|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD
© MARCH 1967
BORD NA MONA
THE IRISH PEAT COMMISSION
A. D. SEMMENS
This article results from the joint BLC-ILIS/NGRS visit to Ireland in July 1966 when the party consisted of only four members, many others having withdrawn owing to the prolonged seamen’s strike. Let me begin by giving a warm and heartfelt thank you to the Bord na Mona head office in Dublin. A permit was provided for the party to visit all the Bord’s works, and in taking full advantage of these facilities, help, information, and transport on the bogs were provided unstintingly and willingly. In the following paragraphs, all systems are 3ft 0in gauge unless otherwise stated; the number before the location identifies it on the accompanying map; Gaelic names are given in brackets.
This map shows the various Bord na Mona bogs (numbered 1 to 25) as well as other locomotive-worked locations (lettered A to Y) visited by the author in July 1966. Only brief particulars (gauge and locomotive stock) are given of the latter owing to shortage of space, but further information can be obtained from Mr D. Cole's 1962 booklet, "Irish Industrial and Contractors' Locomotives" (price six shillings from Union Publications, 30 Scarsdale Villas, London, W.8) or from the Section's Hon. Records Officer.
1 - LITTLETON (BAILE DHAITH), Co. Tipperary. This bog specialises in the production of sod peat for fuel purposes, and is situated about 1˝ miles south of the crossroads in Littleton village. The majority of the Bord na Mona locations are fully signposted, and this is no exception. Five working locomotives were here (all Rustons) and two working railcars, One a Wickham and the other a Bord na Mona built car with a Ford engine. One further very derelict car was found amongst discarded equipment in the bushes outside the works; obviously a Wickham, it could not be identified. One of the Rustons was one of the very few second-hand examples acquired by the Bord and it was the only one out of action.
2 - TEMPLETUOHY (TEAMPALL TUAITHE), Co. Tipperary. This is another sod peat bog, situated 3 miles south-east of Templetuohy on the Templemore - Urlingford road. The small works housed just two Rustons and one Wickham railcar.
3 - BARNA (BEARNA), Co. Cork. This is the smallest of the sod peat bogs. It is located near Ballydesmond, 10 miles south-east of Castleisland on the Castleisland - Kanturk road. The Wickham railcar was indisposed and with the solitary Ruston out on the bog the party trudged up the line towards it in a typically wet west coast gale. We were followed by the manager and as a result had the benefit of the Ruston‘s cab on the return journey.
4 - CARRIGCANNON (CARRAIG CHEANNANN), Co. Kerry. This is another of the smaller sod peat bogs, situated 7 miles north of Castleisland on the Listowel road, high up on the open ground. Only two locomotives here, but one is the only Whitcomb diesel in the British Isles, and both this and the Ruston which shares the bog‘s duties were well posed for photography. There were formerly two bogs here but the one at Lyrecrompane is not now worked.
5 - ATTYMON (AIT TIGH MONA), Co. Galway. Situated 6 miles east of Athenry, this is another bog producing sod peat. Only one Ruston and one Wickham railcar were on view here, but there is also a loading point at CLONKEEN (CLUAIN CHAOIN) where two further Ruston’s and another Wickham railcar are stabled.
6 - T.A.E. (TIONNSCA ABHAINN EINNE), Co. Mayo. This, the first milled peat bog to be visited, was a real eye-opener, being of vast size compared to the sod bogs seen so far. It is located 9 miles west of Crossmolina, on the road to Belmullet, at a place called Bellacorick. The main purpose of this bog is to provide fuel for the Bellacorick Power Station of the Electricity Supply Board which has no locomotives of its own. From Rustons, acting as maids of all work at the smaller bogs, we were now able to see Hunslet "Wagonmasters" hauling solid-sided wagons instead of the slatted type in use at the sod peat bogs; four-coupled Deutz locomotives shared the humbler duties with the Ruston’s. With some of the production areas being many miles from the headquarters establishment and the disposal of the milled peat being elsewhere, the number of locomotives engaged mainly on service duties was quite striking. The various tractor machines, purpose-built for digging, milling, draining, cutting and ridging, all need diesel fuel. This can occupy the full time of one, two, or three locomotives, hauling tank wagons with (roughly) the capacity of a road tanker. Similar vehicles, painted white, and filled with fresh water, supply both vehicle radiators and fresh water containers. For the transport of men and urgently needed supplies to various quarters of the bog there are passenger vehicles of all types, from converted peat wagons with coverings against the weather to home-made corrugated-iron huts on wheels. The presence of stoves in some of these bears witness to the hard conditions under which work sometimes proceeds.
