RPSI Home - Steam Train Dates - Online Shop - Website Contents - About Us

RPSI 50 - 2014, Golden Anniversary
(Updated 13/9/2015)

12th September 2015 RPSI 50 DVD Award

Nine months into our 51st year and still the RPSI 50 celebrations are making news.

The RPSI is delighted to announce that the much acclaimed RPSI 50 DVD made by member Mike Beckett has been recognised in the annual Heritage Railways Association Publications and Media Awards. RPSI 50, which was produced to mark the RPSI's Golden Jubilee in 2014, received a Special Award for Broadcast Material. The presentation was made at the HRA's Autumn Meeting which took place at Lynton in Devon on Saturday 12th September. The RPSI's Vice-President, Robert Guinness, was on hand to receive the award on behalf of the RPSI.

Congratulations to all those involved in the production and don't forget, copies are still available from the RPSI. The DVD tells the story of the RPSI and features interviews with many of the Society's leading lights, as well as footage of RPSI trains in action. The commentary is by Sullivan Boomer, while among the interviewees is former RPSI Carriage Officer Francis Richards. Sadly, both Francis and Sullivan died earlier this year, but their memory lives on in the form of this DVD.

RPSI 50 explores the past, present and future of the Society. The main feature on the DVD is a specially-commissioned 30-minute documentary telling the history of the RPSI, interviewing key figures and including rare archive footage and glimpses behind-the-scenes. There's also an additional 72 minutes of features: archive films of early railtours; Steam & Jazz 2013; the return to traffic of No. 85 "Merlin"; Whitehead Station Building official opening; RPSI 50 Banner breaking ceremony; additional interviews; over 70 photographs of early RPSI operations. Total running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. Available from the RPSI Shop for 10.

2nd June 2015 Queen's Award

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland has capped its 50th anniversary celebrations by being named as a winner in this year's Queen's Award for Voluntary Service scheme.

The Queen's Award is the highest accolade given to volunteer groups across the UK and has been described as the "MBE for Volunteer Groups". This year, awards have been won by a record 187 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups.

The RPSI, which is based at Whitehead, Co Antrim, operates more than 80 steam trains a year for the public on the tracks on Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail, carrying around 15,000 passengers a year.

Lord O'Neill, who has served as RPSI president since the Society was formed in 1964, said he was delighted that the Society had received this recognition.

"The Society has always been an all-island organisation, open to all but the volunteers have been the secret of our success," he said. "Those who give up so much of their free time to keep the trains running fully deserve this kudos."

A typical group of Whitehead volunteers pose at the Rail Gallery at Cultra, 20/1/2012. (C.P.Friel)

Dublin volunteers (mostly) in their cosy den in BR van 3185, 12/5/2015. (L.Sheehan)

The RPSI relies on its volunteer workforce to keep the wheels turning in terms of everything from maintenance and marketing to steam-raising, checking tickets, operating the buffet car and acting as coach stewards.

Dr Joan Smyth, vice-president of the RPSI, said: "We are hugely encouraged to have received this prestigious honour but all the credit must go to the Society's 150-strong volunteer workforce in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Thanks to the efforts of our volunteers and the willing co-operation of the railway companies, a new generation is able to enjoy the sound and sight of a real-life steam train. This year our trains will visit most of the Irish railway system - from Coleraine to Cork and from Portadown to Portlaoise. Steam trains still turn heads - and are a valuable part of our transport heritage."

The RPSI is poised to develop its base at Whitehead as a heritage centre and museum where visitors will be able to see restoration work in progress on the carriages and engines, some of which were originally built 100 years ago.

RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw, who served as secretary when the Society was first established in 1964, said membership now stood at around 1,000, with a third each from Northern Ireland, the Republic and Britain.

Mr Grimshaw said: "Over the years the role played the volunteers has been crucial to the Society's development and success and we are thrilled to have received this award. We are particularly encouraged to see a new generation of volunteers coming forward and this augurs well for the future of the Society. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty or work unsociable hours to ensure that the train leaves on time. The RPSI is now an important player in the tourism field, and we regularly have visitors from Britain and further afield coming to Ireland specifically to travel on our trains and perhaps building a holiday around that."

The Lord Lieutenant for Co. Antrim, Mrs Joan Christie, will be visiting the RPSI's base later in the summer to present the Society with its award.

31st December 2014 The Final Chapter

RPSI 50 delivered on its key objectives of raising the Society's profile, encouraging and enthusing the membership, creating a favourable impression within the railway companies and among their staff - and helping to fill seats on our trains.

The year's celebrations have been driven by the RPSI 50 committee, namely Heather Boomer, Sullivan Boomer, Mervyn Darragh, Charles Friel, Denis Grimshaw, John Lockett, Phil Lockett, Joe McKeown, Dermot Mackie, Robin Morton (Convenor), Joan Smyth, Mark Walsh and Derek Young (Chairman). It spanned the generations and also boasted a gender balance.

Details of the year's events have been faithfully recorded by RPSI Secretary Paul McCann on this website page.

Thanks are due to the RPSI 50 committee but also so many other people from within the Society and beyond; in particular, thanks to Mike Beckett who filmed and produced the celebrated RPSI 50 DVD, along with our in-house designers - Debra Wenlock, Emma Mackie and Stephen Comiskey. A talented team.

At its first meeting on 19th August 2013, the RPSI 50 committee agreed that the aim was to "celebrate and communicate, to raise the profile of the RPSI and to recognise the contribution made by members north and south over so many years." Essentially, it was seen as a golden opportunity to sell the Society to the membership, the public, government and the railway companies. Anniversaries get noticed, and they also open doors and win influence.

From those early thoughts, the year gathered momentum. From pop-ups to posters, headboards and tailboards, lapel badges and car stickers, flowerbeds and banners, publicity leaflets and single leaf fliers, and lunches to launches, the ideas kept on coming, and the committee enacted them all.

One of the core challenges was to enlist 50 new members and to convert 50 existing members into active volunteers and it is good to report that during the year the Society did indeed sign up 56 new members, while 40 names were added to the list of active volunteers. This initiative was given a boost at the end of November by the staging of a volunteers' day at Whitehead, organised by our newly appointed volunteer co-ordinator Alastair Maxwell.

In 2015 the RPSI 50 committee is planning to morph back into its original role as RPSI Events Committee and to continue to seek to "sprinkle a little stardust" over the RPSI's activities.

The Society has made an investment but RPSI 50 paid a worthwhile dividend, and the benefits will continue to be felt for several years to come. The bar was raised as regards the Society's image and the challenge now is to continue to keep ourselves in the public eye - for the right reasons.

Our Golden Jubilee was a busy year for all those involved but it was also an exciting, entertaining, enjoyable and exhilarating 12 months. It has helped to put the RPSI on the map and now the Society must build on the success of the past year. So watch this space!

3rd December 2014 Nearing The End - A Report

At the Belfast Meeting in Orangefield on Wednesday 3rd December, RPSI 50 Convenor, Robin Morton, gave a review of the year to date. "It is only when we stand back and view the whole year's events - helped by the website page - that the enormity of what we have achieved in 50 years, and celebrated this year, can be seen," he said.

2nd December 2014 Ulster Tatler

The December issue of the "Ulster Tatler" magazine featured a selection of photographs from the Belfast Grand Gala Dinner on 13th September. A bigger selection is also available on the magazine's website.

1st November 2014 Irish Rail Magazine

It is gratifying, once again, to see RPSI 50 featured in Rail Brief. The November issue has an article on the 50th Anniversary dinner in Belfast.

31st October 2014 Bangor Display

North Down Borough Council has said it in flowers to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland. A spectacular floral display has been created at the appropriate location of the roundabout at Bangor Railway Station. It is designed to mark RPSI 50 and is part of the year-long celebrations being organised by the Whitehead-based Society to mark its special anniversary.

The floral display was officially opened by the Deputy Mayor of North Down, Alderman Anne Wilson, at a ceremony held in Bangor on 31st October. To mark the occasion, the Deputy Mayor was presented by the RPSI with a commemorative RPSI 50 DVD and a specially produced RPSI 50 lapel badge.

Alderman Wilson said: "North Down is proud of its railway roots and in many ways, we can count Bangor as one of the first railway towns. The Belfast & Co Down Railway first reached Bangor in May 1865 so next year will mark the 150th anniversary of rail travel to the town. We commend the RPSI for the work it has done in terms of keeping the steam age alive and in letting a new generation enjoy the excitement of travel on board a steam train. North Down Borough Council is pleased to be able to play its part in the Society's Golden Jubilee celebrations by creating this floral display in honour of the Society."

Dr Joan Smyth, a Bangor resident who is vice-president of the RPSI, said the Society was deeply grateful to North Down Council and to its horticulturalist Ian Beaney for creating the display. She said: "We are delighted that North Down Council responded to our suggestion and we are very pleased by the finished product. Ian Beaney and his team have created a very eye-catching display in a prominent location in Bangor and all this helps to put the RPSI on the map. The RPSI has close associations with Bangor and the North Down area and our trains to Bangor always prove popular with the public. We are grateful to Northern Ireland Railways for their co-operation in allowing us to operate our trains on the busy line to Bangor. Perhaps more than ever, steam trains turn heads and we hope we are playing our part in stimulating interest in train travel."

