I remember we used go from Ennis to Ennistymon backwards for phosphate. We used go at about four o' clock in the morning. They used to bring it from Doolin. That was during the war, an' as sure as you're there you wouldn't know whether the gates were open or not because there was lights hardly in any of 'em. You had only to take a chance. An' if you broke a gate you'd be taken down off o' the engine an' you'd be sent to Dublin for a sight-test the following morning.You'd be examined by the eye-specialist, an' he's examine you in the colours, to see were you colour-blind. But, sure, Lord God, with the West Clare, with the gauge, you couldn't take a chance going backwards. You'd be only doing fifteen or twenty miles an hour. Fifteen, anyway.
You'd have to look out the side. An' during the war, now, we used to use turf an' blocks. First an' foremost we used to use that coal, but you'd only go two or three miles before you'd have to clean the fire. The bars used to get blocked from this bad coal an' this clinker used to form on top o' the bars. Therefore there was no air coming up through the ash-pan. Therefore you'd have no steam. You'd clean that fire maybe four or five times an' you'd have to break the clinker - you'd have to pull the seed back from the front, back to the back, break the clinker out to the front an' shovel it out, throw it out on to the permanent way. Shove the seed then out to the front again an' clean the back.
That was a constant thing during the bad coal. 'Twas shocking hard work! An' 'twas the fireman was doing it. With the assistance o' the driver, o' course. He'd give a hand, too.
The difference between diesel an' steam? Oh, the diesels were a gift. Clean, for instance, an' you had no hard work. All you had to do was sit down an' leave her off. An' 'twas when they dieselized the line that they closed it! Oh, 'twas efficient, the diesel. 'Twas beautiful. In the goods engine, now, you'd sit sidewards init, an' you had an engine on both ends o' you, an' you'd drive away there. 'Twas a gift. But the railcars were great altogether. The very same as a bus. An' believe it or not, when I got a car after being transferred to Ennis - I never drove a car in my life - the very first minute I got into it I drove it off to Limerick owing to knowing the gears in the West Clare railcars.
They were great, the railcars. You'd go up an' down to Kilkee in no time. But the steam engines were tough. They weren't too bad if you had good coal. An' then, o' course, you had good an' bad engines.
In my time there were nine engines. There was 1,2,3,5,6,7,9,10, an' 11. You see, there were a couple stationed in Kilrush an' one in Kilkee. They used to work from Kilrush across to Kilkee an' vice versa.
I was stationed in Kilrush for a few years an' if I was coming up from Kilrush with the goods, the Kilkee fellow''d bring out maybe a few wagons o' stock to me. I was going the whole way, but he was only coming out the branch. He might stay there then an' meet some other train.
An' o' course there was sidings up an' down the line an' a turntable at Miltown. An' there was a turntable at Lahinch.
But why we had to go backwards to Ennistymon was because there was no turntable in Ennistymon. An' 'twould take about an hour - depending on the gates, whether they were open or not.
But Willbrook was very tough for the steak. 'Twas all an incline for miles. If you had a bad engine you'd have to stop two or three times. An' you had a certain place to stop an' you had to fill up the boiler then, because the water'd be gone down so low. There was a water-gauge, you see, an' the water'd go down so low that you'd be frightened you'd burn the engine to nothing. So you'd have to put on the injector. You'd have to get up as much steam as you'd think'd carry you up to the top.
You had plain sailing down then to Ennistymon, four or five miles down to Ennistymon. She'd go away on her own.
An' there was another tough bank , an' that was up the Black Hill. Ah, that was a bad one. But when you'd go to the top o' that - Rineen, where the ambush was - you'd fall into Miltown.
There was a bit of a bank coming up into Craggaknock from the Kilrush side, but that wasn't too bad, an' there was a bit of a one coming up from Quilty up into Miltown. But the two worst ones were the Black Hill an' Willbrook. Oh, if you; had a bad engine an' bad coal there you were finished.There was no turntable at Moyasta Junction. You'd drive out from Ennis. What you'd do then is go on to the Kilrush or Kilkee section, then back back, then come in straight again. You'd be turned then. That's the way we used to turn the engine. 'Twas a kind of a triangle. They had a turntable, all right, in Kilrush an' one in Kilkee but none in Moyasta.
I remember when we used go to Ennistymon fairs, Kilrush, Kilkee, Miltown, an' bless us an' save us, we used go to Ennistymon maybe five or six times an' come in with a load o' stock - nineteen wagons an' a van. We'd turn here in Ennis, fill up with coal again, out again for another load. Out again maybe three times. My God, 'twould amaze you in years after to know where all these cattle an' all this traffic on the West Clare went to.
An' there was school-boys, then, used come up there on the passenger-train - I often worked it up there from Kilrush. They were coming to Ennistymon to school. An' it used to be chock-a-block, the train. An' how in the name o' God they closed it I don't know, because for the passenger-traffic 'twas great. I used go out there at maybe around half three in the day, an' there'd be maybe sixty or seventy people on it. Then you'd pick up schoolboys in Ennistymon, an' they'd be up on top o' one another's backs backs they were all going back after school.
But I was talking to a Canon who was on the deputation to the Minister at the time, asking for the line to be kept open. An' he told me that they wouldn't listen to the deputation. It had to close an' that was that.
Eddie has been collecting folklore in Co. Clare and further afield for nearly 40 years. Here, Eddie shares some of the stories he has collected on his travels. Print copies of each story appear in his long-running "Folklore Corner" in the Clare County Express.