About US

Model Railway Society of Ireland

by founding member

Kevin Thornberry

In 1963 a group of model railway enthusiasts would occasionally meet in The Model shop, Monck Place, Phibsboro and discuss their interests in the hobby. The proprietors of the shop were Ciaran and Gerry McGowan. One of those who attended on a regular basis was Tony O’Toole and it was he who suggested that Dublin could support a model railway club. All present agreed and Tony took on the task of organising a meeting of as many enthusiasts as possible.

He got great publicity from the Dublin papers, especially the Evening Press of 29th May 1963. They published quite a long article about Tony’s ideas for a club. The very first meeting was arranged in the old Jury’s Hotel on Dame Street on 14th June 1963 and approximately 65 people attended. A committee was formed to guide the club through the first 6 months, comprising Michael Murphy (Chairman), Tony O’Toole (Hon Secretary), Michael Costelloe (Hon Treasurer), Ciaran McGowan and Des Healey.

The first task for the committee was to find suitable premises for clubrooms. In the meantime meetings were held on the 2nd Friday of each month, two in Jury’s Hotel and two in Moran’s Hotel, Talbot Street. A vacant two-room basement was found at 18 Blessington Street, which was rented from a Mr Flynn for Pds 91 per annum. The rooms were in deplorable condition with damp walls and floor. One wag suggested that the club be named the Dublin Sub Aqua Club!

From the beginning we have been blessed with members with great skills, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters etc. Most of the members pitched in and with much hard work the basement was made a bit more habitable. At a meeting on 13th September 1963, in order to meet running expenses, Jack Davis proposed, seconded by Martin Dowling, that a subscription of Pds 2-2-0d per annum be fixed. (Up until then, costs had been met by voluntary donation; remember in those days it cost but 2d to post a letter!).

The first full meeting of members in our own premises was held at 18 Blessington Street on 15th November 1963. Straight away work started on a club layout. Larry Moran, helped by some other members built fabulous baseboards right around the larger room with a duck under at the entrance. A track plan was decided on and tracklaying was started, using Welkut fibre based track and including a large number of points, double slips and scissors crossovers. The damp conditions played havoc with the fibre base, the trackplan was far too ambitious, and the layout was never completed.

Some nights were set aside for special programs. These consisted of discussions, displays and slide shows. Some of the topics: Building O gauge locos and trams by Cyril Fry; a display of OO models by Tony O’Toole; hand built EM models by Harry Connaughton; slide shows by Michael Murphy and Michael Costelloe; a lecture on the Tay Bridge disaster by Des Healy; discussion and display of 100 years of Irish railway photographs by P.J. Currivan of the Irish Railway Record Society; and a slide show on the Irish narrow gauge railway systems by Leslie Hyland. Some programs were held in the theatre of Shell House in Hatch Street by kind permission of Irish Shell Ltd with an average attendance of 37.

The first AGM was held in January 1964 at the clubrooms. The main agenda item was adoption of the constitution, which had been drawn up by Gerry Frewen. This was accepted and is still in existence. One rule forbade the consumption of alcohol on the club premises and this is still strictly adhered to today. The Treasurer reported that the club’s cash resources had grown to Pds 38-10s-10d!!!

With a growing membership and deteriorating clubrooms, it became obvious that new and better premises had to be found. One member living in a flat at 30 Mountjoy Square knew that the basement of that building was vacant. An approach to the landlord led to an agreement over rent, and work started to remove tons of rubble and rubbish, which filled a couple of skips.

Members were given various tasks and it fell to Tony O’Toole to clear an area under the front steps and footpath. When completed, Gerry Frewen christened this area “O’Toole’s hole”. Brian Fennell constructed a flight of steel stairs to give direct access from the street and a gate had to be made in railings. This latter job was given to Jim Cowan, a fitter/ welder and the result was forever know as the “Cowan Gate”. As there was no toilet, Gerry Frewen’s advice to members was to “go before you come”.

No 30 was a big improvement on No 18 and after much hard work, a number of years were enjoyed there, starting in June 1965. One of the highlights during our stay in Mountjoy Square included our first organised club outing, a coach trip to Belfast for members, wives and girlfriends. The plan was for the girls to do their shopping while the men visited the Ulster Model Railway Club which was based in the transport museum at Witham Street. The trip was not without incident as on the return journey, the coach ran out of fuel. Luckily, the coach had stopped not far from a filling station but the driver declared that he had no money to pay for fuel. A whip round was organized and raised enough money to get us back to Dublin. Once the talk was filled, the driver said he had no idea how to “bleed” the diesel engine. Larry Moran came to our rescue and got us under way very quickly.