Left to right below: Robin Morton (RPSI 50 convenor), Tony Ragg (RPSI archive recorder), Dr Joan Smyth (RPSI vice-president), Alderman Anne Wilson (Deputy Mayor, North Down), Ian Beaney (gardens maintenance manager with North Down Borough Council), Derek Young (RPSI 50 chairman).

10th October 2014 Steam Railway Report

The Irish News pages of the October/November issue of the Steam Railway magazine contain a report on the 50th Anniversary dinner in Belfast.

14th September 2014 Prize Winner

Not strictly an RPSI 50 event, but it happened on our Portrush Flyer!

Earlier in the year Translink ran a poster competition on the subject of safety at level crossings. The prize-winning poster is to be included in Translink's 2015 calendar, plus the winner got a family trip on the Portrush Flyer and so congratulations to Jovi Fenning (aged 9) from Antrim who won.

So, after the Coleraine Coaster, we got young Jovi onto No.85's footplate and he was able to try his hand with the shovel (under the watchful eye of Inspector Mark Buchanan).

Jovi, with father Gary and mum Sonia. Mal McGreey (Translink General Manager, Rail) congratulates the winner. A future driver? Matthew Crocket, Ben McDonald, Bill White and Mark Buchanan get in on the act!

14th September 2014 Cutting The Cake

The celebrations for RPSI 50 rolled on to Portrush on Sunday 14th September, where the arrival of the Portrush Flyer was followed by the cutting of a Golden Anniversary cake at a table on the platform. The cake had been iced with the familiar RPSI 50 logo.

The ceremony took place right beside No.85 "Merlin", which was catching its breath after the trip from Whitehead. The cake was jointly cut by NIR's senior steam driver Noel Playfair, RPSI chairman Denis Grimshaw.

Forming the backdrop were some of Noel's fellow NIR footplate men, along with a visiting delegation of steam inspectors, drivers and firemen from Irish Rail, who were up for the weekend in Northern Ireland.

Once everyone had smiled for the cameras, and the cake had been formally cut, it was sliced up and portions were handed round on napkins to passengers and staff from the train. Everyone remarked as to how tasty the cake was, and scarcely a crumb was left over. Many thanks to the Grimshaw Family for baking it and to RPSI Vice-President Dr Joan Smyth for arranging to have it iced.

After the formalities were over, the company footplate men were treated to an informal lunch in the Carvery at the adjacent Eglinton Hotel, courtesy of the RPSI. This was a small gesture of thanks to the NIR and Irish Rail footplate personnel who operate our trains on the main line. They are a key part of the equation, and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

Present at the lunch were: Noel Playfair, Mark Buchanan, Gary Moore, Barney McReynolds and Colin the conductor (Translink), along with Lar Griffin, Tony Cooke, Ken Fox, Keith Farrelly and Willie Ferns (Irish Rail). All enjoyed a good tuck-in and the craic was excellent.

Back Row: Barney McReynolds, Gary Moore, Willie Ferns, Keith Farrelly, Lar Griffin, Tony Cooke, Ken Fox.
Front Row: Mark Buchanan, Denis Grimshaw, Noel Playfair, Joan Smyth, Mal McGreevy. (C.P.Friel/M.Beckett).

13th September 2014 Grand Gala Dinner, Belfast

The RPSI marked its 50th anniversary in style with a Golden Jubilee Dinner which took place in the magnificent setting of Belfast City Hall on Saturday 13th September. A total of 260 guests were present, including 50 delegates from the Heritage Railway Association, which was holding its autumn meeting in Northern Ireland.

Some 150 of the guests took advantage of the opportunity to participate in a guided tour of Belfast City Hall which started at 6:30pm. The itinerary included the council chamber, where some of the RPSI visitors had an opportunity to try out the Lord Mayor's chair for size.

After registering at the RPSI reception desk on the ground floor, guests made their way up the marble staircase to the Rotunda on the first floor, being serenaded as they ascended the stairs by the String Quartet from Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast. Their music set the relaxed mood for an evening of convivial celebration.

Belfast City Council kindly hosted a wine reception which began at 7pm in the Rotunda and this gave guests an opportunity to mingle and chat under the high glass dome of City Hall. Soon the Rotunda was abuzz with conversation as acquaintances were renewed and new friends made.

Robin Morton, convenor of the RPSI 50 Committee, took to the podium to welcome guests and introduced the Lord Mayor, Councillor Nichola Mallon. She extended a welcome to City Hall to the members and guests of RPSI on the occasion of the Society's Golden Jubilee dinner and also welcomed the representatives of the Heritage Railway Association.

Councillor Mallon congratulated Lord O'Neill, on clocking up 50 years as patron and then president of the RPSI. She said this commitment must represent some kind of record for any voluntary group in Northern Ireland and perhaps further afield.

She noted that the setting for the function could not be more appropriate, given that the City Hall was located just 300 yards from the former Presbyterian Hostel in Howard Street where the inaugural meeting of the RPSI was held on 30th September 1964. Councillor Mallon said she was delighted to see present on of the prime movers - the first chairman, John Harcourt, who had himself been a councillor in Belfast in 1964, and the son of a former Lord Mayor.

The Lord Mayor said that as was so often the case with hobbies, railway enthusiasm cuts across other divisions such as class and creed. A common bond linked all the members and supporters of the RPSI, enriching the Society as a whole. She added: "The involvement in tonight's function of the Heritage Railway Association is a reminder of the tourist and economic value of steam trains. Steam trains turn heads and the activities of the RPSI have always attracted support from enthusiasts in Britain."

The Lord Mayor said she had noted that the HRA was holding it Autumn Meeting in Northern Ireland and that the delegates were having a busy weekend, visiting RPSI Whitehead and the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum at Cultra on Friday, the Downpatrick & Co Down Railway that morning and then having held their meeting at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle that afternoon.

"Tomorrow they are off to the north coast in the Portrush Flyer, one of the RPSI 's most popular steam trains, and a regular fixture in our tourist calendar," she added. "I wish them a good day in Portrush. In common with all the Society's other trains, such as the Halloween and Santa specials, the Flyer is of course open to the public. The Society's main market is now the general public and a new generation of children is uncovering the joy of travelling on a steam train."

The Lord Mayor said that the RPSI could reflect on a hugely successful 50 years. It had delivered on those objectives which were set out in 1964 to keep the era of steam trains alive in Ireland North and South. Much of this success is down to the efforts of countless volunteers who have rolled up their sleeves, literally and metaphorically. They are the unsung heroes of the RPSI and this, coincidentally, is one of the key themes of my term as Lord Mayor of Belfast. The Society's members are the selfless heroes who have dedicated themselves to building up the Society and tonight they can reflect with pride on what they have achieved."

The Lord Mayor said that as well as looking back, the Society needed to look forward, and the next generation of unsung heroes would be key to building on what had been achieved so far. In closing. Councillor Mallon congratulated the RPSI on its success over the past 50 years and wished it well for the future.

Dr Joan Smyth, the RPSI Vice-President, expressed thanks to the Lord Mayor on behalf of all present and on behalf of the Society. She said the RPSI was deeply grateful to Belfast City Council for having been granted the facility to hold its function in the impressive surroundings of Belfast City Hall. She thanked Councillor Mallon for her words of encouragement and wished her well during her year of office. She said that the Lord Mayor had a prior engagement at the Belfast Proms In The Park and so would be unable to stay with the RPSI for dinner, but she wished Councillor Mallon an enjoyable evening.

Dr Smyth then invited Sam Hall, one of the youngest volunteers at Whitehead, to present a bouquet of flowers to the Lord Mayor as a token of the Society's appreciation.

Guests then proceeded to the Great Hall for dinner. The tables were named after Irish steam engines ranging from 170 Errigal to 190 Lugnaquilla, and from 97 Earl of Ulster to 74 Dunluce Castle. All told, there were 26 tables, and each had been set out with specially designed menu cards carrying the RPSI 50 logo. The theme was carried on by three RPSI pop-ups which formed a backdrop to the rostrum and by RPSI banners which were displayed on railings in the room.

Grosvenor Grammar School quartet had relocated to the stage in the Great Hall and continued to play as guests took their seats. Behind them was a large screen upon which, during the dinner was displayed a rolling loop of photographs of memorable moments of the RPSI's first 50 years.

The Great Hall, with its graceful high curved ceiling and chandelier lights, is the largest function room in Belfast City Hall. It was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941 but was reconstructed and re-opened in 1952. It features stained glass windows of four Kings and Queens including William III and Queen Victoria, and the coats of arms of the four provinces of Ireland.

Lord O'Neill, who was acting as Master of Ceremonies, took to the rostrum clad in his impressive and original MRNCC station master's coat. He welcomed guests on what was a special night for the RPSI and recalled the inaugural meeting in 1964 and thanked John Harcourt for having invited him to become patron.

Lord O'Neill thanked the RPSI 50 committee for all its work in organising the function. After further introductory remarks, Lord O'Neill called for guests to stand for a minute's silence in memory of those RPSI members who were no longer with us. He said everyone would have their own memories, but singled out Norman Johnston, Laurence Morrison, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, Lord Dunleath, Drew Donaldson, Craig Robb and Laurence Liddell.

