BY DES GLYNN
SOURCE: CONTACT MAGAZINE 1980
The Yeats summer school is on in Sligo and this being the season therefore of Yeats scholarship, I would like to draw the attention of the professors and pundits to the fact that Yeats was like myself a railway buff. The evidence for this is contained in the immortal lines:
The light of evening, Lissadell
Great windows open to the south…….
Now this poem goes on to talk about some girls or other, but the truth is that Yeats was far too wrapped up in his train-watching to be nearly as interested in the opposite sex as you might think.
As any railway-lover could tell you, Lissadell was the name of one of the engines on the local railway, the Sligo-Leitrim and Northern Counties, and it had indeed very large windows, square ones they were, and one can imagine Yeats as a young boy waving to it as it passed on the evening train in from Eniskillen.
All the engines of the Sligo-Leitrim – or Slow Lazy and Not Comfortable as it is locally known – had names and not numbers, and Lissadell was, as Yeats himself could doubtless have told you, a copy of the 1879 K class of the South Australian Railways, and was itself built by Beyer Peacock in 1899, being reboilered in 1900 and again in 1931, and outlasting Yeats himself, still running until a year or so before Stormont destroyed the Great Northern line to Derry in 1955, thus cutting the Sligo-Leitrim line off. It had 4’9” drivers, six of them and a four-wheel-bogie, with 3’ wheels. To complete its vital statistics, the boiler pressure was 150 p.s.i.
Had Yeats been alive today, he would have been an ardent champion of the Sligo-Limerick rail link, which as you all know runs through Athenry. Often it is said he would sit late in Thoor Ballylee pouring over railway books and writing letters to the Department of Transport. He often changed trains at Athenry, coming from the Ennis line, of course, and then going up to Dublin to the Abbey Theatre, or to the Senate, and would exchange railway lore with the engine drivers, or the station master, or anyone else who happened to be there.
It is very strange how this aspect of Yeats scholarship has been so much neglected, and it is hoped that this short contribution will spur some professor on to give his love of railways the full-scale attention it really deserves.
(Any resemblance between the Yeats of this piece and the William Butler Yeats of Innisfree, or for matter of the Thin Lizzie lyrics, is purely coincidental)