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JOURNAL 193

The Attymon and Clonkeen Peat Bog Railways

MYLES MUNSEY

Both of these unusual railways were visited on the afternoon of Tuesday 22 May 2017. Access to both lines was free and easy and the very approachable staff could not have been more charming and engaging.

The first railway visited was the Attymon system, which may be found around 3 miles south of Attymon station on the road towards Kiltullagh.

The visit was made to establish whether they were still operating, as they were supposed to have closed down at the end of 2016. Both systems are privately operated by the Attymon Peat Company, having been sold to them by Bord na Móna in 1989. This gives them an air of delightful individuality. Both are rustic in the extreme and the rail-borne equipment is arcane to say the least! The same is also holds true of the peat cutting and loading equipment, whilst the track is of a very temporary nature as reflected in its eccentric geometry. That both survived into 2017 is astonishing as the infrastructure is extremely old. That is not to denigrate it. You could not wish for something more off-beat than this. These are small operations – a far cry from the multi-wagon operations of Bord na Móna that serve the giant peat burning power stations of West Offaly (aka Shannonbridge) and Lanesborough.

Both lines were just about still operating, but are hanging on by a thread and are due to close around August 2017, so my arrival was both timely and fortuitous. The actual arrival time at Attymon could not have been better planned as a loaded train had been out on the bog and was due back at the works within minutes.

Right on cue the loaded train came into view along a heavily grass-grown railway, then paused briefly to rearrange wagons for the tippler.

At Attymon, a high line runs to the tippler and drying sheds. There are three tracks. The outer ones serve the drying sheds, whilst the middle track serves the tippler. There is a small works at a lower level, which means that locos have to climb steeply to join the main system. The line runs about one mile to the west before splitting into two. One fork turns south out onto the bog, the other fork leads to a loading area.

The tippler consists of a ramp that tips at 45 degrees and disgorges its contents into a trailer below. When I say trailer I am talking about a small version that can be towed behind your average family car. The Attymon Peat Company through its two fascinating systems serves small time, local, domestic customers. The product is peat ‘logs’  - irregular shaped pieces of peat that are cut and loaded out on the bog. These peat logs are not, it would seem, of optimum quality and demand is low. 2016 was according to the owners a bad year. This, plus the fact that the bogs have nearly been exhausted of peat, means that both systems will soon, unavoidably close.

After the depot staff had paused for lunch, we were invited to follow in their footsteps and head out to Clonkeen. This is their second system and lies north of the main Athlone to Galway railway line on a minor road heading west towards Torkeel.

The set-up at Clonkeen was similar to the Attymon system, with two drying tracks flanking a centre track that leads to the tippler. Again the tippler can serve a road vehicle trailer waiting below. The hospitality shown on the afternoon visit was even better and a very bumpy ride was offered aboard the two locos. We headed out along the ‘main line’, which splits into two. The higher-level line continues out of sight to a fuelling area whilst the lower line turned sharp right down a severe gradient onto the bog. At this point, I will explain that two locos are commonly used as this assists shunting, but also is most beneficial, certainly at Clonkeen, for pulling a string of wagons up a fierce gradient off the bog. The train descended into a very bleak and windswept landscape to load from the already prepared peat pile. In order to do this entailed a run of around ¾ mile before the train with its six empty wagons came to stand in the middle of nowhere. Not a house, not any human soul (other than ourselves) could be seen. The area is bleak enough in early summer but conditions on the bog in winter must be appalling. We were told that heavy oilskins are issued for a wet day as there is not a scrap of shelter nor any form of heating or drying to be had anywhere.

The peat pile was covered in plastic sheeting and this plus the pegs holding it had to be removed first using a special hand tool. The next job was to put some fuel into the loading machine. This resembled a giant bulldozer equipped with caterpillar tracks and side guides to steer the peat logs into the optimum position. This did not always happen and a few were missed as the machine inched along. As it did so the train was run alongside to keep level with the loading chute. Any logs that failed to be picked up were forked back onto the conveyor belt, my friend and I helping this along by getting stuck in! It probably took around 20 minutes to load each wagon so after around an hour the first three were loaded high and almost overflowing. At that point though, a bolt sheared from the drive belt (a temporary fix from some weeks previously not having lasted), and try as they might, the two-man workforce was unable to effect a repair.

So with a half-empty train there was nothing for it but to head for home and shunt the loaded wagons into the drying shed.

The trip back was again bumpy and uncomfortable but thoroughly enjoyable. Once the wagons had been berthed in the drying sheds, that was the end of operations for the day.

I feel very privileged to have witnessed these extraordinary systems at first hand and the likely passing of a bygone age. To have been offered a ride on the train and to have helped with the loading process was a memorable experience.

Thanks to the IRRS Editorial team for facilitating recordal of an account of these two systems for posterity

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2018 by Irish Railway Record Society Limited
Revised: February 15, 2018 .

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