Lord Faulkner, President of the HRA, who spoke next, congratulated the RPSI on its 50th anniversary. He said the RPSI was widely respected within the preservation movement across the UK and further afield. Lord Faulkner said that the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, who had been invited to the function, had had to decline but had sent a message of congratulations to the RPSI. It read: "Even though I am no longer Rail Minister, I continue to be a great supporter of the HRA and I have visited many of its projects over recent years. I am delighted that you have chosen to visit Northern Ireland this weekend. Northern Ireland has an important and valued railway heritage and I am delighted that the Association has chosen to support the 50th anniversary celebrations of the RPSI. I would like to thank all the volunteers involved in preserving our railway heritage in the UK and Ireland. The railways transformed our society and our economy and they continue to play a pivotal role in the life of our nation. Without the hard work of volunteers and all those involved in conservation of our trains and railways, an important part of our industrial history would be lost for future generations."

Denis Grimshaw, RPSI chairman and the Society's first Honorary Secretary back in 1964, told how the Society had been established by a number of people with an interest in railway heritage in general and steam traction in particular.

He said that at Whitehead and in Dublin the Society had developed all manner of skills and had strengthened its commitment to the restoration, maintenance and operation of its heritage locomotives. The Society now ran 70 trains a year and these carried 30,000 passengers. Main line operation was only possible, however, through the ongoing co-operation and encouragement of the two railway companies, Translink and Iarnród Éireann, to whom the RPSI was immensely grateful.

Mr Grimshaw also expressed gratitude to the RPSI's funding partners, in particular GROW South Antrim, Heritage Lottery Fund, Carrickfergus Council and Ulster Garden Villages.

He said: "We have come a long way from our modest initial aspirations and capabilities 50 years ago - but we haven't finished our journey yet. We are now in process of expanding our facilities at Whitehead even further to develop our premises into a working museum with extensive education and interpretative facilities for our visitors."

Mr Grimshaw then paid tribute to Lord O'Neill who he said had set what was probably a world record for the President of a Railway Heritage organisation by being in post for 50 years. To mark this special anniversary he then presented Lord O'Neill, to much applause, with a specially commissioned set of silver cufflinks bearing the RPSI 50 logo.

After a special RPSI grace by Society volunteer Fr Eddie Creamer, dinner was served, with catering being in the hands of Jane's Kitchen, Broughshane.

Before the speeches resumed, RPSI board member Mark Walsh drew guests' attention to the table ballot, which had been taking place during the dinner. He said this was in aid of an appeal fund to restore the Society's first engine, No.3BG "Guinness". After the envelopes had been collected, Dr Smyth invited Lady O'Neill and John Harcourt to the rostrum to draw the winning envelopes.

The prizes and winners were:
1 - Two RPSI 2015 International Railtour tickets: John Robinson, Talyllyn Railway.
2 - A day on the footplate of a steam engine at Whitehead: Nora Owen, RPSI vice-president, Dublin.
3 - A framed print of the RPSI 50 logo: Linda Patterson, Lisburn.
4 - A framed print of No.85 breaking the tape at the launch of RPSI 50 at Whitehead in March 2014: Caroline Jones, Belfast.
5 - Framed artwork of the 3BG Appeal: Helen Andrews, Dublin.
6 - A pair of first class return tickets on the Enterprise (sponsored by Translink): Anne Walsh, Dublin.

Lord O'Neill then welcomed Barney McGahan, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Regional Development, to speak. Mr McGahan apologised for the absence of the Minister, Danny Kennedy MLA, who had been unable to attend but who had sent the Society warm congratulations on its Golden Jubilee.

Mr McGahan said he had been aware of the RPSI for many years through articles in newspapers and coverage on radio and TV. He said he could assure the Society that Minister Kennedy and he appreciated the effort and work carried out by the Society in preserving rail heritage and allowing the public to be part of the "heritage rail experience". There is no doubt that your steam rains are a visible, and perhaps noisy, reminder to the public that rail travel is alive and well," he added. "Visiting your website and reading some of your history allowed me to see at first hand the scale of achievement that is possible when dedicated and determined men and women apply themselves to a challenge."

Mr McGahan said that looking back, he thought it was a "strategic error" to lose almost 800 miles of railway in the 1950s. "Your Society has, however, shown far better foresight by your successful effort in maintaining the history of the rail network and safeguarding this heritage for future generations," added Mr McGahan. "In addition, your preservation and ongoing development of the skills necessary to continue to maintain and operate the heritage railways is to be admired and recognised."

Mr McGahan said rail travel, although it involved substantial investment, was an important part of the future as the challenges of modernising transportation were balanced.

Brian Simpson, chairman of the HRA, congratulated the RPSI on its achievements, noting that unlike many societies in Britain it had chosen not to go down the branchline route but had opted for main line operation. He commended the Society for its achievements and proposed a toast to the RPSI.

Nora Owen, the most recently appointed Vice-President of the RPSI, fondly recalled her Fine Gael party leader, Dr Garrett Fitzgerald, who had been a Vice-President of the Society. She said his knowledge of railway and airline timetables was legendary. By comparison, she admitted, she was something of a railway enthusiast "virgin", but she said she was learning fast. She said she was looking forward to taking up the opportunity of a day on the footplate at Whitehead - the prize she had won in the table ballot.

Mrs Owen congratulated the Society on its achievements and reflected on some of the social and economic benefits that the expansion of the rail network had had on Ireland. She said that those who were opposed to major infrastructure developments in this day and age - primarily because of a "not in my backyard" philosophy - should reflect on how much the poorer Ireland would have been if such attitudes had prevailed at the time of the development of the rail network.

She said that thanks to the efforts of the RPSI the "romance of steam" had been rekindled and operations such as the RPSI Santa trains were bringing the delights of train travel to a new generation.

The final speaker was Canon John McKegney, a lifelong transport enthusiast and a member of the RPSI for many years. He said that although he was a "not very active" member of the Society he was well able to appreciate the role that the RPSI had played over the years, and congratulated all those who had been involved for their commitment.

In a witty speech he noted that the earliest reference to steam trains could be found in the Bible. Isaiah 6:1-4 included the passages: "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of is robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs ... at the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke." Although Isaiah had not recorded what class the engine was, there was no doubt what he was referring to.

Canon McKegney recalled many amusing incidents in which railways and the RPSI had been involved, and spoke warmly of many of the leading lights of the Society.

Lord O'Neill then announced that the formal proceedings were at an end, allowing time for further conversation. Founding members of the Society were called to the rostrum for a photograph. Too soon, the clock chimed midnight and it was time to go home.

Since then there has been much favourable feedback about the function and messages of thanks to the RPSI 50 committee. The committee will now be convening to plan more activities to carry the Golden Jubilee year through to December.

Thanks to all who helped make the evening such a success and thanks to all those who supported it. It was an occasion which will live long in the memory.

Founding members from 30/9/1964.

10th September 2014 1964 Again

Thanks to some research by Robin Morton and Leslie McAllister a couple of newspaper clippings from 1964 have come to light. These have been added to the How The RPSI Began page.

28th August 2014 Pop-Up Displays

Following the successful display of RPSI 50 pop-ups on NI Railways, a set has now been produced for display in Dublin. The pop-ups will be on display at Connolly until mid-September, when we hope to bring them north for display at the RPSI Golden Jubilee Dinner at Belfast City Hall on Saturday 13th September. Then they will be taken south again and put on display at Dublin Heuston until the end of October. From there the pop-ups will be transferred to Pearse for the month of November, before returning to Connolly for display throughout December. The RPSI is indebted to Gregg Ryan and all concerned at Iarnród Éireann for their willing co-operation in this exercise.

Gregg Ryan (Heritage Officer) and Eddie Halpin (Connolly Stationmaster).

14th August 2014 NI Railways Poster

Following the successful launch of the RPSI 50 posters on NIR trains and the display of RPSI 50 pop-ups at Central Station, Lisburn and now Carrickfergus, we are delighted to announce that large RPSI 50 posters now feature in the display along the 'airbridge' between the concourse and the platforms at Central Station. Our thanks to all concerned at Translink for facilitating this eye-catching display. Here is a photograph taken on 14th August of one of the posters - on the airbridge leading to Platforms 1 and 2.

8th August 2014 Irish Rail Magazine

It is gratifying to see that RPSI 50 features in the July issue of Rail Brief, the IÉ staff magazine. Also the passing out of the new firemen in Dublin.

14th July 2014 Pop-up Displays - Timetable

Passengers passing through Belfast Central now have three RPSI pop-ups upon which to feast their eyes. Thanks to Dermot Mackie, the RPSI Site Officer, who kindly brought the third pop-up from Whitehead and who has erected it beside the first two. It has a familiar image of No.4 in full cry at Trooperslane, and is a general plug for the Society. Let's hope we soon see the spectacle of No.4 climbing the bank at Trooperslane for real!

A provisional timetable has now been agreed with Translink which should see the three pop-ups moving around the NIR system and going on display at most of the main stations.

