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.
“Last Days on the Tralee & Dingle” acrylic on board (20″ x 30″).
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!
One of the great things about this new blog is that it gives me a platform to draw people’s attention to some really great, less well-known artists that are out there. One such is David Briggs from Lisburn, County Antrim, who you’re probably unlikely to have heard of unless transport, especially railways, are your thing. You won’t have come across his work at auction as he only works on a commission basis, and when you look at his stunning paintings you will see why it’s unlikely any of it will see the inside of a saleroom unless their owners die or run into serious financial difficulty.
David’s work is seriously good with a great eye to detail and exudes atmosphere rarely seen in similar work. They are evocative, sometimes sad reminders of days gone by when it was still possible to travel to the remotest corner of Ireland by train, and every little boy wanted to become an engine driver. The inviting light of the signal box on a winter’s evening, smoke gently wafting from locomotive chimneys, the gentle hissing of escaping steam bring the paintings to life and you are drawn in…
“Twilight at Florencecourt” a scene that can never be repeated on the late lamented Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway – an independent concern to the end and which closed 1957.
“Craigmore in the snow” – a picturesque view of the famous viaduct near Newry on the Dublin/Belfast line.
They are far more than just railway paintings though and scenery, people and weather are not overlooked. They depict Ireland in a gentler, more easy-going era when the pace of life still allowed people the time to stop for a chat.
“Omagh, 1964” – the diesel railcar set adds to the poignancy of the painting as the Great Northern Railway’s line between Portadown and Londonderry, known as the ‘Derry Road‘, was a late survivor finally closing in 1965 and was a victim of political shenanigans.
The artist’s other equally superb work includes road haulage, motor biking, aviation and maritime scenes – be sure to check out his Facebook page ‘The Transport Artwork of David Briggs’