A Nostalgic Journey: the magic of the Steam era.

Shane’s Castle was built in the 14th century by the O’Neill family, one of the most prominent Gaelic clans in Irish history. The castle was named after Shane McBrian O’Neill, one of the most prominent Gaelic clans in Irish history, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It has been the ancestral home of the O’Neill family for generations. A captivating blend of history, architecture, and natural beauty, makes it a notable landmark in County Antrim. The castle was largely destroyed by a fire in 1816, leaving the remains that can be seen today which includes the grand gatehouse and various outbuildings.

The estate is set on a sprawling estate of approximately 2,600 acres. The grounds feature beautiful parkland, ancient woodland, and the banks of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. The ancient woodlands, which are areas of woodland that have existed continuously since at least 1600 AD, that are home to some of the oldest trees on the estate, like Oak, Ash, Beech, Horse Chestnut.

Every year, the Shane’s Castle May Day Steam Rally is hosted on the estate. What a very special, stunning setting for these vintage steam engines. Steam enthusiasts from all over Ireland and the UK gather to celebrate these impressive machines, meticulously maintained by their owners and presented to the public in a pristine, working condition. There was 48 working engines on display and included traction engines, road locos, rollers and stationary engines. Then the showman engines, illuminated by dozens of coloured bulbs as they would have appeared at fairgrounds where their dynamos would supply power for lights, music organs at the country shows.

The smell of coal smoke and hot steam fill the air as the engines gather under these ancient Oak Trees, a fitting relationship. Then there are the “Steamers”. The first show of the year in the Steam Calendar and a time to re-unite with mates they haven’t seen since last year, a time to talk steam and nicely “brag” about their engines. It is also a time for newcomers to meet the “Steam Family” and display their engines for the first time.

The air was full of the steady beat of the rhythmic sound of the engines, their distinctive and evocative soft rhythmic soft chuffing tone when idling, that can be a whispering undertone to the soundscape, soothing and hypnotic, broken occasionally by the heavy, dynamic and intense chuffing sound as the power is turned up, releasing billowing black smoke into the air, showcasing the engines strength and capability. It is a sound that not only can be heard but also felt, evoking the raw industrial power of the steam era and the impressive engineering behind these historic machines.

Then as if to take you out of your trance, or at least wake you up from your mind slumber, the driver pulls the steam whistle, releasing a cloud of steam into the air and the whistle does its job… an ear piercing scream echoes across the land.

Such a social occasion. The beer tent was busy, the fast food vans were busy and the live music on the stage drove the enthusiastic crowd into the early hours of the morning, dancing, singing and most of all laughing. A party with a difference.

This enthusiast and family friendly event draws in some 30,000 visitors over this two-day event. They are all rewarded by an amazing experience. Some are attracted to the Historical aspect, others by the Nostalgic and Heritage. After all it was not very long ago when these steam machines were an active sight on our farms, road building, forestry and construction. Our Industrial Age! For younger visitors its probably an awe inspiring experience, but it is important that they can see firsthand and appreciate how our forefathers helped build our country into what it is today,

The live demonstrations for example, road building by, where large rocks are crushed to different sizes by a stone crusher being driven by a traction engine, the gravel is then laid and compacted by a Steam Roller. There was a good live display put on by “The Tar Squad” and the pondering would be, how long would that take to build a mile of motorway.

Scale Model Engines.

 There were 21 working scale model engines, miniature replicas of a full size engine, that capture the essence of steam technology. The working mode that general attend these rallies are 4 and 6 inch scale. These were operated by some of the older “Steamers”, but primarily youngsters, as low as age 10. These guys are the future! They are the curators of our Heritage into the future.

It’s fantastic the see a good healthy mix of girls and boys becoming more and more involved in the preservation and operation in the steam engine community. Their capability, individual skills and enthusiasm is a credit not only to themselves, but also to their parents for their encouragement and the handing over of the responsibility that each individual has to accept.

The latest newcomers to the Irish Steam Community.

Allen Jones and Lisa Flood – Co Carlow, Ireland.

Engine Name:   “Prometheus
Built:  29 November, 1888
Works No:  16553
Reg Number:  R6730
NHP:  6

Lisa Flood and Alan Jones with their 1888 Marshal Engine “Prometheus” Number built 1888. Shane’s Castle Mayday Steam Rally 2024, Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Prometheus”, a 6 NPH Traction Engine, was built by Marshall, Sons & Co Ltd, Gainsborough, England,  in November 1888 with a works no. 16553 and a Registration No R6730.

Original owned from new by George R. Barlow, who was the owner of a thrashing company. After giving way to diesel engines, Prometheus became redundant and spent most of its life in a scrap yard, for about 70 years, until it was spotted by Richard Willcox when he was in his early 20’s. Richard Wilcox of Gloucestershire, England, acquired the Marshall a number of years later and he fully restored the engine to its original condition.

