A veteran of the steam age returned triumphantly to service at the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway at the weekend after a £23,000 overhaul.
Steam engine No. 90 was officially launched at a ceremony at Downpatrick by Dick Fearn, the chief executive of Iarnród Éireann, (Irish Rail).
Mr Fearn cut the commemorative tape to formally mark the successful completion of a two-year restoration project.
Built in 1875, No. 90 is the oldest steam locomotive in Ireland still working, and is reckoned to be either the seventh or eighth oldest operational locomotive in the world.
No. 90, which has been out of traffic since 1992, will now be used by the local heritage railway society on its rebuilt section of the old Belfast-Newcastle railway line in County Down.
Mr Fearn said: “In an era where Irish railways, north and south, are experiencing a great renaissance it is always heartening to see the immense work undertaken by volunteers which allows us to reflect on, and savour our past.
“This illustrates the continuity which is such a feature of the railway industry, and in this little engine we see the results of three determined volunteer groups in saving and returning to operation a unique locomotive able to haul vintage rolling stock on a full-scale railway here in the beautiful setting of County Down for future generations to enjoy — a task which is beyond the remit of a modern professional operating railway company.
He also described how locomotive No. 90's story is testament to the inventive genius and the durability of Victorian engineering.
She was one of four identical engines built at Inchicore Works in Dublin between 1875 and 1915 for the Castleisland branch of the vast Great Southern and Western Railway, which operated an extensive network from Dublin to Cork and Galway.
She was withdrawn in 1961, and after a distinguished career, No. 90 was seen as a fit candidate for early preservation and stood on display on the platform at Fermoy from 1963, and then Mallow from 1967 to 1985. She was then rescued and restored to operational condition by a southern-based preservation group, but lay unused from 1992 when that scheme folded.
Michael Collins, DCDR chairman, said, “We've been in negotiations with Irish Rail for some time to give No. 90 a new home, and all our members are delighted that she can now be seen in action on our line.”