An Irish Pair

or Two trips on a twin-hull

29 March 1994

IR 157 at Connolly with a Rosslare trainMy wife is very understanding. I suppose she would have to be, with a husband like me, though she knew what I was like when she took me on!

It wasnít my fault really. My colleague had originally planned to go the day before my wedding anniversary, but when he tried to book at the local travel agents, he was told the ferry was fully booked!

There is a new ferry operating on the Holyhead - Dublin route - called the Sea Lynx, it is a catamaran operated by Sealink-Stena as a pilot scheme for greater things planned. Unlike the conventional ferry, which takes about 3Ĺhrs, the cat travels at 40 knots and thus gets across in 1 hr 50 minutes. Suddenly, Dublin in a Day looks a lot easier! The fare of £12 included the DART fare into the centre of Dublin too - what a bargain.

The catís first crossing of the day leaves Holyhead at 7.00am - it is necessary to be there half an hour before that, which means leaving home at about 3.30am, which in turn means some sleep is possible, unlike the midnight departures to catch the 4.00am ferry. We sailed a few minutes late - just as the sun rose over Holyhead harbour, and soon built up speed. The wash from the water jets - one in each hull - is most impressive, though some of my colleagues found the motion of the vessel less impressive, especially on the way back when they were full of Guinness! (I had travelled on this occasion with several others, from work, most of whom were only there for the beer).

My original plan had been to travel down to Waterford. I had passed through on the railtour last year, and thought it looked worth a visit, travelling this time on the inland route via Kilkenny. I had intended to catch the 0950 train from Dublin Heuston, but didnít allow sufficient time to walk to Heuston from Tara Street, where I got off the DART. I realised later I should have continued on the DART to Connolly, and caught a bus, though that wouldnít have helped. In my quick perusal of Cooks International timetable at the travel agents in Telford, I failed to notice that it was a Sundays only train! (I later discovered that the copy I had studied had been the 1992 edition anyway!)

The next train would be at 11.35, which would give me just over an hour in Waterford before returning to Dublin in time to catch the 7.30pm last sailing of the cat. However, the special offer fare from Heuston was just £11, half the day return quoted by the Iarnrod Eireann office in London, so off we went!

The remaining Metro-Vick A-class diesels are now little used - many stood at Inchicore as we passed. We travelled in 5í3" gauge BR MkIIs, headed by General Motors Co-Co diesel no 086, one of IRís most powerful class, the 071. These locos haul most of the principal passenger services in the republic. Other services are hauled by the Bo-Bo classes 141 and 181, very similar in appearance to the 071s. Some trains such as the Dublin suburban services are headed by the single-ended GM class 121 units - such trains usually have a driving position in the rear coach / generator van, and are used push-pull fashion. Much more interesting than pacers and sprinters, though some DMUs are now in service - Japanese built two-car units have recently been introduced on the Arklow - Connolly - Dundalk service, and the new suburban route from Heuston to Kildare.

The latter route opened for service in May - construction work was however still in progress on the new / reconstructed stations as we headed for Kildare, where we had to wait a little while for connections off the Cork - Dublin train.

The Cork - Dublin main line is double track; at Cherryville junction, a little way beyond Kildare, we swung to the left onto the Kilkenny line. Much more leisurely progress, but definitely scenic, with the Wicklow mountains rising to over 3,000 feet on our left, and pleasant, rolling green fields to the right. A sign beside the line apologised, on behalf of Irish Railways, for delays which might be suffered while the line was upgraded. Though we travelled fairly slowly at times, we suffered no real delay.

First stop was Athy (pronounced, on the PA system, as A-tie), where a train stood ready to depart from the asbestos works sidings. Then on via Carlow we headed to Bagenalstown, also known as Muine Bheag according to the map. All these stations are what stations should be - proper buildings, staff, passengers etc!. At the next stop, Kilkenny, the train reverses - formerly a through station, the terminus is the result of the closure, some years ago, of the line to Portlaoise.

One more stop at Thomastown, on a steady climb, then through superb scenery down to Waterford, where we stopped just a couple of minutes late. Waterford station is rather attractive - the large blue signal box straddling the line helps, as does the gorse-covered bank opposite the long through platform face. Class 141 no 165 stood in the bay, coupled to three coaches - a generator van and two ageing Park Royals. I guessed these would later form the daily (!) train to Limerick, along the route I travelled last autumn, through Carrick on Suir and Tipperary.

We walked across the road bridge into Waterford, pausing a while to study the turbid tidal waters of the river Suir. Oddly, while Waterford is in the county of the same name, its station is in Co. Kilkenny. Sadly there are no railways in use now in Co. Waterford, though track remains (it did last October anyway) on the branch to Ballinacourty, which was closed in 1982.