On 10th December 1964, Tony O’Toole placed an article in the evening papers inviting the public to visit the clubrooms for advice on railway modelling. A small crowd was expected but much to our surprise, hundreds turned up. A queue had to be formed and the closing time extended. Many got home in the early hours of the morning.

In the summer of 1965, a trip was made to view the British Railways O gauge layout which was on display in the Mansion House. We were all very impressed and long discussions were held on how we should proceed withy the club layouts. The library was started when your scribe donated a large number of bound volumes of Railway Modeller, Model Railway News and Model Railway Constructor. The library has very much grown in size and now forms a very important part of club activities.

On the Whit Monday weekend of 1968, the club was invited to display its layout at the Inchicore Works Open Day. It was a glorious weekend and loads of ice cream and soft drinks were consumed in an effort to stay cool, and a great time was had by all. Unfortunately a disagreement arose over ownership of part of the layout, which had been built in a member’s home. Subsequently four members left the club. This has been the only discordant note in the forty years of the club’s existence. Some record!

On a Wednesday and Friday night, the insults and jibes fly fast and furious between the various factions, the GWR and LMS fans, the Irish and continentals, the Americans and British etc. The only thing you need to a member of the club is a thick skin! Great fun!

Because of the increase in numbers joining the club and the interest shown by people outside Dublin, it was felt that the name Dublin Model Railway Club was no longer appropriate. At a special meeting held in September 1965, it was decided to rename the club as the Model Railway Society of Ireland, and so it is today. Long may it continue.

When the move was made to the new premises in Mountjoy Square, running costs increased. A way of raising funds had to be found. The last thing the committee wanted to do was to raise the subscription as it was felt that this might discourage more people from joining. It was decided to hold a raffle each club night. The tickets cost 6d each (old money) and the prizes were usually Superquick kits, books of railway interest, Airfix wagon kits (remember them at 2 shillings each at Woolworth’s?). In this way we kept our heads above water and the club survived.

In 1974 an event occurred that was to have a profound effect. It was our very first full public exhibition. Much planning went into it, needing many meetings. Through the good offices of Tom Kirwan, the Scouts hall in Phibsboro was acquired at a reasonable rent. It was decided to hold the event over the weekend of the 5th and 6th January 1974, 2pm to 6pm each day. The admission price was 15p per adult and 5p per child. A note on the poster said that children would not be admitted without an adult. It was felt that some little monsters would damage our precious models. The main attraction was the large club layout backed up by a number of privately owned layouts. These included Tom Kirwan’s beautiful N gauge, Harry Best’s automatic motive power depot, which was controlled by a mass of relays, and a junior layout, which children could operate for a spell by paying 2p. A magnificent display of hand built “O” gauge locos and stock was provided by Cyril Fry and Harry Connaughton, both well-known in model railway circles at that time, alas no longer with us.

The exhibition manager was Gerry Frewan, a great organiser. The catering was in the hands of Billy O’Toole and Leo Sinclair. The main course was BEANS, BEANS, and more BEANS! Most people were put off beans forever. Thereafter Larry Moran insisted on taking over the exhibition catering, resulting in a more varied menu. (Nowadays the wives and girlfriends of the members look after the catering. They do a splendid job and we owe them a great debt of gratitude).

The publicity was handled by Tony O’Toole and what a fantastic job he did. Photographs and articles appeared in the daily newspaper for days beforehand. We expected a few hundred people to attend and much to our surprise, thousand turned up. On the Sunday, the hall could not handle the crowd and a long queue formed outside. At the queue wound its way along the wall of Mountjoy Prison, it was not long before we had a visit from the guards who wanted to know what on earth was going on. When they saw what was taking place they were amazed – nothing like it had ever been seen in Dublin before. Needless to say, the show was a great success and put us in a sound financial position. More importantly it resulted in a large increase in membership and we have not looked back since. I can still see Michael Murphy (our first chairman) standing on a chair and giving the results and thanking the membership for the hard work they had put in. He was in great form that day but sadly he died a few months later. His death was a great loss to the club.