In 2023, Allen Jones from Carlow, Ireland bought the engine and brought it home to Ireland. Allen has had a love of steam since his early childhood attending rallies with his cousins the well-known steam family, Glynn’s of Carlow. His partner, Lisa Flood, also from Carlow, having grown up in the motor industry has taken to this life of the “Steamers “full on, a credit to her.

This engine is currently the oldest Marshall engine in Ireland and one of the earlier models originally built by Marshall, Sons & Co Ltd  .

SPECIAL FEATURED

When two Wallis & Steevens engines meet..

Peter Fitzgerald
(New Build.)
*First Full Size Steam Tractor to be built in Ireland.

Engine Name:     “Lady Kay”
Wallis & Steevens  1907. (New Build.)
Type:    Steam Tractor
Cylinder Type:   Single
Horsepower:   3 N.H.P
Year Built:    Start 2023
Work Number:
Weight:   3 Ton
Reg:

Peter Fitzgerald lives in Arklow, Ireland and in 2019, purchased a part built Wallis and Steevens “Steam Tractor”, along with the original working, hand drawn plans and specifications from 1907, undercooking the challenge to fulfil a dream, to build one of his favourite Steam Engines. This would test his engineering skills to the limit.

In 1977, Peter began his apprenticeship as a Mechanical Fitter with Avoca Mines in County Wicklow and this was when he became fascinated with steam engines. The Foreman at the mine was Mr Jimmy Tynan. The Tynan family owned a Marshal Steam Traction Engine called the “Avoca Princess” and Peter used to go to the rallies with them, helped with the maintenance keeping it in perfect working order and getting the odd chance to drive it. What excitement it must have been for him then. He became more and more interested and involved in steam engines.

Peter would attend the Stradbally Steam Rallies and it was at these rallies that he met Luke Byrne, another steam enthusiast from Gorey, Co Wexford. They became good friends. It was from Luke that Peter bought his first “Little” engine, “The Gentle Maiden” a homemade engine that had originally been built in Northern Ireland. Peter completely re-furbished this engine for himself and later and bought a Fowler Roller, re named to “Taradean” after his two daughters.

Peter Fitzgerald attended Shane’s Castle May Day Steam Rally this year (2024) and brought with him “Lady Kay”, his newly built Wallis & Steevens “Steam Tractor”. Peter has built this engine off the original drawings of 1904 starting in 2005 and completing this amazing engine build in 2023, a period of four years of pure commitment, dedication and hard grit. An interesting observation, Peter had identified a couple of flaws in the original hand drawn plans. These plans were fed into a CAD system, discrepancies discovered and sorted. Modern technology meets old!!

I asked Peter how he felt, what his emotions were when he first ran the engine with heat. “I was excited and mostly surprised that the engine ran so smoothly! The only problem I encountered is the Oil Can wouldn’t work!”

Achieving a dream is a profound and deeply fulfilling accomplishment. It signifies the realization of a personal objective and the successful overcoming of various challenges. Enjoy your engine Peter. Enjoy the sound and the smell of burning coal. Others will share in your enjoyment. A beautiful engine. Well done!

Also known as the Wallis & Steevens “Road Locomotive”, a robust and versatile type of traction engine produced by the British engineering firm Wallis & Steevens Ltd. based in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England. They were capable of hauling significant loads over long distances and played a vital role in transportation and logistics during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, on roads and highways, primarily for hauling heavy loads, such as agricultural machinery, timber, or industrial equipment.

Ivor & Eunice Wallace

Wallis & Steevens  1904
Name:
Type:   Steam Tractor
Cylinder Type: Single
Horsepower:  3 N.H.P
Year Built:  1905
Work Number: 2787
Weight:   3 Ton

The steam tractor engine no 2787 was sold on the 12th of August 1905 to Thomas Moy Ltd of Colchester, England where it spent a short time making coal deliveries. It had at least two other owners in England before being shipped to Ireland.

3 ton engines fell from favour commercially when in 1904 the relaxation of weight restrictions and the increase of one ton in permitted weight made the building of 3 ton engines obsolete.  This means that few have survived into preservation.

It was first known to have worked in Ireland in a quarry at Newtownards, Co Down driving machinery and undertaking some road haulage.  Charlie Halliday of Jerretspass, Co Armagh purchased the engine from the quarry circa 1930 to use for timber cutting and haulage and it is known to have worked in this capacity until 1954

My grandfather John Wallace and my father, Jack Wallace of Ballycastle Quarries were interested in the preservation of traction engines, having used them commercially in quarries, road making and agricultural threshing over many years.

My father Jack Wallace realising that as comparatively few of these engines were built it was important that it should be  preserved.  He purchased it in August 1969 from Mr Mervyn Kinney of Tandragee, Co Armagh and placed it in storage where it remained until 1997 when it was restored and returned to steam some 18 months later by Jack and his son Ivor Wallace, the current owner.

Wallis and Steevens works records show despatch date 12th August 1905.  The engine is known as a 3 Ton Motor, single cylinder 3 NHP (nominal horse power), weight class 3 tons.

GALLERY

Shane’s Castle May Day Steam Rally 2024

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.