Of all the numerous visits to model railway exhibitions I have made, only once have I been rewarded with sight of an “Irish” layout (Adavolye at Epsom). Putting my faith in providence, my money on a budget airline ticket and my reliance on a relative to provide one night’s sleeping accommodation, on Saturday 15th November 2008 I travelled to the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra to see the ‘Friends of Cultra’ model railway day. I was in search of something Irish, and I was not disappointed. There were thirty-three layouts and stands to view amongst the magnificent setting of the main hall at the museum. The “hook” for many younger visitors was no doubt “Ffarquhar,” the very original Thomas the Tank Engine layout built by the late author of the books. There was a wide variety of other layouts, British, American and Continental themed, all of a very high standard, but as my quest was for something “Irish,” it is these layouts that I wish to comment on.
For me personally the most interesting layout was “Killagan” (OO gauge). Why? I trust our fellow member Colm Flanagan will not be offended if I say it was a “basher’s” delight. I have no skill when it comes to working with kits or etched brass, etc. Therefore I tour the swap- meets looking at second hand carriages with a view to “now what could I hack that into?” The standard of Colm’s work I consider both exceptional and inspirational. The sight of the Mogul and the Jeeps hauling near ‘true’ UTA stock, as well as the MPD’s, the MED and the ‘Class 70’ set, all running in a credible Irish setting, were on their own worth the trip. It demonstrated to me just what can be done with proprietary coaches and a flair for imagination to achieve a real “Irish” looking product. Did I mention the “North Atlantic” set – delicious!
For the narrow gauge enthusiast, Alan Gee’s “Donegal” (OOn3 gauge) is a must see. The very accurate replication of Donegal town station and the CDRJC trains is complemented by the moving road vehicles system which forms the back drop. This year’s show was the first outing for the North Down MRS’s “Ballymoney” OO gauge layout, featuring not only a credible representation of the original broad gauge station, but also the 3’ Ballycastle Railway. Moving to a larger scale, Norman Bailey and John Pollock’s layout “Ardkrowin and Duncluchan Town” (O gauge) was impressive. While Duncluchan Town is fictitious, Adkrowin is loosely based around the layout at Ardglass as it was. Another ‘first outing’ was Paul Green’s “Kilbrandon” (S gauge), an exceptional example of not only going “Irish”, but back to a time before any of us were born – April 1900. The layout is inspired by and based on Killorglin on the defunct Valentia Harbour branch, with the addition of an imaginary branch line to increase operating interest. The whole layout (mainly scratch-built) is to a very high standard.
A simple yet entertaining layout was the South Dublin MRC’s “Rosslare Strand” (OO gauge). The end section scenarios, especially the Bray Head one are a demonstration of how three distinct scenes can be accommodated within the strictures of a small (-ish!) layout. Another small, yet interesting, layout on show was Jim Poots and Gareth Hutchinson’s “Slieveroe” (OO gauge), based on an imaginary border location in modern times. Moving back to the narrow gauge, “Ballynure-Doagh” (OOn3 gauge) is a commendable effort by the Ballyclare High School MRC. Although not built as an “Irish” layout, “Ballyrichmond” (OO gauge) is a layout built by the Model Railway Society of Ireland as a Southern Region branch line. However, with the use of some Irish rolling stock and a few judiciously placed features, I think it just about succeeded in masquerading as an Irish location. Lastly it is fair to say I was in awe at the superb modelling standards demonstrated by the (static) display of 7mm scale models built by Messers Mulholland, Aspinwall and Crockart. Shame they were not actually running. Together with all the above, Allen Doherty of Worsley Works and Des Sullivan of Studio Scale models were on hand with trade stands. A very large selection of Irish railway books was also on sale.
Was it worth it for just one day and a return air flight? You bet. I, for one, will be attending next one. My thanks to those exhibitors, especially Colm and Ian, who took time to answer my questions, and to the Friends of Cultra I say: “well done.”