Long, long ago when the railway workshops at Inchicore were at the cutting edge of engineering innovation a great British railway engineer – Oliver V Bulleid CBE – was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer of CIE. A believer that steam traction still had a future in Ireland he oversaw experiments in using turf as a fuel for steam locomotives. These experiments culminated in 1957 with the appearance of the futuristic CCI “The Turburner”. David Briggs takes up the story….
CCI – The Turfburner Trials
The setting for this painting is Inchicore on the mainline from Dublin to Cork. It has been the main workshops for the railways in the Republic of Ireland since it was constructed by the Great Southern & Western railway in the mid 1840’s. The castellated facade on the right hand side of the painting fronted vast workshops, the smaller building on the left hand side of the view was until recent times a signal cabin.
In the mid 1950s the then Irish state transport company was CIE. They had already begun a process of dieselisation indeed one of their early diesel locomotives can be seen in the background approaching on the shed road. It is a Metro Vic A class – A57, one of a class of 60 that would undertake the bulk of mainline duties for many years, and prove very successful once re-engined with General Motors power plants., however the main featured loco in the painting is what is of interest here.
As a result of a late 1940’s report (the Milne report ) into the state of Irish railways the chairman of CIE Thaddeus C Courtney ( in the painting with the camel coloured coat and bowler hat ) invited one of the committee who carried out the study, one OVS Bulleid to join CIE as Consulting Mechanical Engineer ( later Chief Mechanical Engineer – CME ). Oliver Bulleid resigned as CME of the southern region of British Rail and moved to Ireland. He was one of the last of the famous CME’s of the steam era and although some of his ideas were questioned at times by his peers he was undoubtedly an able engineer and designer.
Ireland had little suitable coal resources for steaming but did have abundant supplies of low calorific value fuel in the form of peat or turf as its more commonly known. Bulleid reckoned he could design and build a suitable locomotive that utilised this fuel and thus was born CC1 – The Turf Burner. As this is a narrative to give context to the painting I won’t go into the details of how it works but it makes interesting reading if you care to do your own research! Ultimately the project was not pursued just as with Bulleid’s other innovative project for BR ‘ The Leader’.
Our scene above then is CC1 passing Inchicore on a test train to Cork in October 1957 with a hotch potch of available carriages ( purely to provide a load for the loco ) . The loco would ultimately be fully painted in lined green but during the trials was as is usual painted in workshop grey. Bulleid ( black coat, red bow tie, and bowler hat ) is explaining to the ‘ brass’ at Inchicore some technical point or other as the train, driven by a skilled and enthusiastic Inchicore works driver Michael Keely, passes heading west.
Bulleid designed and built other excellent rolling stock during his time in Ireland, however he tends to be remembered on both sides of the Irish sea for his more ‘outside the box’ type thinking and perhaps not concentrating on maximising the company’s efficient operating and therefore profit. He was certainly a visionary but the steam age was coming to an end and so was his career, he retired in 1958 to Devon and then Malta where he died in 1970 aged 87. I think he was just born too late for his steam engineering dreams to be fulfilled.
My latest acquisition – this years’ Christmas present to myself – is this superb painting by Northern Irish Transport artist David Briggs. Painted a few years ago by the artist for his own collection it had only just come on the market and was a rare opportunity to acquire his work as these days he only undertakes commissions. It was in fact the painting that originally drew my attention to his work when I started this site but I never thought that one day I would be lucky enough to own it!
Titled “Cork Departure” it depicts Great Southern Railway of Ireland’s locomotive No.800 Maedb (Maeve) lifting the heavy 4.00pm mails for Dublin from Glanmire Road station (now Kent) in Cork in late August 1939 when the locomotive was only a few weeks into service. Prior to its introduction the mail trains – some of the heaviest trains in the country at the time, often of 450 tons – required two, and sometimes three, locomotives to get up the gradient out of Cork which is in places 1:60.
One of my favourite railway locations and definitely my favourite Irish locomotive this painting has everything; and the attention to detail is amazing, right down to little things like the bus just visible over the wall on the station forecourt.
Today the “Maedb” is preserved as a static exhibit at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum near Belfast, but that doesn’t stop the dreamers among us hoping to see her restored to steam at some future date and returning to her old stomping ground on the Dublin/Cork line.
David Briggs remains available for commissions but his order book is usually full and you may have to get in line. He can be contacted via his Facebook page here: The Transport Artwork of David Briggs
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’