04-Jul - 21-JulBelfast Central 28-Sep - 13-OctAntrim
21-Jul - 04-AugLisburn 13-Oct - 27-OctBallymoney
04-Aug - 18-AugCarrickfergus 27-Oct - 10-NovPortadown
18-Aug - 01-SepColeraine 10-Nov - 24-NovDerry/Londonderry
01-Sep - 15-SepNewry 24-Nov - 08-DecLurgan
15-Sep - 28-SepBallymena 08-Dec - 22-DecBelfast Central

So make sure you catch the pop-ups when they appear at your local station, although please understand there may be a day or two's slippage at each changeover point. RPSI 50 committee member John Lockett is masterminding the logistics, but we may need a little additional help at some points, so please watch this space. The RPSI is indebted to Translink and its staff for their co-operation in this programme. It should certainly help spread the word about RPSI 50.

13th July 2014 Fliers Taking Wing

As part of the RPSI 50 activities, a glossy new RPSI flier has been produced. We have ordered 15,000, and we hope they will go far and wide. The flier, designed by Emma Mackie is one third of an A4 sheet in size, features No.186 and gives a brief outline of the Society's activities along with contact details and the website address.

Over the past week, the flier has been taking wing. Leaflet drops have so far been carried out at Belfast Central, Great Victoria Street and Botanic stations, and we are grateful to the company for stocking the flier on the information racks.

Fliers are also available at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre in Donegall Square North, the main gateway for tourists and of course, the outlet used by the RPSI for its tickets for the other Flyer - the one that goes to Portrush. Staff there said the flier was precisely what they needed, a lot of people had been asking for such an item.

In addition, the flier is being stocked in the information racks of the main hotels in Belfast city centre, The Europa, Fitzwilliam, Jury's Inn, Day's Hotel, Premier Inn, Park Inn, and Belfast Youth Hostel. Plus the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, the Culloden Hotel, Titanic Belfast and the Nomadic.

Fliers have being sent to Dublin and so we hope they will soon be making an appearance at various Tourist Information Centres and hotels in the city.

Thanks to those members who have been in touch with suggestions as to possible information racks. And many thanks to all those who are helping with the leaflet drops.

7th July 2014 Pop-Up Displays

Passengers boarding the Steam & Jazz train at Belfast Central on 4th July were among the first to be able to inspect the RPSI's two brand new pop-ups, which have been created as part of the RPSI 50 celebrations. The Society is very grateful to Translink for its willing agreement for us to display the posters in rotation in various station concourses throughout Northern Ireland between now and Christmas.

One pop-up shows that dramatic image of No.85 bursting through the 1964-2014 banner at Whitehead on 26th March, with the simple message: Raising Steam and Raising Spirits for the past 50 years.

The second features a galaxy of faces from among the RPSI volunteer workforce. The pop-up is made up of around 40 small images of various volunteers (identified by their Christian names) from Whitehead and Dublin. On the footplate, watering the engine, working in the diner, carrying out trackwork, busy in the workshop and generally looking grimy but happy.

So make sure you pop along and see if your face is included. Your 15 minutes of fame, all courtesy of RPSI 50! As the strapline says, they are the "esteemed" volunteers - the guys and girls who keep the wheels turning in so many different ways. So take a trip down to Central over the next two weeks and have a close look at the pop-ups (located just inside the ticket barrier). And don't forget to take a bow!

Once we get the timetable agreed with NIR, we will let you know where the pop-ups are likely to appear over the next six months. This is a major boost for the Society and no doubt the pop-ups will be seen by tens of thousands of rail passengers as they go to catch their trains. The third RPSI pop-up, which features No.4, and which we have had for a couple of years, will be joining the team before all three pop-ups go on tour around the NIR system.

Our thanks to Debra Wenlock who brought her design skills to bear in devising and designing the two new popups.

And many thanks too to Emma Mackie, who is the brains behind the design of both the new tri-fold RPSI information leaflet and the new one-sheet flier. While the tri-fold is primarily for distribution at Whitehead, our meeting and to passengers on board our trains, the flier is designed for tourist information centres and hotel lobby information racks. The first copies were distributed on 4th July on the Steam & Jazz and we made sure to leave off bundles in at Lisburn and Portadown stations. If anyone would like to get a batch to distribute to hotels or TICs in their locality, please email RPSI 50 Convenor Robin Morton at to make arrangements.

Next up, we're hoping to furnish NIR with two large-scale posters which will be displayed in the cabinets on the "airbridge" at Belfast Central. Keep your eyes peeled for these!

Between the pop-ups, the information leaflets, the fliers and the RPSI 50 posters which are now commonplace on both NIR and Irish Rail trains (grateful thanks to both companies), the RPSI is raising its profile significantly as a result of the celebrations for its 50th anniversary - and the result, already, is increased interest in the Society's activities and most important of all, more fully booked trains north and south than ever.

1st July 2014 Half-Way Point!

It is 1st July and we are half way through the RPSI's Golden Jubilee year so it's time to pause, take stock, and say thanks to all those who have contributed to the success of the celebrations so far. The idea of branding all RPSI events during 2014 as part of the RPSI 50 programme has proved hugely successful - and there's more to come!

Excitement has been building ever since the RPSI 50 concept was first rolled out on 1st January and things really took off with the illustrated talk on RPSI 50 by Charles Friel at the Belfast meeting on 12th March. The main launch however took place on 26th March at Whitehead and it proved to be a memorable day. Who can ever forget that moment when No.85, with a full head of steam and our President, the Lord O'Neill at the regulator, smashed through the 1964-2014 banner to much applause?

Before the runpast, however, guests enjoyed the premiere of the RPSI 50 movie, a documentary made by member Mike Beckett. The 30-minute DVD tells the story of the RPSI's past, present and future, and features footage of our trains along with interviews with a number of leading members of the Society. The film has now been circulated to funders and to executives in Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways, with much favourable feedback. We are indebted to Mike for all the hours of effort he put in to making a film which will, without doubt, compare with any professionally made television documentary.

As members will be aware, the film is now available to the public and the DVD includes both the RPSI 50 film, some off-cuts and some rare historic footage of the RPSI's early tours. It is a DVD that every railway enthusiast and supporter of the RPSI will wish to add to their collections. All funds raised go towards the RPSI.

That 26th March event also marked the unveiling of the impressive RPSI 50 headboards which are being carried by all the RPSI's special trains north and south during the year. Both No.85 and No.461 are sporting the headboard and very well it looks too. And to complete the picture, you will also see an RPSI 50 tailboard at the rear of the train. It all helps focus attention on the Society and those whose heads turn as our trains pass through their local station will, we hope, want to find out more.

Since then we've had the RPSI 50 dinner on 17th May in Dublin which attracted around 120 people. It was a highly significant night - a chance to reflect on how much has been achieved and to consider some of the plans for the future. We were particularly encouraged by the supportive remarks from the Irish Railway Record Society and Iarnród Éireann.

Behind the scenes, RPSI 50 has been a useful tool in raising the Society's profile and opening doors. Thanks to the assistance of East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, an Early Day Motion was tabled at Westminster noting the RPSI's Golden Anniversary and commending the Society for its efforts north and south. We believe this was a first in terms of Early Day Motions at Westminster featuring a heritage railway anniversary.

The fact that we are celebrating our 50th anniversary - and making a fuss about it - has been noted with approval by our funders, and they have been part of the celebrations. This has also enabled us to have influential meetings at senior executive level with both Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways, and the fruits of this dialogue are now emerging.

Both NIR and IÉ have facilitated the RPSI by displaying RPSI 50 posters in their service trains. These draw the attention of passengers to the activities of the Society and direct them to the website. The result, we believe, is an upsurge in bookings for our trains. We are grateful to both NIR and IÉ for their generous assistance. Members have been reporting regular sightings of the posters.

Next up, watch out for RPSI pop-ups which we hope to have displayed in rotation at various NIR station concourses. The three pop-ups highlight the RPSI's golden jubilee, the RPSI's special trains and the RPSI's volunteers. We hope the result will be an increase in bookings for our trains and the enlisting of new volunteers at Whitehead.

One of the objectives that the RPSI 50 committee set itself was to recruit 50 new members and to turn 50 existing members into working members during the year. Already there is progress on both fronts (39 new members so far) but we still have some way to go. So if you know of anyone who would like to be either a lay or active member, please encourage them to take the next step.

To that end, the RPSI 50 has been instrumental in devising and publishing a new RPSI information leaflet which we hope will be of value to the Society this year and in the years to come. Some 5,000 of these attractive tri-fold leaflets have been printed and they are now being circulated on our trains in Dublin and Whitehead. The publication was kindly sponsored by the Modern Railway Society of Ireland.

Plans are now in hand a one-sheet flier based on the information leaflet. The idea is that this can be distributed at any gatherings at which the Society has a presence. They can also be made widely available in tourist information points and hotel receptions, not to mention railway stations.

On the sales front, the RPSI 50 image has usefully been projected in the form of lapel pin badges, pens, t-shirts and now a car sticker. Again, it all reinforces the image as well as raising much needed revenue for the Society.

A welcome feature of RPSI 50 was the return for the first time in several years of the Schools' Day at Whitehead, which took place on 4th June. We had almost 100 children from five schools and they were treated to a PowerPoint presentation, a talk, a tour around the depot and then a train ride behind No.85. The enthusiasm of the children was infectious and it all augurs well for the next generation of railway enthusiasts. This is an area that the Society hopes to develop in years to come.