Another very important locomotive duty, constantly being done, is to assist with the lifting and laying of rails, for as the production of one bog is taken to the Power Station so the loading machines go to their next assignment. Some two or three trains can be thus engaged, and at T.A.E. is a most interesting machine carried on double bogies and propelled by its own diesel engine; the latter also provides the power for lifting the various rail sections from the bogie wagons and laying them on the peat, where the rail gang adds the fishplates and bolts. The quality of the track on the permanent sections is quite good, but the unballasted temporary sections can provide a rather rough ride. Sometimes this is not improved by the bog machines which cross the lines as though they weren’t there!
Observing the locomotives at the larger bogs presents rather a problem as some are parked at the most convenient point for the workers. At T.A.E., certain locomotives returned to‘ the main offices and workshops, but others were to be found clustered in and around the Transport Office, hard by the Power Station; some of the Service locomotives were left with their trains at various points on the bog whilst the drivers returned to base in the transport vehicles. There is, of course, the old "Paddy" who lives five miles from headquarters but yet only a stone’s throw across the bog; individual locomotives, in these circumstances, tend to be found in odd places but usually these hidey-holes are known to the bog supervisors and gangers.
The locomotive stock at T.A.E. consisted of seven Hunslet "Wagonmasters", three Deutz, and ten Ruston’s - a total of twenty compared with seven about 1962. A feature of the Deutz locomotives is the whistle, operated by the exhaust which is carried in front of the cab. There seemed to be fewer railcars at the larger bogs and T.A.E. was no exception with its one working example and another in a most woebegone condition out on the bog. It was interesting to see trailer car 3387 from the West Clare section of C.I.E. in use as bog transport, as well as a bus body on wheels, whilst the Transport Office consisted of a Cavan & Leitrim coach, less wheels!
7 - BANGOR ERRIS, Co. Mayo. Controlled by the manager of T.A.E., this site is some twelve miles distant, one mile west of Bangor Erris on the road to Geesala - an unsurfaced road which made us very glad to reach our goal. Three Rustons were found here, of which two were at rest in the open. The other was on a train of side-tippers obtaining ballast from a stone quarry adjoining the bog. When in full production it is quite probable that more locomotives will find employment here.
8 - COOLNAMONA (CUlL NA MONA), Co. Laois. This bog, 3˝ miles south of Portlaoise on the Abbeyleix road, is one of two bogs (the other being Kilberry) specialising in the production of peat moss as a soil conditioner for horticulture, bedding for farm animals, poultry litter, and mushroom culture. The peat is produced in sod form and then granulated, graded and baled. Export markets include the UK, USA, West Indies, Australia, and certain Mediterranean countries. Coolnamona is a very new bog, and it employs two Hunslet "Wagonmasters", two Rustons and one Deutz. Our tour of this bog was on one of the "Wagonmasters" which showed itself capable of some nice turns of speed where the track allowed.
9 - KILBERRY (CILL BEARA), Co. Kildare. Three miles north-west of Athy on the Monasterevin road, this is one of the two bogs operating a 2ft 0in gauge system. Five Rustons form the operating stock; LM 224 is a second-hand import from England, and LM 16B a recent transfer from the other 2ft 0in bog (at Glenties, Co. Donegal).
10 - BALLYDERMOT (BAlLE DHIARMADA) and TIMAHOE (TIGH MOCHUA), Co. Kildare. These two bogs both supply sod peat to the ESB power station at Allenwood. The first named is 1˝ miles north of Rathagan on the Kildare to Edenderry road, and has a complement of twelve Rustons and two Hunslet "Wagonmasters". A plethora of railcars exists here including two fitted with couplings and used for haulage; these are two of only three railcars on Bord na Mona which are diesel-driven. There are no fewer than six others, varying from the glorified platelayers-vehicle type of Wickham car (two of which are derelict) to the well-made Bord na Mona product well protected from the weather.
Although physically connected by common track at Allenwood Power Station the Ballydermot and Timahoe systems are quite separately worked. Timahoe is 3 miles west of Prosperous on the Clane to Edenderry road, and has fifteen Rustons on normal duties. Another Ruston has undergone a remarkable conversion by the fitting of a railcar body to the locomotive which has been divested of its cab only. It retains its number in the LM series and is known unofficially as "Smoky". There are three other railcars which make up the total stock. Timahoe locomotives carry local numbers running from 1 to 17, with the exception of 3 (LM 22’s former number before the conversion to railcar) and 9 (transferred to another bog).
