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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Howth Transport Museum

Ireland is not noted for attention to road or rail transport preservation. This is despite the considerable railway heritage that would have been very worthwhile conserving for future generations. The Giants Causeway line (in the North) being a particularly regrettable closure followed in the 1950s by the Hill of Howth tramway. Fortunately at least some examples of cars from both tramways were preserved and can be seen at Howth and the excellent well funded Cultra Museum in Northern Ireland.

The Republic's transport museum is kept behind closed doors courtesy of the Howth Castle Demesne and its owners. Open only for a few hours on weekends in summer months, it at least holds in close confined space an eclectic collection of buses, fire engines, vans, and military vehicles as well as the handful of trams from Dublin and Howth systems. There is no running line; everything being on static display within industrial structures and minimal information.

Having made this past vacation week in Dublin it would have been negligent not to at least pay a call on the 'National Transport Museum' a 30 minute train ride on the DART service from Connolly Street Station to the terminus at Howth. Sited just outside the little fishing port town of Howth and accessible only by an extended walk into the grounds of the Howth Demesne, it is incredibly hard to see this valuable collection engendering many visitors, nor attracting serious funding. A site within Dublin itself tied to a larger development and a short running line would make all the difference - but this seems to be at present very much a pipe dream. Whilst the Northern Ireland authorities have recognised the importance of transport heritage through the excellent Cultra museum near Belfast - their counterparts in Dublin seem far less enchanted.

It didnt take very long to meander slowly around the tightly packed vehicle exhibits, many of which being out of camera shot range or stored elsewhere. Brave sustained efforts by a handful of enthusiasts over the years have managed to restore at least one typical Dublin enclosed bogie car; less bogies and controls. Number 253 was used by a nearby convent for classroom purposes behind walls and therefore out of sight - thus being the sole survivor from the Dublin fleet, relatively intact. A former London trailer car found in the Republic has been transformed into a credible representation of an earlier open top two axle Dublin tram; whilst Hill of Howth 9 - sister car to the example at Crich is also structurally restored but again lacking bogies and electrical equipment.

There is a Belfast trolleybus and two of the city's older buses among examples of Irish buses in the collection. One noteworthy artifact is a collection of swing over moquette seats from a Dublin ''Luxury' car - together with street furniture from the early electric tram days. I was told that a 'Luxury' type tram body has survived and destined for restoration but no details were available as to where and timescales. At the very back of the sheds are burnt out remains of the Dublin Directors Car which had been preserved privately until set on fire by vandals - and since moved to the Howth museum. Not accessible (perhaps understandably) it was way out of sight or any physical access.

Steam train heritage enthusiasts have things somewhat better and maybe there is a potential for cross border cooperation on Irish tram restoration. One lives in hope.

Above : a classic early Section Box with ornate decoration from Dublin United Tramways and a collection of restored reversible seats from a Dublin 'Luxury' car of the mid 1930s. Below : partial side on view of the restored Dublin bogie car and closeup of the large fleet number on the dash. Hill of Howth car can be glimpsed through the lower saloon windows !

Fine recreation of an early Dublin car 224 in its original DUT colours. This used the saloon frame of a former LCC trailer found in the Irish countryside decades previously.

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