Shanes Castle May Day Steam Rally

A nostalgic re-union with a steam culture.

“it’s our family gathering, a celebration party and a time of wild tales”

Shanes Castle is a Demesne of 800 acres of farmland plus 1000 acres of mature woodland and located on the north east shores of Lough Neagh. Originally built in 1345, a fire in 1816 left the castle in ruin. A fitting setting for the Shanes Castle May Day Steam Rally.

As you enter the Demesne, the first view to greet you are the impressive, mature trees, some having been in existence since the 1600’s. The estate is a Silver Medal winner in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Multipurpose Forestry Category which recognises the economic and environmental benefits that good forestry brings.

The Shanes Castle Mayday Steam Rally has been running annually in this picturesque location since 2000 and this year (2023) 35 engines and 17 working models were present. The event ran from Saturday 29th April to Monday 1st May.

The Rally is a two-day event of amazing working exhibits from our steam history, a culture from another era. These engines are engineering masterpieces as well as something glamorous to look at and a time to meet up with old friends. As it was pointed out to me “it’s our family gathering, a celebration party and a time of wild tales”

Shanes Castle May Day Steam Rally 2023, Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Shanes Castle May Day Steam Rally 2023, Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The weather was reasonably kind to us all this year, warm, a little light rain and some overcast skies with the sun breaking through for extended periods. The collection of equipment was so impressive; traction engines, rollers, 3 and 7 inch scale models and a great selection of belt driven equipment, The circular saws made light work of planking the large trees as they were loaded onto the saw beds. There was a noisy stone crusher reducing good size rocks into different sizes of stone that was used for the road building demonstration.

There was no less than five Showman Engines (I was informed there has never been this many Showman’s in one field in Ireland together… ever!). The shining brass, canopy of light bulbs never fails to revive the memories of the bygone country fairs. The light display from these Showman engines in the evening light was special and provoked a real carnival atmosphere. The rain at this time added a lighting dimension with dancing reflections in the water puddles and people silhouettes, with a background noise of the crackling from the hot steam boilers and occasionally the defining blast of the engine whistle followed by a cloud of steam engulfing those nearby.

Shanes Castle May Day Steam Rally 2023, Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Shanes Castle May Day Steam Rally 2023, Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The Saturday road run ran on the main roads out of the Castle grounds finally ending up at the Yacht Club on the shore of Lough Neagh. A beautiful setting, nestled in among the hard wood trees. I think generally a quiet place, but today the steam engines arrived. Clanking of the wheels on the tarmac, the thumping of the governors opening up echoing in the surrounding woodland and the aroma of hot steam and coal smoke filled the air. The perfect setting for a pint! The club house provided, not only the drink, but burgers and chips as well. After several hours, one by one the engines unwillingly departed and headed back to the show area for the night and to carry on partying to music supplied by the onsite band.

Well done Ian Duff and his team for staging a most enjoyable gathering for the 1000’s who attended and made this presentation a memorable and informative occasion.

So why am I doing this project.

As a Professional Photographer and Published Author, I am documenting this Steam conservation activity as it is today for future generations to have a reference to what their families selflessly did to preserve this part of our Irish heritage and culture.

To highlight the contribution that these working Steam Engines made to the industrial and agricultural development of Ireland.

To give recognition of the skills and determination that the restorers made to recover these machines that will now allow us all a moment to reflect and appreciate this chapter in our past history.

An opportunity to recognise family members and friends and the steam community as a whole who without their support these efforts would be fruitless.

To create a visual and written account of this time that will provide a reference for future generations to be informed in these achievements made by their fore fathers and families. All this to be compiled in a full colour volume.