Also up and coming, we hope, will be floral RPSI 50 displays in Carrickfergus and Bangor. And we are in discussion with Lisburn Council about the erection of an RPSI 50 banner beside the A1 roundabout at Hillsborough. Given that this roundabout is passed by 97,000 vehicles a week, this should really reinforce the brand.

But the showpiece event of the year will be the RPSI 50 grand gala dinner at Belfast City Hall on 13th September, an event being held in conjunction with the Heritage Railway Association. We are delighted that the Lord O'Neill, who has been our Patron/President right since that inaugural meeting in September 1964, has agreed to act as Master of Ceremonies.

We can now unveil the line-up of speakers. We are pleased to be able to announce that the programme will comprise Brian Simpson, the former MEP who is Chairman of the Heritage Railway Association, Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy MLA, RPSI Vice-President Nora Owen and Denis Grimshaw, founding Secretary and now Chairman of the RPSI. We are grateful to Belfast City Council which has approved our application to use Belfast City Hall for the Golden Jubilee dinner and which is also laying on a drinks reception as part of the function.

It will be an opportunity to celebrate the Society's achievements, reflect on past glories, catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances - in the impressive surroundings of the historic Belfast City Hall.

Bookings opened on 20th May and we are delighted to report that already we have received 200 bookings (including a reservation of 80 from the HRA) for this dinner. Please note that accommodation is limited and if you intend to go, please do not leave it too late. The booking form is available on this website page and tickets are priced at £40 per person.

The following day there will be a special RPSI 50 Portrush Flyer with No.85.

We are now looking forward to the publication during the summer of this year's issue of Five Foot Three which will be partially devoted to the RPSI 50 anniversary. We will have special articles by Denis Grimshaw on the founding of the Society, by Joe Cassells on 50 years of breaking new ground and by board member Phillip Newell on the next 50 years. Our thanks go to the three authors. This magazine will be a collector's item

The RPSI 50 committee is busy planning a number of other events which should mean that the celebrations continue throughout the year. Charles Friel will be delivering his RPSI 50 talk at the IRRS in Dublin on 9th October and in London on 16th October, and to judge from the Belfast meeting in March, these should be outstanding occasions.

More details on the this website page and in the RPSI Bulletins as the rest of the year unfolds. But please be assured, we've plenty of steam in the boiler and plenty more new track to cover.

24th June 2014 Royal Recognition

During Queen Elizabeth's visit to Northern Ireland she held a garden party at Hillsborough Castle. Just returned from honeymoon, Society stalwarts Ruth and Mark Walsh had gone along (suitably well dressed!). They were approached by a lady who asked them why they were present. Ruth said they were volunteers from the RPSI which was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The lady was intrigued and asked if they would like to be presented to the Queen. They stood in a small group and the Queen duly came along and chatted. She said she liked steam engines more than diesels and asked Mark if he drove. He said yes, but only on the branch line. All good fun!!

4th June 2014 Schools Open Day at Whitehead

One of the events to showcase the RPSI in its 50th anniversary year was a Schools Open Day held at Whitehead on Wednesday 4th June. The event was co-ordinated by one of our volunteers, John Williams. Four schools were welcomed. After an introductory presentation outlining what we do, each school was given a guided tour of our workshops. All the shed doors were open and the pupils and teachers could see work in progress, the machines we use and examples of completed work. Back on the platform, No.85 was waiting with a carriage to offer train rides and many pupils and teachers took the opportunity to stand on the footplate and talk to the Driver and Fireman about their roles and how, at the age of 14, many people started their lives on the steam railway years ago. This was a great example of how the RPSI is still living up to its stated aims of sharing history and educating. We were particularly impressed with the 12 year olds who understood that the boiling point of water increases with increased pressure!

1st June 2014 Irish Rail Poster

Irish Rail have kindly agreed to display on their trains a poster marking the Society's 50th Anniversary.

This poster was spotted in railcar 29309.

17th May 2014 Grand Gala Dinner, Dublin (Table artwork by Stephen Comiskey)

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey Saturday 17th May was the first of two Grand Gala Dinners to celebrate the Society's 50th Anniversary. After a hard day travelling behind No.461 on the "Saint Canice" railtour to Howth, Wicklow and Enfield, most of the travellers donned their Sunday best to attend the function at Dublin's Davenport Hotel. The date for the function had been deliberately chosen so as to coincide with the weekend of the railtour. Around 120 people attended - a good cross-section of the RPSI's membership and including a table of retired enginemen, plus a table made up of representatives of the Irish Railway Record Society. Also present were RPSI vice-presidents Robert Guinness, Nora Owen and Joan Smyth, along with several RPSI board members.

It proved to be a most convivial evening with good company, great craic and an excellent meal. Thanks go to the chief organiser, Joe McKeown, RPSI Board member and Dublin Area Operations Officer, for all the hard work he put in to organising the dinner.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey Guests were welcomed with a complimentary glass of prosecco and during the reception, everyone was able to relax to the background music provided by the Malcolm Gooding jazz quartet. The four-man band performed as a tribute to the late, lamented Chas Meredith, who had been a much-loved member of their band and also a dedicated member of the RPSI in Dublin. It was a fitting tribute - the band was keeping the music going and the RPSI is keeping the trains running - just as Chas would have wanted.

The tables were thoughtfully numbered in accordance with the RPSI locomotive fleet - with the table markers featuring every engine from No.3BG to No.461. A menu card was adorned with an eye-catching RPSI 50 design on the cover, the artistic image having been created by member Stephen Comiskey.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey As they took their seats, guests were also able to savour some recent footage of RPSI steam trains which was being shown on a large screen in the hotel function room. The film, a sample of the work of acclaimed RPSI film-maker Mike Beckett, was the subject of much favourable comment.

With RPSI President Lord O'Neill being out of the country due to a long-standing engagement, our Master of Ceremonies for the night was one of the RPSI's vice-presidents, Robert Guinness, who is known to many enthusiasts for his operation of the Steam Museum at Straffan in Co Kildare. Mr Guinness extended a warm welcome to guests, particularly those from Britain, and expressed thanks to the Malcolm Gooding quartet for their thoughtful gesture. He said that Chas was very much missed both in the worlds of music and railway preservation. Proposing a toast to the founders of the RPSI, Mr Guinness said they had shown great foresight in 1964 by committing the Society to promoting main line steam, something which distinguished the Society from the many groups which were striving at the time to set up branchline operations.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey Mr Guinness said that Whitehead had proved to be a prudent choice as headquarters and noted that the base now boasted excellent workshops. He said the Dublin 2020 committee was trying to follow this lead by setting up a Dublin base, something he said was of paramount importance to the future of the Society. Mr Guinness said that at present, the wheels were starting to turn, which was encouraging.

Responding to the toast RPSI Chairman and inaugural secretary Denis Grimshaw reflected on the situation that faced the founding fathers back in 1964. The railway network was contracting and steam traction was being phased out. A small group of enthusiasts had decided that something had to be done to ensure that main line steam was not lost to future generations and so it was that the RPSI was founded in Belfast in September 1964. He said that much had been achieved over the years, and paid particular tribute to the co-operation of the railway companies. He said that the RPSI had now evolved into a very professional organisation and was a key player in the tourism offer in Ireland, north and south.

Grace was said by Fr Eddie Creamer from Clonard Monastery in Belfast, who Mr Guinness said was a regular member of the locomotive maintenance squad at Whitehead. Fr Eddie's grace was especially composed for the occasion and was characteristically given a special RPSI and railway dimension.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey After dinner, the first speaker was Cormac Downes, National Sales Manager of Irish Rail. He said that the whole operation of railtours was at an exciting juncture at present. Irish Rail was seeking to bring new business to Ireland and to this end was trying to raise the profile of rail tourism. A survey had shown, he said, that 8% of inland tourists in the Republic made a rail trip at some stage during their holiday, and this was something that Irish Rail intended to build on. Mr Downes predicted that the 2015/16 period would be a turning point in terms of the development of rail tourism, and said that there was a great opportunity to grow the market. In closing, he congratulated the RPSI on its achievements over the past 50 years and said that Irish Rail looked forward to growing co-operation with the Society.

Gerald Beesley, commissioner at the Railway Safety Commission, also congratulated the RPSI on its landmark year. He recalled the negotiations conducted between the RSC and the RPSI which had culminated in the signing off of an RPSI Safety Management System in July 2011, and commended the dedication of all those RPSI personnel who had been involved in the process. He said that the SMS meant that the RPSI was now a railway undertaking under the terms of European law and said the Society was of the first heritage railways in Europe to have secured such accreditation. Mr Beesley, who said his knowledge of RPSI railtours extended back 30 years to his participation in a Galway Bay steam tour, said the Society was now well known internationally. In particular, he said, he had found a good awareness of the Society's activities during visits to the United States and Canada. This boded well, he said, for the future growth of the RPSI.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey Jim Deegan, a board member of the National Transport Authority, and proprietor of Dublin-based Railtours Ireland, said he had been a member of the RPSI for 40 years. He commended the Society for its achievements to date and congratulated it on its golden anniversary. Mr Deegan said that there was increased scope for the Society, now that it was an officially accredited railway undertaking. He said Railtours Ireland was planning an exciting collaboration with the RPSI in the autumn, when the Cravens carriages would be used for a diesel-hauled rail cruise around Ireland. He said that the RPSI had been involved in rail tourism for many years and recalled a trip which he and his then partner David Humphries had organised 25 years ago which had involved bringing 250 enthusiasts from Britain over by ferry for a one-day Sea Breeze steam excursion. Rail tourism, Mr Deegan said, was a growing business worldwide and he said he hoped and expected that Ireland would play its part in this expansion.

