way and the first of several serious accidents occurred less than two years after the line opened.
Surprisingly, despite being a major financial burden on the ratepayers of the areas which it served the railway continued to operate a full range of services until 1939 when passenger traffic ceased. The line remained open for freight traffic – largely livestock – until 1947 at which time the service was reduced to one day a month when special trains were run in conjunction with the Dingle cattle fair.
The track, rolling stock and locomotives were run into the ground in these last years and it speaks volumes for the train crews that operated the line that they were able to keep things going. David Briggs’ painting captures the atmosphere perfectly as a train of empty cattle wagons heads towards Dingle just west of Camp Village. There’s great detail in this late 1930s view; the locomotives are working hard on the 1:30 gradient, the crew can be seen trying to shout to each other above the noise; St.Mary’s Chapel in the background, the fields and luxuriant fuschia hedges set the scene.
I wasn’t born when the line closed but have visited the remains of the route many times. Now I will no longer have to trek to West Kerry to be reminded of this wonderful, mad bit of railway engineering. Not the first painting that I have commissioned but by far and away the most satisfying!