11 - LULLYMORE (LOILGHEACH MOR), Co. Kildare. Yet another system situated in the shadow of Allenwood Power Station, this bog is exclusively concerned with the manufacture of peat briquettes. The milled peat is screened to remove fibres and coarse particles which are fed to the furnaces, the residue then being steam dried to reduce its moisture content from 55 per cent to 10 per cent. From the driers the fine peat is compressed into briquettes at a pressure of some five tons per square inch. The offices and workshops are at the briquetting factory which is three miles from Allenwood on the road to Edenderry. Eight Ruston locomotives were located here as well as two derelict railcars and, at the far end of the furthest siding, the rusting remains of a German Ruhrthaler.
12 - CLONSAST (CLUAIN SOSTA), Co. Offaly. Situated 3 miles north of Portarlington on the Rochfortbridge road, this sod peat bog supplies fuel to the ESB power station at Portarlington, Clonsast is noted for its three Barclay steam locomotives (awaiting disposal) which are housed in sheds by the level crossing about half-a-mile before the works. Fortune was on our side and two were moved out by a Ruston for photography, but the third wouldn’t budge. Externally they look little the worse for their long lay−off. There were eleven working Rustons here, mostly of the powerful three-cylinder type used for the power station haul, and five or six are stabled overnight and at weekends in one of the locked sheds by the crossing; one dismantled Ruston was dumped amongst some discarded wagons in the yard. Of the seven railcars, four were awaiting scrap, whilst in the shops one was under construction using an old German frame, Wickham wheels, and a "JAP" engine with a kick-starter. A Wickham on which we travelled had a cord-start. There was certainly no lack or variety! Another of the rail-layers was on view but this was electrically powered, its range of operation being limited by the length of cable which it paid out from a drum as it moved along. Clonsast is responsible for a number of other bogs, of which two (Derryounce and Derrylea) are within a short distance of Clonsast Shops and are operated from there.
13 - GARRYHINCH (GARRDA INSE), Co. Offaly. This bog is part of the Clonsast group, its locomotives being kept at a small depot near the bog office which is situated just off the Clonygowan to Portarlington road about a mile from Clonygowan. Four Ruston locomotives work through to the power station at Portarlington, the narrow gauge line there being crossed by the 5ft 3in gauge CIE main line. There were two railcars, but only one was in working order.
14 - GLENTIES (NA GLEANNTAI), Co. Donegal. Situated in an area remote from other bogs, Glenties has a 2ft 0in gauge system with three Rustons and a Wickham railcar. The offices are 2 miles south-west of Glenties on the Ardura road.
15 - MOUNTDILLON (CHOC DIOLUIN), Co. Roscommon. This large bog serves the ESB power station at Lanesborough, the offices being 1˝ miles north of Lanesborough on the Strokestown road. One Ruston stables here and is used to transport workers to the bog. We also found a derelict Wickham railcar in one of the billets originally used by the workers, and some distance from any track.
16 - CLONFLOWER (CLUAIN TUAISCEART), Co. Longford. The main offices and workshops of the Mountdillon group have been moved to this location which is also known as DERRYAROGUE (DOIRE DHAROG). The road in runs north-east from Lanesborough power station, about 2 miles away, and is fully signposted. Eight Hunslet "Wagonmasters", two Deutz, and eleven Rustons operate from here, with four railcars completing the stock. We had our first ride on a Deutz which vibrated rather more than the Rustons when working at full throttle.
17 - DERRYAGHAN (DOIREACHAN), Co. Longford. This is another location in the Mountdillon group, with a small workshops and offices and one solitary Ruston.
18 - BLACKWATER (UISGE DUBH), Co. Offaly. We had been told that this bog served a fertiliser factory and had but one locomotive. However, on arrival we found a Hunslet "Wagonmaster" discharging its fifteen wagons of milled peat at Shannon Bridge power station (no locomotives of its own), and a Ruston diesel in the sidings fitted with what appeared to be a snowplough. Since snow is uncommon in Eire, and it was July, I imagine it must be for clearing the track of peat, as sometimes the rubber-tyred tractors crossing and recrossing the line completely cover it. So, at a location where we were expecting to see only one locomotive, we had found two before going near the bog proper! The bog offices are 1˝ miles east of Shannonbridge on the Cloghan road. We found a flourishing and still expanding bog, with eight Hunslet "Wagonmasters", five Deutz, and four Rustons - and more are expected. Two railcars, one of which formed our transport over the system, the trailer of former West Clare railcar 3389, and another Cavan & Leitrim coach, were among the other rail vehicles to be seen.