Alan Hyland, a board member of the Irish Railway Record Society, said that the RPSI and IRRS had much in common in that they were both closely associated with the railway industry in Ireland, albeit with different objectives. Mr Hyland said he was pleased to report that the relationship between the two societies had grown closer in recent years, with much joint membership. Mr Hyland congratulated the RPSI on reaching its 50th anniversary but told guests that in 2016, the IRRS would be marking its 70th birthday. He said the IRRS was located at Heuston Station where it retained historical records of the Irish rail system as well as having an extensive library and meeting rooms. He noted that the IRRS had run a successful outing to Cork in 2013 using the RPSI Cravens and said a similar trip would be held in July, with the destination being Waterford and Limerick. Mr Hyland concluded by proposing a toast to the RPSI on its 50th anniversary.

In response, David Humphries from the RPSI thanked all the speakers for their good wishes. He said the RPSI could be justly proud that it had achieved "in spades" a prediction in a railtour advert in 1967 that "this tour may herald the beginning of a new era of long distance steam railtours in Ireland".

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey Mr Humphries recalled that his first "two-day" tour had been the Silvermines in 1974 and then spoke of some of the highlights of the RPSI's operations in the Republic since then. In 1977, the Society had been granted access to the former locomotive shed at Mullingar which despite its "Dickensian" conditions was the location of much good work on the locomotive and carriage restoration front. He paid tribute to the volunteers who worked at Mullingar and at Inchicore, where the running set and the "Dublin engine" were stored and maintained. He noted that at present, the RPSI did not have a permanent base in the Dublin area and said that while the Society was grateful to Iarnród Éireann for its willingness to accommodate the Society's stock at a number of locations, the need for a permanent base was now becoming a critical objective. The RPSI board, he said, had set up a sub-committee with this objective in mind, and while good progress was hoped for, the challenge should not be under-estimated.

Mr Humphries referred to the Society's involvement in more than 30 films since 1976, both for the cinema and for television. He noted that both Nos. 184 and 186 had been restored at Mullingar in 1978 to a sufficient standard to star in the First Great Train Robbery movie.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey He recalled the formation in 1988 of the Dublin Area Operations Committee and said that it was a striking fact that in the 26 years since then, all Dublin-based trips had returned a surplus. The biggest and most intensive operation each year was the Santa season, which started in Mullingar in 1981 and had operated since 1992 from Dublin. The popularity of these trains was evident from the fact that they usually sold out by early September.

Mr Humphries said that one particular high profile event had been the launch in April 1991 of No.461 by the then President, Mary Robinson. Then there had been the launch by President Mary McAleese of the Irish State Coach 351 in October 2000. He said the next challenge for the DAOC was to get the current President, Michael D Higgins, onto an RPSI train.

Over the years, Mr Humphries said, there had been many defining moments for the Society - such as the question of whether steam would be allowed under the wires when plans were being made for the introduction of overhead electric lines for the DART trains in 1984. The completion of the Safety Management System in 2011 had been a "herculean task" while the current focus was on the training of more Irish Rail drivers to be trained to act as footplate crew. Without competent crew, he said, the RPSI's locomotives and carriages were going nowhere.

Mr Humphries said he wished to record the RPSI's appreciation to both the present and former staff of Iarnród Éireann - at all levels in the company - for their help, support and co-operation.

In closing, Mr Humphries paid tribute to four Dublin-based members who he said had made an immense contribution to the RPSI in different ways, but who had now passed on - the first Dublin agent Sam Carse, members Philip Booth and Chas Meredith and the RPSI vice-president and former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald. All, he said, were fondly remembered.

RPSI 50 table artwork by Stephen Comiskey The final speaker was Fred Heide from New Jersey, USA, a regular railtour participant since 1991, when he came to Dublin to undertake a canal tour and decided to include the steam tour as well. Recalling various ups and downs of the two-day tour weekend, such as the Barrow Bridge being hit by a boat, the line at the border being "re-arranged" by the IRA, and the re-routing caused by foot and mouth disease Mr Heide said in an amusing speech that he intended to "keep coming back until you get it right". He spoke of the many good friends he had made within the ranks of the RPSI and told of the congenial atmosphere on the tour. In closing, he congratulated the RPSI on its anniversary and wished the Society every success in the future.

The evening's speakers (left to right): David Humphries, Alan Hyland, Jim Deegan, Fred Heide, Robert Guinness, Cormac Downes, Denis Grimshaw, Gerald Beesley.

Mr Guinness wrapped up the formalities by thanking those involved in the organisation of the function and renewing the welcome to the various retired Irish Rail staff present.

He mentioned in particular retired Irish Rail footplate men, Joe Murphy, Nicky Moore, Tony Renehan and Dan Renehan, who were present. They had, he said, kept the RPSI's steam engines running on the public way over many years, and are very much appreciated by the Society and well looked up to.

Mr Guinness added: "Volunteers are the heart of any organisation such as ours, and present this evening is our Ticket Checker who is young at heart, but has been on the job longer than he perhaps cares to remember, John O'Meara our most senior volunteer.

"This leads me on to an important man in the background to passengers but very much on the front line of steam, Pearse McKeown former Great Northern railway fitter, who after many years at Dundalk, moved in 1960 to Inchicore, as the former workshops had sadly closed for good. His knowledge is legendary and our thanks go to him for the part he played in securing 461, 184, and 131 for preservation back in 1964. Often it is the right man in the right place at the right time and so it proved here, over the years too his advice and assistance has been invaluable in keeping our steam engines running in great style and on the right track, that track of course is maintained and well cared for by the great companies operating our public transport systems.

"I am sure you will all join with me to thank Joe McKeown, who has been the background man to this evening's dinner, and Robin Morton who is in charge of our overall celebrations during our 50th year, and of course the Dublin Area Operations Committee."

The RPSI vice-president said that thanks were offered to all those many individuals, who volunteered, and made the wheels go round. Without them, he added, the Society could not function.

Mr Guinness thanked the staff of the Davenport Hotel for the splendid meal they had served. He concluded by reminding all present that the next big function in the RPSI 50 programme was the Grand Gala Dinner which was being held on Saturday 13th September at Belfast City Hall.

Chairmen past and present: Johnny Glendinning, David Houston, Denis Grimshaw, Norman Foster, Sullivan Boomer. RPSI Vice Presidents Joan Smyth, Robert Guinness and Nora Owen, with Chairman Denis Grimshaw.
Robin Morton (centre back) greets past railwaymen (left to right) Joe Murphy, Nicky Moore, Tony Renehan, Pearse McKeown, Dan Renehan.

Finally, a raffle was held in aid of the RPSI of a railway staff which had been generously donated by long-serving volunteer and regular ticket checker John O'Meara. The staff was won by member Liam Mooney to much applause.

16th April 2014 Vintage Photos

Following his request for vintage footage for the RPSI 50 DVD, Mike Beckett received a few photos from Alan Watts showing the much-famed mighty steam-powered PW trolley that was built at Whitehead in the early days. It sounded like immense fun but liable to cause damage to people or property!

Sullivan Boomer has identified a few faces. If anyone can put a date to the pictures or identify others then please do..

(1) The contraption. (2) Back: David Trotter, George Hamilton, Paul Newell, Sullivan Boomer. Michael Popplestone (the mad designer!) on the trolley. (3) From left: Michael Popplestone, Nevin Hamilton, rest unknown.
(4) The contraption with Whitehead platform behind.

(5) Enjoying the fruits of their labour.

15th April 2014 RPSI 50 Update

RPSI 50 Pen:The Society has produced a black pen which has the Society's name and the RPSI 50 logo printed on it. To view or purchase one, visit the online sales page.

Carriage Tailboard:The RPSI Whitehead set now boasts an RPSI 50 tailboard, and very swish it looks, too. The vinyl RPSI 50 logo, which mirrors the headboard carried by the engine, has been applied to both ends of the Whitehead Mark 2 set and should further help to raise the profile of our big anniversary.

Ministerial Lapel Pin:RPSI vice-president Dr Joan Smyth, RPSI 50 committee convenor Robin Morton and committee member John Lockett took advantage of the opportunity presented by a meeting with the Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy MLA, to present him with an RPSI 50 lapel pin badge which he gratefully accepted. The Minister was also presented with one of the newly produced RPSI 50 pens. The meeting was organised so as to brief the Minister about the plans the Society has to celebrate its 50th anniversary year. We hope that Minister Kennedy will be among the speakers at the Gala Dinner at Belfast City Hall in September.

26th March 2014 RPSI 50 Official Film Launch

All photographs by C.P. Friel. (Click on images for larger version)

No.85 with 50th anniversary headboard. RPSI 50, the Society's year of celebrations to mark its golden anniversary, was launched in style at a special event in Whitehead on Wednesday 26th March. More than 100 guests attended the function, which is the prelude to a busy year for the RPSI.