My colleague insisted on having a look at some Waterford crystal, though on seeing the price, decided against a souvenir, and after a brief wander around we made our way back to the train.

For the return journey we retraced our earlier steps, mostly uneventfully, though we had to wait for about 15 minutes at Bagenalstown to cross a southbound train. On returning to Heuston, we joined the crowded bus for the ride to Connolly, where after a short wait we joined the green DART for Dun Laoghaire. We arrived in nice time for the ferry, only to be informed on meeting the rest of our outward party that it was late! It soon arrived, and after a quick turn round, we were away about 10 minutes late, and arrived at Holyhead around 9.00pm. I was home soon after midnight, after an excellent day out, and my wife, bless her, was still up. The trip had felt definitely lightweight after my experiences with the conventional ferry - the Sea Lynx is definitely to be recommended - but go easy on the Guinness!.

As if once was not enough, 2 months later I made a return trip, this time in the company of my son Tom, along with Steve and Dave (always gluttons for punishment). The advancing season meant it was daylight when we picked Steve up in Chirk (!), and at last we had the full scenic journey through north Wales, as we headed for our rendezvous with the Sea Lynx, again for the 7.00am sailing (Iím sure that cannot be the correct expression!).

We were soon across the Irish Sea, this time like a mill pond both ways (Steve insisted that he felt a little movement on the return journey, but again I think it was just the Guinness speaking). After a crowded ride on the DART, we made our way to the enquiries office at Connolly, where, with a little difficulty, we eventually decided on a Dublin area rover ticket. There seemed to several variants, each almost identical. The ones we bought meant we had to pay the bus fare to Heuston. It is possible that we could have been 10p or so better or worse off at the end of the day, had we chosen differently. Iím still not sure.

I offered the driver a choice - a 20 punt note or sterling £1 coin for the 90p fare. He took the £1, cheerfully dropped it in his top pocket Ė "Iíll keep that one for my holidays" (you must imagine the accent) - and gave me 10p change from his machine!

The short journey to our first destination - the newly reopened Hazelhatch and Celbridge - would be on one of the aforementioned Japanese DMUs. It eventually arrived about 20 minutes late, at the wrong platform, the display monitors insisting it had come in and gone out again. We soon found out why it was late - quickly grabbing a photo before departure, the driver asked how we liked his new train, casually mentioning that it was only working on one engine. So much for Japanese technology! I must mention that the interior was a vast improvement on BR sprinters - seats that donít fall apart, and which coincide with the windows.

We spent a very pleasant hour or so here - in the gentle green countryside just beyond the suburbs of Baile Atha Cliath. Trains for everywhere south of Sligo and west of Rosslare must pass along this stretch - as far as Cherryville junction in fact. As a result we saw and snapped plenty of trains, though the variety of motive power left something to be desired - almost all 071s, apart from no. 182 on a freightliner, and the DMUs. Soon however we were heading back for the capital, and back from Heuston on the bus to Connolly, where fish and chips were the priority.

We now took to GNR(I) metals on the short run to Malahide, an attractive coastal village where the railway makes a scenic crossing of the bay on a long embankment. Our motive power this time was no 127, one of the single-ended locos, on a push pull set. Rather surprisingly, the coaching stock for these trains seems to consist of 5í3" MkIIIs - a somewhat different use from across the water. Somewhat underpowered, the 121 class locomotives make a tremendous noise as they struggle away southbound up the bank!

Another pleasant hour or so - this time on the shore of the lagoon formed by the aformentioned embankment. Prize catch this time was A-class no 001 itself on the Navan mines train. Time must now be running very short for these distinctive locomotives - we saw one other idly moving a brake van around at Connolly, and several others idle in sidings at Inchicore. Perhaps they will see more use during this yearís beet season, though by then fresh deliveries of a new class of high powered GM diesels should be in action......

Steve and Dave wandered off in search of Guinness, while Tom and I returned to the station to make sure the train didnít go without us! We were all together again for the push-pull trip towards Dublin, though we parted again when Tom and I detrained at Howth Junction for the short run on the northern extremity of the DART electric service to Howth, where we sat in the warm sunshine on the harbour wall to eat our tea. All good things must pass, and we were soon heading back through Dublin for Dun Laoghaire, to be sure of being there in time for the ferry.

We need not have worried. To cut a long story (and wait) short, it was nearly two hours late leaving, having suffered apparently from engine trouble most of the day. This was now cured, and we made a full speed crossing to Holyhead, where all that remained was the drive home. As with the previous trip, we followed the North Wales coast, an easier drive than the A5 for a tired driver and sleeping passengers, and were home by about 1.30am. Another excellent day - and a real bargain at the day-trip price, if you can face the journey to and from Holyhead. Do it!!

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