We now hold an exhibition every two years. Perhaps our greatest achievement was the huge shows we held in the RDS, the largest exhibition center in Dublin at the time. Those shows usually included the Model Boat club, the Model Aero Club, the Model Engineers, and on one occasion, a vintage car display. Unfortunately the cost of hiring the RDS rose to such an extent that we had to abandon it in favour of a smaller venue in 2000 at St Anthony’s Hall in Clontarf, and later from 2008 to St Paul's College, Raheny. For all our exhibitions we get great support from the other model railway clubs, the South Dublin MRC, the Wexford MRC and the clubs in Northern Ireland.

The society has taken club layouts to such places as Wexford, Bangor Co Down, Cork, Limerick, Charleville, and Slane Co Meath. In addition members’ layouts have been to shows in St Albans, UK, The Warley Modelrailway Show at the NEC Birmingham and Model Rail Scotlant at teh SECC Glasgow.

Club layouts built for exhibitions included “Merton”, “Richmond”, “Bramley Park”, “Drogheda” (including the very impressive bridge and cement works), “O’Connell Street”, “Marystown” (by the junior group), “Kehl” (continental) – all 00 or HO using 16.5 mm gauge. Others included Kautenbach (continental “N” gauge), Holme (junior “N” gauge), Loughrea (21 mm gauge branch line), and Dunross (Irish “O” gauge). Still under construction are Dundalk Works, a new continental layout, an American layout, a large “O” gauge layout, a new 00 gauge layout and a new junior 00 gauge layout.

A very impressive member’s layout was Gabriel Vaughan’s “Seldasing”, a large continental layout that was the first to have full electronic control. Sadly Gabriel passed away shortly after this project was completed. A lesson we learned the hard way was to keep the electrics simple because if a fault occurred and the “Sparks” was not in attendance, traffic movements were in danger of coming to a complete standstill.

Over the years we have had our ups and downs, literally: 1. a basement in Blessington Street; 2. a basement in Mountjoy Square; 3. a cottage in Sherrard Street; 4. a basement in North Richmond Street; 5. a large dormitory on the fourth floor of the O’Brien Institute (now the firemen’s’ training college); 6. two classrooms on the third floor of the convent on Grace Park Road, and an attic in the same convent again up four flights of stairs. And so to our present premises on the top floor (again four flights up0of the Old Fire Station, Upper Dorset Street, Dublin 1 – courtesy of Dublin City Council.

We must be forever grateful to Pat Clifford for succeeding in acquiring the present premises for us. The fire station is a listed building so it should be safe from demolition for some time to come. The Society has invested a lot in the building and we can boast having gas central heating, four large interconnected rooms, a well stocked library/ committee room, a fully equipped workshop, toilet and a recently refurbished kitchen. In the workshop we have a Hobbymat lathe, drill press, an electric welder, a 6” grinder, guillotine, electric jigsaw, and a small milling machine. Planned for the future is the construction of a large tool cabinet. This will be stocked with a wide selection of hand tools so that it will not be necessary for members to bring tool kits on club nights. Mention must be made of the recently laid floor covering. This was a magnificent job carried out by the Mirolo brothers, Dave and Tony. Well done lads.

On the social side , one of the highlights of the club year is the annual dinner, usually held in April or May. The idea is to give the members, wives and girlfriends to meet one another and enjoy a night out. By tradition each lady is presented with a box of chocolates and this seems to go down well – ouch! The results of the modelling competition are announced and the trophies awarded. The ladies very kindly judge the photo competition. At the saying goes, “the craic is mighty”.

A one-off event this year was the staging of an open day in June at the club premises in recognition of the club’s fortieth anniversary. This was well attended and we were delighted to be able to welcome visitors from other Irish societies, as well as from over the water.

After an absence of several years, the quarterly Bulletin has been restored for the benefit of the membership and it is pleasing to see a growing number of articles being submitted by different authors on a wide range of topics concerned with both modelling and full-sized railways. In the area of the media, it is planned shortly to set up our own website, and this will bring us right up to date.

With a membership of nearly eighty, the coffers in a sound state and decent premises secured, the Society can look forward to the future with confidence. At the recent Annual General Meeting, some new faces were elected to the executive committee. New blood should always be welcomed and we wish them the best of luck.

I do hope you will forgive me if I end on a personal note. For forty years I have enjoyed every minute of every club night and I have made some great friendships. This is what the club should be all about. When the Good Lord sees fit to call me to the great Motive Power Depot in the sky, if I am surrounded by Duchesses, Princesses, Royal Scots, Black Fives, 8Fs, 4Fs and Jintys, then I will know that I really am in heaven! Now what gave you the idea that I am an LMS fan?

Here’s to many more years.

Kevin Thornberry