19 - CLONFERT BRIDGE (GARRDHA DUBH), Co. Offaly. Situated just past the old cathedral of Clonfert, on the Banagher to Lawrencetown road, this bog had one Ruston on tracklaying duties. The site is a scene of great activity. A canal leading to the river Shannon has been completely filled in, and a double track line is to be laid on its course ready for the time when the bog goes into production. The Shannon is to be bridged by a new concrete structure (the line will be singled over it) and this will enable milled peat to reach Shannon Bridge power station. Much more locomotive power is expected at this bog.
20 - BOORA (BUARACH), Co. Offaly. This bog, situated 6 miles east of Cloghan on the Tullamore road, has the most extensive rail system of all, and serves the ESB Ferbane power station and also the briquetting works at Derrinlough (Doire an Locha); the latter is located 3 miles south of Cloghan on the road to Birr. It took us no less than 9˝ hours to track down the forty-seven locomotives for which this Group is responsible - thirteen Hunslet "Wagonmasters" engaged almost exclusively on power station haulage duties, eleven Deutz, twenty-two chain-driven Rustons (40hp or 48hp) and a Ruston diesel-hydraulic (coupling rods) which was obtained before it was finally decided to order "Wagonmasters". This vast Group has only one Wickham railcar, Apart from the works, locomotives were stabled at the power station where there is a transport office controlling the activities on the more easterly bogs; at a level crossing known as "Flanagan’s Bridge" (on a minor road to the right between Cloghan and Ferbane power station) two or three more are to be found, whilst the briquetting works at Derrinlough was host to six Rustons. Service locomotives were left at several places on the bog - two at East Boora, two at Turraun bog, and two at Oughter bog, which are all part of the Boora system. The latter in fact is made up of no less than nine bogs.
21 - TURRAUN (TORAN), Co. Offaly. The Grand Canal divides the Turraun bog, and there is a small independent works at Turraun for that part separated from the Boora group. Although visible from the Boora side there was no means of crossing the Canal and we had to go back along the road to Cloghan, then through Ferbane for nearly three miles towards Clara before we spotted the turning to the works. This bog had just two Rustons with yet another derelict Wickham railcar.
22 - LEMONAGHAN (LIATH MANCHAIN), Co. Offaly. This small works, also in the Ferbane area, is approached from a Bord na Mona road leading off the road from Birr to Athlone. The motive power consisted of two Rustons and a derelict Wickham railcar.
23 - BALLIVOR (BAlLE IOMHAIR), Co. Westmeath. We arrived at this site, 4 miles west of Ballivor on the Trim to Mullingar road, with about an hour of daylight left. We quickly saw the four Rustons in and around the workshops and loading bank, and were surprised to find an equal number of railcars - three of Bord na Mona’s own, and one Wickham. Learning that two further Rustons were out on the bog, we were soon ensconced on a railcar and ready for the journey. A careful exit from the vicinity of the workshops left us little prepared for what was in store. Darkness had all but fallen and the railcar’s headlight was lighting up the track which seemed to be in excellent condition. It had to be for the speed of the car picked up until, still not in top gear, we were travelling at speeds quite foreign to us on any narrow gauge line. Even allowing that the nearness to the ground of the railcar made speeds appear faster than they were, it can be said with certainty that about 45mph was reached. The driver deferred to bends by slowing down about 2mph! As at other bogs we were hopping on and off to change points and open level crossing gates - those festooned on the outside of the railcar who were feeling the cold a bit managed to keep themselves warm in this way! Work was still going on, and some thirty yards of track had been lifted to allow one of the huge bog machines to make its way over to a new working point. One Ruston was beyond the break and we went on foot to take her particulars, but the other was not tracked down until the following morning.
24 - COOLNAGAN (CUlL NA gCON), Co. Westmeath. (The small "g" is not a spelling error!) This bog, 5 miles west of Castlepollard on the Granard road, had four Rustons and two railcars.