Guests registered at Whitehead Youth Club where tea, coffee and scones were served by a catering team from the Society. There was a chance to catch up with old friends, to make new acquaintances and to relax over a cuppa.

Then it was time to proceed to the station house which is now such a familiar part of the landscape at Whitehead Excursion Station. But before entering the building, most guests could not resist going across for a close-up view of newly restored Great Northern Railway Compound No.85 "Merlin", which was at the platform.

Lord O'Neill and RPSI 50 Convenor Robin Morton The Lord O'Neill, RPSI President, welcomed the guests and told how John Harcourt, the Society's first chairman, had invited him to become patron for the Society's inaugural meeting in Belfast on 30th September 1964. He recalled early work trips to Whitehead after the Society set up its base there in 1966.

RPSI Chairman Denis Grimshaw said it was noteworthy that among those present today were no fewer than 11 of the founding members of the Society - who had attended the inaugural meeting. He said it was also pleasing to have present representatives of various bodies which had helped the Society in recent years with funding.

Mr Grimshaw also welcomed representatives of kindred bodies - the Irish Railway Record Society, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Downpatrick & Co Down Railway, and Heritage Railway Association from GB. He said it was good, also, to have representatives of Translink and Iarnród Éireann present.

Mr Grimshaw then invited Lord O'Neill to unveil the RPSI 50 headboard which will be carried by RPSI locomotives on all special trains during the 50th year.

The Mayor Carrickfergus, Alderman Billy Ashe, thanked the Society for its invitation and said he was delighted to be able to present on such an auspicious occasion. He congratulated the Society on all that it had achieved over the past 50 years. He said the Society was playing an important role in the local economy and commended Society members for their passion in keeping steam alive. Lord O'Neill then presented the Mayor with one of the RPSI 50 lapel pin badges.

Denis Grimshaw Mr Grimshaw then outlined how the Society had come into being. He said that in the early 1960s, the railway network was in decline, with many lines facing closure or the threat of closure. He recalled that a small group of enthusiasts had come together with the aim of preserving some examples of steam traction.

The initial thought, he said, was to lease or perhaps buy some locomotives and ask the railway company to store them, so that they could be borrowed from time to time for special trains. They had never imagined that the Society would have been able to build up a collection of seven or eight mainline steam engines all capable of being put into service, and a fleet of 25 carriages - or have become a fully licensed train operating company in the Republic.

The Society had come a long way, largely thanks to the volunteer effort of its members, often working in very primitive conditions.

He said that in recent years the Society had been fortunate to have won funding from several bodies, including Generating Rural Opportunities Within (GROW) South Antrim, Carrickfergus Borough Council and Ulster Garden Villages, as well as Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland which had offered funding in principle. This support was enabling the Society to start to achieve its aim of transforming its premises at Whitehead from an industrial workshop to a working heritage museum where visitors would be able to view restoration projects taking place. He said the Society was still in negotiation for a number of major grants which would help to realise this objective.

He then read the text of an Early Day Motion which had been passed in the Westminster parliament on 5th February 2014.

Mr Grimshaw concluded by thanking all the Society's members, friends and supporters for helping to build the RPSI which was in existence today.

Lord O'Neill said one great strength of the Society had always been that it was an all-Ireland body and noted with approval the existence of an active group in the Republic.

Lord O'Neill then introduced John Harcourt, the first chairman of the Society, noting that John's father had been a Lord Mayor of Belfast and had been instrumental in driving forward the original Belfast Transport Museum in Witham Street. He invited Mr Harcourt to pass "the staff" on to board member Mark Walsh, representing the older generation handing over to the younger generation.

John Harcourt and Lord O'Neill Mr Harcourt recalled the setting up of the Society and said Lord O'Neill had been the unanimous choice of the original committee as first patron. He told how, after the inaugural meeting, he had received a dismissive phone call from a civil servant who told him that the Society was "doomed to failure", as all those involved were too young. But Mr Harcourt said this prediction had been overturned, thanks to the determination and dedication of the Society's members. He recalled that John Richardson, who served as RPSI treasurer for 25 years, had invited him to become chairman. He paid tribute to the commitment displayed over many years by Mr Richardson.

He said he was greatly moved to hear news of the Early Day Motion, something he said of which the Society should be very proud.

Mark Walsh and John Harcourt Mr Harcourt expressed congratulations to Lord O'Neill for his term as president, and also praised Charles Friel for the work he had done in work such as organising meetings.

He said he was proud that the RPSI had always had the support and involvement of people south of the border, and that the Society had helped to bring people together.

In closing, Mr Harcourt presented Mark Walsh with the staff and said it was hugely gratifying that the future generation was carrying on the good work of the RPSI.

Mike Beckett and Sullivan Boomer Former chairman Sullivan Boomer told guests that as part of the celebrations, the RPSI 50 committee had decided to commission a film to mark 50 years. Member and movie-maker Mike Beckett was the obvious choice, and the committee had been delighted when he had agreed to undertake the job. Mr Boomer said Mike Beckett had done "the most remarkable job", in distilling 50 years into 30 minutes. Mr Boomer then made a presentation to Mike Beckett of a framed photo of No.85 by Edward Friel.

Joe McKeown Lord O'Neill then invited Joe McKeown from Dublin Area Operations Committee to speak. Mr McKeown outlined the Dublin Area's plans for a main line trips during the spring and summer and told of the success of the inaugural outing of the year, the Midlander to Mullingar on 23rd March.

Mr McKeown recalled that Sam Carse from Dublin had for years served on the RPSI council as Dublin Agent. He said the RPSI was indebted to the Irish Railway Record Society which had saved No.184 and No.461, by ensuring that CIÉ did not scrap them. He paid tribute to the support given to the RPSI by Iarnród Éireann at all levels from the CEO to station staff and footplate crew.

Mr McKeown said plans were taking shape for a Grand Gala Dinner RPSI 50 in Dublin on Saturday 17th May, and said it promised to be a memorable event.

Phil Lockett Looking ahead to the next 50 years, RPSI 50 Committee member Phil Lockett recalled speaking at the RPSI 40 dinner. At that time he had said the Society had "never had it so good" but if that was true then, it was doubly true now. Over the past decade the RPSI had won awards, praise and had broken much new ground in terms of locomotive and carriage overhaul. It had also submitted a successful safety case in the Republic, and had got involved in crew training programmes on NIR and IE. Two members had received honours, and the Society had produced the National Volunteer of the Year.

Mr Lockett said he was excited about the next 50 years and said that in locomotive terms the Society was approaching the next 50 years "in big valve with the safety valves lifting". Challenges lay ahead, however, and although there had been tremendous investment in facilities, more volunteers were always needed. He suggested that the Board appoint a Volunteer Recruitment Officer, and seek to enlist a next generation youth team. He said the board needed to pay attention to succession planning.

Mr Lockett suggested the Society could maximise its heritage and education value. The two heritage trains operating north and south could be used as vehicles to tell the story of Irish railways and the impact they had on the ancestors of today's passengers and schoolchildren.

Looking ahead to the next 50 years, Mr Lockett said all railway enthusiasts loved to dream. The possibilities for such dreams were endless - the RPSI building its own locomotive and carriages, the return of heritage coaches to the main line, members firing and driving on the main line, and finally, the RPSI running a steam train on the re-opened Portadown to Armagh line - or perhaps the Derry Road. Mr Lockett suggested that the RPSI should develop its dining trains along the lines of specials operated by Societies in Britain, and could perhaps develop the Irish equivalent of the Orient Express.

Charles Friel being presented with a cheque by Dundalk Railway Heritage To round off proceedings, Patsy Duffy from Dundalk Railway Heritage Society presented Charles Friel with a cheque to go towards the ongoing return to traffic of No.85. He congratulated the RPSI on the sterling work over the years by past and present members.

Charles Friel expressed thanks, noting the close connections between Dundalk and the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) and the RPSI. Among those he cited were that No.85 was the last engine ever repaired in Dundalk - long after the Works had closed - and that No.131, currently being restored at Whitehead, was the last locomotive overhauled at Dundalk Works by the GNR.

Lord O'Neill then invited the audience to watch Mike Beckett's film, the screening of which was followed by sustained applause.

In conclusion, Lord O'Neill said the prospect of having three GNR(I) 4-4-0s in traffic in 2015 was a tantalising one, and something which was already prompting talk of possible triple-headers.

No.85 approaches the banner Then it was time to venture outdoors to watch Lord O'Neill drive No.85 through a banner emblazoned with RPSI 1964-2014 to signify the start of the golden anniversary year. Lord O'Neill said he was looking forward to the experience and recalled the time when RPSI vice-president Lord Dunleath had performed a similar task. He said the Society owed a debt of gratitude to the late Lord Dunleath whose funding had made the restoration of No.85 possible in the first place.

No.85 breaks the banner Guests then gathered along the platform to witness Lord O'Neill driving No.85 through the banner - and RPSI 50 was officially under way. Among those present was East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, who had sponsored the Early Day Motion at Westminster. Mr Wilson had arrived just in time to see No.85 breaking through the banner - and was much impressed. The MP chatted with many of those present and posed for photographs - we much appreciate his support. RPSI vice-president Dr Joan Smyth took the opportunity to present Mr Wilson with an RPSI 50 lapel pin badge - which he immediately pinned onto his jacket.

