Ireland day 0216. Monday 02 May 2022- UKvisitors03
I’m sure that the highlight of our guests’ two-and-a-half day visit to Dublin was today’s trip to the Malahide Model railway museum at the Casino – AKA Val’s new workplace. Indeed it was a highlight for me, too, as despite living right next door for six months, I still hadn’t been. So after breakfast and a quick walk round the highlights of Malahide, we all trooped over to the Casino to have a quick look around.
The museum as it is today stands at the intersection of three fascinating histories – the building, the modeller and the benefactor.
The building was originally constructed in around 1800 by the Talbot family – the hereditary owners of Malahide castle. It was built for the local hunt and called the Casino from the Italian “casino di caccia” meaning “hunting lodge”. It was constructed to the “Cottage Orné” style and is one of the two best examples in Ireland. The roof is made with specially grown rye thatch. The building was bought by the Kirker family as their private home in 1923 and they stayed their for over forty years. John Kirker, incidentally, was an eminent neurologist and founded the Irish epilepsy centre. The Kirkers sold the property in 1999 and it degenerated into a state of disrepair until it was bought by Fingal County Council in 2012.
The modeller, whose works forms the centrepiece of the museum, was Cyril Fry. He was an engineer at the Great Southern Railways’ works at Inchicore near Dublin. In his spare time, he built intricate models of some 400 railway locomotives and wagons from the 1930s until his death in 1972. He built up a 230m² / 2500ft² model railway at his home in Churchtown (a suburb of south Dublin) and even had to construct an extension to accommodate it all. He hand-crafted everything, including casting his own model wheels from molten metal, using moulds impressed in sand.
When Cyril Fry died, his widow was keen to ensure that the railway and models weren’t broken up and sold piecemeal, so it was handed over to Dublin Tourism around 1974. At that point, a new model railway was being built at Inchicore and it was decided to display the by-now-too-fragile-to-run Fry models in cases alongside the new model railway at Inchicore. In 1988, the layout and models were moved out to Malahide Castle where it stayed until 2010. At that point, a redevelopment of the castle was planned, so a new home had to be found for the exhibition. The only suitable site was the basement of a bus station in Dublin and that’s where it would have probably ended up if it hadn’t been for the third element of this complex story.
The benefactor was a local farmer called Michael Gaffney who died in 2012. As he had no children, and as he had been a lifelong fan of both the shortly-to-be-homeless Fry collection, and of the semi-derelict Casino, he left part of his estate to Fingal County Council for the express purpose of renovating the Casino and relocating the Fry exhibition into it. He bequested €1.5m but considerably more was also needed from the council to finish the job off.
The renovation and reconstruction was finally completed around the end of 2019 when after a brief period being fully open, the museum promptly closed again due to the Covid pandemic. It’s only now that it is is fully up and running again and fully staffed by knowledgeable and capable experts – like of course Val.
It’s a beautiful museum – about 90% of Fry’s models are displayed there, but they don’t run anymore as they are too old and fragile. But the beauty and accuracy of the constructions is easy to appreciate in the display cases, and they are exquisite. His models were mostly built to the “O” gauge (1:43.5 scale). The centrepiece is a large, fully-automated, continuously running model railway layout, featuring accurate reproductions of Malahide station, Tara viaduct over the Liffey, Churchtown station, and Bray Head. It’s not Fry vintage but features custom-built and rare commercial locos and rolling stock, all authentically crafted to Irish railway designs. It’s at the slightly smaller but more widely available “OO” gauge (1:76.2 scale). The effect is impressive and the layout is huge and intricate.
So we all enjoyed our day out and if you’re ever in the area you must of course drop in. And I’m not just saying that because Val – who you can see featured in her native habitat in the banner image at the top of the blog – works there. It’s a must for rail enthusiasts everywhere!
We repaired to the flat after the museum, had a bit of lunch, and our guests packed their bags. Then a quick drive saw them back at the airport in no time and on their way back to London. As we always feel a bit anticlimactic when our guests leave, rather than going straight back to Malahide and rattling around in the now-empty flat, we stayed on the R132 and drove over to Newbridge. We found time for a cup of tea in the café by the stately home there, then had a quick walk round the still-chilly demesne before finally returning to the flat to reflect on an excellent day and overall, an excellent weekend. Now we need to do a bit of planning for our next couple of days of exploration!
Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
(No map today)