RPSI volunteers praised as restored Guinness Grain Van 504 launched at Whitehead Railway Museum
Volunteers from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland have been praised at the launch of Whitehead Railway Museum’s newest exhibit – a fully restored wagon dating from 1911.
Guinness Grain Van 504 has been rebuilt by the volunteers with funding assistance from National Lottery Heritage Fund, with the vehicle to go on display at the museum.
The van, which was built in Dundalk, was originally used to transport barrels of Guinness from Dublin around the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) network.
At the launch, which took place at Whitehead Railway Museum on Saturday, September 25, tributes were paid to the painstaking work of the volunteers who restored the wagon.
The unveiling was carried out by Councillor William McCaughey, the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, who said he wanted to acknowledge the work of all concerned in the project – and especially the volunteers.
Mr McCaughey said: “The development of this new exhibit will further enhance the excellent visitor experience here at Whitehead Railway Museum and will attract more visitors to the town.
“This links in with two of the council’s strategic priorities – growing the economy and developing our tourism potential.
“Whitehead Railway Museum is currently working closely with the council on two product development programmes alongside the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and Tourism NI.”
Olive Hill, a board member of National Lottery Heritage Fund, said she was impressed by the skills of the RPSI volunteers and their attention to detail.
“I am in awe of the skills which have brought this project to fruition,” she said. “Such heritage restoration skills are in short supply these days and I say to the Society – hold onto your volunteers.”
Mrs Hill added she was delighted that NLHF had been able to play a part by providing funding which had helped to bring the restoration to fruition.
She said the railway museum had a deservedly good reputation and told guests that her son who was visiting the National Railway Museum in York had found staff there were well aware of the good work being carried out at Whitehead.
Dr Joan Smyth, RPSI President, expressed thanks to NLHF for its support for the Guinness Grain Van and for its ongoing funding assistance to the RPSI in the development of the museum.
Dr Smyth also acknowledged the assistance of Mid and East Antrim Council in funding the launch event and expressed thanks to Whitehead Community Association for its involvement.
John McKegney, chairman, Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, described the Guinness Grain Van as “a rare old beauty” and noted that it was the only remaining example of such a vehicle.
“I express my utmost gratitude to everyone who had a hand in bringing this challenging project to a successful conclusion," he added.
Mark Kennedy, RPSI board member and curator of Whitehead Railway Museum, noted the generosity of the Guinness Brewery which had presented the wagon to the Society in 1969.
He added: “We regard this van as a really useful wagon. It has at various times been used as a store for tickets, a chip shop, an ice cream parlour, a cinema and even a disco.
“The van’s body suffered fire damage in 1978 when vandals started a fire in the site. But since then the body has been lifted off and repaired, while the bogies were refurbished.
“We are immensely grateful to the NLHF for its support and so appreciative of the many volunteers who lent a hand to this project in so many ways over the past four years.”
The RPSI’s curatorial has mounted an exhibition in the wagon with a display of archive photographs telling the story of the van’s history. The display also features a short film showing Guinness steam engine No. 2BG hauling wagons through the streets of Dublin in 1965.
Appropriately, the locomotive on duty for the ceremony was the Society’s own No. 3BG Guinness, which was presented by Guinness Brewery to the RPSI in 1965.
No. 3BG operated train rides every 15 minutes for visitors and on a sunny afternoon the buzz was enhanced by an open-air concert by 1st Old Boys Brass Band from Belfast.
The Society hopes to add the van to its display in Whitehead Railway Museum within the next few weeks.
Whitehead Railway Museum is open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 2.30pm.
Tickets can be booked online through Visit Belfast at https://visitbelfast.com/partners/whitehead-railway-museum/