25 - DERRYGREENAGH (DOIRE DHRAIGHNEACH), Co. Offaly. Our last visit was to this long sprawling series of bogs extending over twelve miles which serve Rhode power station and a briquetting plant at Croghan (Cruachan); the offices are 2 miles south of Rochfortbridge on the Rhode road (sorry!). There were more locomotives than usual in the workshops vicinity and we learned that the briquetting factory was not working that day. Visiting the power station at Rhode, about 4 miles further on, before work commenced paid dividends, as no fewer than thirteen locomotives complete with loaded and empty trains were in the sidings; obviously this is a regular stabling habit. The briquetting factory is yet further along the road through Rhode village, and on the right when reaching the main Dublin road which runs through the bog; only three locomotives on bog service duties, parked there for convenience, were on view. The motive power allocated to the bog turned out to be forty-three locomotives, comprising thirteen Hunslet "Wagonmasters", eight Deutz, twenty-one of the inevitable Rustons, plus the locomotive built by Bord na Mona in 1961 which is obviously the precursor of the "Wagonmasters". The latter was out of use in the works yard awaiting repair. As at the other large bog at Boora railcars were scarce, only two being on the allocation.
The Derrygreenagh group of bogs is run in two sections, one supervisor being responsible for Derryhinch, Drumman, Derryarkin, and Ballybeg (all north of Rhode power station) with another responsible for Cloncreen, Derrycricket, Ballycon, Cavemount, Esker, and Mountlucas (south of the station). We were taken out by the northern section supervisor and were then enjoined to go to the "ramp" at Mountlucas, which is the headquarters for the southern portion. This "ramp" is reached by turning on to the Dublin road as if to go to the briquetting factory, then turning immediately left to find the ramp after about a mile. Three locomotives on service duties were found here, and eventually a tractor driver offered to run us out to Cloncreen bog where one locomotive was parked on a rail train and another in a ballast pit. With the wind in our faces going out to the bog riding was no hazard, but on the return journey with the wind at our backs we found ourselves enveloped in a spray of milled peat which we were still picking out of our hair a day later! We did not see the final two locomotives at Esker bog (which has no road access) as there wasn’t a soul available to transport us there by rail. By this time, however, we were so tired that we had to accept with regret that Derrygreenagh had defeated us!
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We shall remember for a long time the powerful "Wagonmasters" taking fifteen wagons of milled peat, and our ears will not quickly forget a journey in a railcar without a silencer! We journeyed later in a Ruston which made scarcely less noise - from the gearbox - but in general the locomotives were in tip−top condition. The workshops were obviously capable of the maintenance - and the building if necessary - of any machine in use on the bog.
We had entertained hopes of finding some or all of the former West Clare railcars, but none of the motor units was sold to Bord na Mona although all four trailers were. These were located at Blackwater, Boora, Derrygreenagh, and T.A.E.
At two of the smaller bogs we found an exerting form of transport - a bicycle used by gangers fitted with guide wheels to fit the 3ft 0in gauge! The supervisors and gangers at the larger bogs sometimes ride about on motor cycles with immense back tyres, reminiscent of "scramble" machines. The springy feeling of walking about on the bog blinds one to the surprising fact that the peat sods as originally dug are 90 to 95 per cent water, and even when dried for use as fuel still contain 35 per cent water. The peat itself has remarkable preservative properties and on one bog some time ago a corpse was unearthed, buried some 600 years, in perfect condition apart from blackening of the skin. The bog destroys nothing we were told.
For those who may follow a few hints we hope will not come amiss. Shops are open until about 23.30 (sometimes later) and no difficulty generally ensues in getting a late meal. The rub lies in the Irishman’s late rising habits, and it was no uncommon thing for our hosts for the night to quote breakfast as at 09.30. We usually managed to persuade them into a time more in keeping with our requirements, but it often meant the use of an alarm clock! For those satisfied with alcoholic beverages Eire presents no problems, but tea or coffee addicts would be well advised to take with them a thermos flask and to fill it at breakfast time daily as Tea/coffee just is not sold at most places during the daytime.
Essentials for the enthusiast are a mackintosh, a torch for the darker quarters of Ruston cabs, and a tape measure - for we are convinced there are many discoveries to be made in Eire. (To this list we would also add a cap - to keep milled peat out of the hair! - Hon. Eds.)
I started this article with thanks to the Bord na Mona head office for their help. I reiterate this to include all those from manager to meanest bog worker who helped make the tour a great success.