That’s the thing about luxury Trains in Ireland. You are waiting ages for one and suddenly two arrive together. Hot on the heels of Belmond running a luxurious Irish sleeper train service an upmarket Steam Tour service has started.
A vintage steam train named The Emerald Isle Explorer is embarking on a week-long tour of Ireland – the longest excursion of its kind in the modern age. Queen Elizabeth II’s former bodyguard and a Buckingham Palace chef are among the 271 guests on board – mostly from the United States and Britain. The luxurious locomotive, with an engine built in 1932, is sweeping the four corners of the country including Dublin, Westmeath, Galway, Kerry and Kilkenny.
The Irish tour is being run by Steam Dreams – which also manage the UK’s Cathedrals Express steam train – and hauled by vintage locomotives owned by The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI). Over the past six months, the RPSI has carefully prepared and upgraded the train to meet the expectations of passengers. Built in the 1960s, it has seven carriages. The emerald engine, aka the van, at the front is firing on around 50 miles per tonne of coal.
There are two first class Pullman-style carriages complete with private mahogany bar and serving draught Guinness. The other carriages are classed as Premier Dining and the more standard Craven Coaches. All the tables are pristinely set with linen table cloths, crockery, Champagne flutes and decorative table lamps in the higher class transits. Prices for the seven-day tour at the top end start at £2,900 (€4,000) and, at the bottom end, the cheapest seats are £1,695 (€2,300). This includes five-star hotels with five-course meals, food on board, free drinks on the train and, for some, access to the private Pullman bar. Passengers can go on optional excursions if they so wish – with beauty spots like the Aran Islands, the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry along the route.
— RPSI-Dublin (@SteamTrains_Dub) June 21, 2015
Settling into their premier carriage before departing Connolly Station, Richard and Linda Medcaf from Essex feel as though they’ve “stepping back in time. I love the steam, the sound of the whistle and the smell. It’s lovely to sit in and eat and drink and enjoy good conversation with the countryside passing by,” said Richard. The couple, who have never been to the Republic of Ireland before, are impressed by the sheer size of the carriages and the character of the table settings.
— Finbarr O'Neill (@finnyus) June 22, 2015
Across from them Alan and Linda Davison are just as excited. “We’re just going to sit back and watch the scenery go by, it’s absolutely beautiful,” said Linda, who surprised her husband with the trip for his birthday. Bill and Mary Weltin from Watermeet, Michigan in the US, who have their own steam engine, are here to see Ireland and celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. “We have never been here before and the steam train is the only way to see it. I think this car is pretty cool and we’ve got the bar right beside us so we couldn’t have asked for a better seat,” he said.
Athlone Southern. Loco 461 having a rest while Steam Dreams passengers take a cruise on the Shannon pic.twitter.com/pYaHSyq48j
— Joe McKeown (@dubmet) June 19, 2015
Sitting back and enjoying a pint of Guinness in the Pullman bar, John Keohane, a former senior bodyguard for Queen Elizabeth II, says the trip is not just for railway enthusiasts. “The romanticism of steam brings me back to my childhood and you don’t have to be a train fanatic to appreciate travelling in style,” he said. “Yes, it costs money but if you’re going to pay to go on holiday, why not do something that is interesting?” said Mr Keohane, who works for Thomas the Tank Engine in the UK in the role of Sir Topham Hatt aka The Fat Controller.
— Iarnród Éireann (@IrishRail) June 19, 2015
Today, the luxurious locomotive will travel from Galway city down along the West Coast, arriving in Killarney, Co Kerry at 5pm this evening. Tomorrow they will take a trip from Killarney to Tralee before setting off for Waterford on Tuesday morning with a series of stops along the way including Limerick Junction and Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
Marcus Robertson, Steam Dreams’ chairman and founder, said: “It looks fantastic, I hadn’t seen it until this morning and it’s a great credit to the RPSI and all the work they have done. As long as the weather holds I think this will be the most popular trip ever,” he said, signalling that the explorer will return next year. While Steam Dreams and Belmond’s offerings are expensive and upmarket they will have many positive benefits for Irish Railways North and South.
They will publicise and help the great work of the RPSI based in Crawfordsburn Co. Down in preserving Ireland’s steam heritage, three of their restored locomotives are being used for the service. In a cross border demarcation of labour the IRRS in Dublin preserves the railway archives. It will highlight the tourist potential of lesser known lines and the madness of decommissioning the lines from Limerick / Tralee, Rosslare / Limerick Junction and Sligo / Athenry and the direct line to Galway. It will also highlight the madness on a small island where rail faces stiff competition of operating two separate systems North and South. So The Skibbereen Eagle gives an unqualified welcome to these services but at the prices is looking for freebies!
See: The Irish Orient Express
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