Members of Dundalk Railway Heritage Society with Sammy Wilson, East Antrim MP and John Lockett of the RPSI 50 Committee.
Members of Dundalk Railway Heritage Society pose with No.85 after presenting a cheque to the RPSI towards her overhaul.

Peter Scott, Philip Lockett and Adam Lohoff of the RPSI Locomotive Department, with Lord and Lady O'Neill.

Another fine video from Mike Beckett shows John Harcourt, the very first RPSI Chairman, from 1964, waving as No.85 breaks the banner.

Thanks to all those who helped in so many different ways to make the event such a success. It was a real team effort.

27th February 2014 Events Update

The year of celebration to mark the Society's 50th anniversary, is taking shape. Here is an update from the RPSI 50 committee.

RPSI 50 Lapel Badge RPSI 50 Lapel Pin: To mark the Society's 50th anniversary a limited edition lapel pin has been produced, bearing a miniature version of the RPSI 50 logo. These are on sale:
- from our ebay account - click on the image here
- at £2 over the counter at our Belfast meetings and Whitehead events
- or £2.50 including postage from RPSI Sales, 103 Wynchurch Road, Belfast, BT6 0JJ. Please make your cheque payable to "The RPSI".
Visit our shop to make your purchase. While there, browse through all our current sales lines and check out some recent price reductions.

RPSI 50 Talk:A reminder that Charles Friel will be presenting an illustrated lecture on RPSI 50 on Wednesday 12th March. This will really set the ball rolling for our year of celebrations. The occasion will be the RPSI meeting at the Parke Hall, Orangefield Presbyterian Church, Castlereagh Road, Belfast, starting at 7.30pm. Tea and coffee served at the interval. We're very grateful to Charles for undertaking the preparation of this paper on the RPSI's past, present and future and very much look forward to it. Charles is, of course, due to talk to the same subject at the IRRS in Dublin on 9th October and at the IRRS in London on 16th October.

RPSI 50 Film: As members will know, acclaimed film-maker and RPSI member Mike Beckett is producing a special 30 minute movie to mark the Society's golden anniversary. A number of RPSI luminaries have been interviewed, such as our president, the Lord O'Neill, current chairman - and founding secretary - Denis Grimshaw, former chairman David Houston, RPSI archivist Charles Friel, Youth Team members Phil Lockett and James Friel, locomotive officer Peter Scott, carriage officer Francis Richards, and Gerry Mooney from the Dublin Area locomotive team. The movie features film of recent Society activities along with some classic archive footage. The film will be launched in front of an invited audience at Whitehead on 26th March, and at selected other venues later. It is also planned to launch it as a DVD, hopefully before the May tour, with "extras" consisting of longer interviews, archive footage and some other items yet to be decided. The event at Whitehead will also mark the official launch of RPSI 50.

Dublin Dinner: We're delighted to announce that the venue for the Dublin Gala RPSI 50 dinner will be the Davenport Hotel in Merrion Square. The dinner will take place on Saturday 17th May, the weekend of the Saint Canice railtour, but the function is of course open to all, not just railtour participants. We hope to be able shortly to announce further details and issue a booking form. But keep the date free and plan to be present at what should be a memorable evening.

Belfast Dinner: Plans are proceeding apace for the Belfast Gala RPSI dinner at Belfast City Hall on Saturday 13th September. This function is being held in conjunction with the Heritage Railway Association, which is holding its autumn meeting in Northern Ireland that weekend. We hope to finalise details shortly and have a booking form out. Again, keep the date free. The evening will start with a drinks reception in the Rotunda and then we will proceed to the Great Hall for our dinner and speeches. Come on your own or make up a table of 10 with friends. More details soon.

Schools Days: As part of RPSI 50 the Whitehead Schools Days are being revived, after a gap of some years. John Williams is taking the lead on this event, which will run on Tuesday 10th June and Wednesday 11th June. We hope to provide train rides and guided tours. We will need help in stewarding and marshalling on the day.

Five Foot Three: To mark RPSI 50 a special issue of Five Foot Three is being planned, featuring articles on the Society's origins and achievements, and looking to the future. The magazine, due out in the late spring, will feature some historic photographs. It promises to be a collector's item.

Sunday 14th September: On the Sunday after the Belfast Dinner, the Society plans to operate a North Atlantic Express steam train from Belfast to Portrush which will of course be open to RPSI members and the public. A great way to celebrate the anniversary.

21st January 2014 2015 Calendar Appeal

For the Society's 2015 calendar it is hoped to produce views from the last 50 years of RPSI trains.

Do you have images not seen before? Maybe you have 'that shot' and would love to see it in print. Of particular interest are images that capture in a unique way the Society's achievements over the years - perhaps a different take on the ordinary, a view that appeals to both the enthusiast and people who like to have a nice calendar on their wall.

11th January 2014 RPSI 50 Launched at AGM

Robin Morton reminded members that the RPSI had been founded at a meeting at the Presbyterian Hostel in Belfast on 30th September 1964. The RPSI Board, he said, had invited him to form a sub-committee to make plans to mark the Society's 50th Anniversary and under the chairmanship of Derek Young, they had been meeting monthly since September 2013. The membership comprised Dr Joan Smyth, Denis Grimshaw, John Lockett, Phil Lockett, Mark Walsh, Sullivan Boomer, Charles Friel, Joe McKeown, Mervyn Darragh and Dermot Mackie, as well as Derek Young and himself.

He noted that a number of the founder members who were present at that inaugural meeting, himself included, remained active in the Society. The RPSI had celebrated its 20th, 30th and 40th anniversaries but the 50th promised to be something special. He said the committee was recommending that all RPSI activities during the year should be branded as RPSI 50 events.

A special RPSI logo had been designed and this would be replicated on headboards which would, it was hoped, be carried by all the Society's trains during the course of 2014. As a first step, lapel badges featuring the yellow and red "RPSI 50" logo had been produced and these were now on sale at £2 a time. It is hoped that members would wear these badges with pride during the year.

Robin Morton said that the celebration was designed to embrace the members. He said it was very much the Society's own celebration, a chance to reflect on the achievements to date and also to look to the future. The RPSI 50 had established two firm goals - to increase the membership of the Society by 50 during the year, and to convert 50 existing members into working members as well.

He explained that plans were in hand to produce an RPSI 50 film by Mike Beckett which would cover the past, present and future of the Society. Already, several interviews had been conducted but what was still needed was digitally prepared film of the RPSI's early days and early railtours. He appealed for anyone with such footage to get in touch. The plan was for the film to be launched at Whitehead on Wednesday 26th March, when a ceremony would be held to mark the formal start of the RPSI 50 events.

RPSI archivist Charles Friel, he added, was adopting the same theme for three RPSI 50 illustrated talks, the first of which would take place at the meeting at Parke Hall, Orangefield, in Belfast on Wednesday 12th March. The talk would then be repeated in Dublin and London during the autumn.

A major event would be the RPSI 50 dinner in Dublin on Saturday 17th May, the weekend of the RPSI's international railtour. Joe McKeown was heading up a committee which was organising the event in conjunction with Vice-Presidents Robert Guinness and Nora Owen. At present, discussions were taking place on a venue. Robert Guinness had kindly agreed to act as MC at the function in the absence of Lord O'Neill.

During the summer the Society's special trains, such as the Portrush Flyer, would carry the RPSI 50 headboard. In addition, there were plans to reinstate into the programme a Schools' Day at Whitehead, probably in June.

All this, Robin Morton said, would lead up to the grand gala dinner which was taking place at Belfast City Hall on Saturday 13th September. Lord O'Neill had agreed to act as MC at this function, which was being held in conjunction with the GB-based Heritage Railway Association, which was holding its autumn meeting in Northern Ireland. It was expected that around 80 delegates would be present, and they would be attending the dinner.

But Robin Morton said the dinner was very much planned with the RPSI's own membership in mind. The event, he said, was a chance for the RPSI's members - and their spouses - to come along and celebrate. There would be a reception, and a dinner and then a number of speeches. He said that in view of this being a 50th anniversary, Belfast City Council had kindly granted the use of the venue at no cost.

The following day, he announced, it was planned to run a special steam train from Whitehead to Portrush in order to mark the anniversary. So far plans were still being discussed with Northern Ireland Railways, but it was likely that Compound No.85 "Merlin" would haul the train.

Robin Morton told members that anniversaries were popular with the media, and he suggested that the 50th would be a valuable opportunity to raise the Society's profile. He said that in turn, funders appreciated publicity so the general 'feel good' atmosphere should be of further benefit to the RPSI.

Robin Morton advised members that regular updates about the RPSI 50 programme would be carried the RPSI email, news-letters and on the website. He said this would help keep the membership informed.

In closing, Robin Morton underlined that the celebrations were primarily designed for the members themselves and urged all members to support the various activities. He said already the RPSI's 50th anniversary had generated publicity in Steam Railway magazine, and he said he was confident it would be a big year for the Society.

Keeping Steam alive in Ireland since 1964