Well-heeled passengers on the road train at Belturbet
This week's Times Past column by Jonathan Smyth remembers some well-heeled passengers at Belturbet station, the arrival of a Reynard Road Train and how nature caused a fault in the railway's equipment...
John Gordon Campbell, also known as Lord Aberdeen, was first appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in February 1886 and, as a Liberal politician, he was broadly in support of Home Rule. However, he made a mistake in not telling Isobel his wife about the job and she was quite angry with him. Aberdeen’s wife was the dominant force in the relationship and three biographies have been written about her and none were composed about her husband, which has misleadingly led historians into thinking of him as a henpecked type of character. Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin newspaper enhanced this view of Aberdeen and sardonically noted that it was actually her Ladyship and ‘not the babbling creature who wears the title’ who was the ‘real governor-general of Ireland’.
Lord Aberdeen, was later re-appointed as Lord Lieutenant for a second term in December 1905 and remained in the role until 1915.
In July 1911, Aberdeen the then Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy as he was known came to Belturbet by train with his wife while they were enroute to meet Thomas Lough MP who lived in Killeshandra. Lord Aberdeen as Viceroy at the time was King Edward VII’s representative to pre-independent Ireland. When Lord and Lady Aberdeen arrived at Belturbet on the evening of July 25, 1911, ‘the station was gaily decorated, and the platform carpeted’ with at least 1,000 people who turned out to greet them and a guard of honour was provided for the guests by Belturbet’s constabulary under the direction of Head Constable Mullally.
Thomas Lough stepped forward to introduce the guests to Belturbet’s Urban Council before he read out an address of welcome in which he referenced Lady Aberdeen’s efforts among the Irish people through the Women’s National Health Association she had founded in 1907 and how she helped to bring practical support to communities in the battle against TB, and when he had finished speaking, Lord Aberdeen spoke and wished ‘Belturbet and its vicinity’ every success in the future.
When Aberdeen had wrapped up his speech, a 10-year-old girl, the daughter of Mr P. O’Reilly, the chairman of the Urban Council, was ushered forward, and she ‘presented’ to the viceroy a floral bouquet for his wife, the countess, and afterwards the pair departed with Thomas Lough for the ‘green and lovely lanes’ of Killeshandra.
REYNARD ROAD TRAIN
In November 1907, the Reynard Road Train rolled up the road into Belturbet having travelled from Ballinamore and Arigna as it journeyed on its merry way towards Belfast via Clones, and Monaghan. The Reynard Train had originally planned a visit to Cavan Town but was diverted to Belturbet when the programme was changed.
The Reynard Train was described as a ‘self-propelling’ road train and it could travel both ‘in a forward and in a reverse direction’ according to an article in the ‘Commercial Motor’ on February 21, 1907. Four years earlier, in 1903, the Frenchman, Colonel Reynard first demonstrated his Reynard Road Train at the Paris Salon which the website - www.farinarestoration.com - said, consisted of a ‘tractor coupled to six-wheeled vehicles driven and steered by a power-offtake from the tractor, enabling as many as four trailers to be towed.’
In 1908, Daimler obtained the exclusive ‘British rights’ to manufacture Reynard Road Trains and some of the early machines were shipped out to Queensland, Australia and in recent times one of the re-discovered Daimler tractors found in Farina, Northern Australia, has since undergone restoration.
This newspaper reported on the Reynard Road Train’s arrival in Co Cavan and praised the ‘great features’ of its system, which lay in the fact that none of the vehicles had been drawn or attached but were instead ‘self-propelled’ by a universal shaft that ran ‘through the whole train … deriving its motion from the motor’, assisted by a differential shaft in each vehicle thereby transmitting power to the wheels of each engine. The axles were light, and this allowed for the Reynard to travel with ease across bridges and soft ground and an added bonus was that each vehicle had automatic steering and could follow ‘in the exact track of the motor’.
The Reynard vehicles were capable of taking up to 25 passengers and could pull any form of goods vehicle, in a train of up to four wagons as mentioned, containing five tonnes each moving at an over-all speed of ten miles per hour.
Not everyone was convinced, and it was suggested byThe Anglo-Celt, that the road train should it be adopted in Ireland, would prove antagonistic to railway services, but the Reynard engineer replied, that his company’s rates would be much cheaper and that the ‘farmer or merchant’ in small rural towns who were not facilitated by a railway could now enjoy the benefit of such transport. The Reynard Road Train may have been more successful in India where a company was formed to operate the system using a capital of £30,000. The progress of the Indian company would be reported back to parties who were interested in starting such a service in Ireland.
We should never underestimate the power of nature to get an upper-hand in human affairs and, on June 4, 1909, the railway workers on the Great Norther Railway line between Ballyhaise and Belturbet learned this lesson, all-be-it in a small way.
That morning, the 7am train from Ballyhaise to Belturbet found itself delayed for over an hour and 40 minutes as an engineer attempted to work out what caused the failure of the ‘electric staff instrument’, until the fault was eventually traced back to Belturbet station where an ‘itsy bitsy’ spider had got caught ‘between the contact points and the key lever’ of the instrument’s controls.
Amazingly, a small but mighty little spider was able to stall a railway service.
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