The hollow whistles, the kindly old smell of coal, the dragon smoke curling outside the window … it was all aboard the Story Steam Train for World Book Day (Thurs 5th March). Officially there were 5 storytellers – Seosamh Ó Maolalaí, Oisin McGann, Nicola Pierce, Rod Smith and me – joining Laureate na nÓg Eoin Colfer on the Drogheda Not-so-Express. Unofficially there were 300 more, in the form of 5th and 6th class pupils from primary schools around Fingal.
While the train puffed and pooped from Dublin’s Connelly Station to Drogheda like a creaking, slightly scary old aunt, the children dreamed up stories about magic potatoes, beard thieves and a one-legged giant called Ruby who hopped to the Leg Forest to find another limb.
The journey on the tracks was a brilliant trigger for journeys of the mind: noisy and halting but relaxed and focusing too. It took an hour to travel the 30 miles to Drogheda, though that did include a few stops. It’s reassuring to move slowly under something else’s steam. Cars and planes and high-speed rail don’t allow it too often these days. But in a steam train you get to watch the horse trot across the field and the flag flap in the wind.
Huge thanks to CBI, Poetry Ireland, Fingal libraries and the volunteers from the Railway Preservation Society who can tell you all you ever wanted to know about axleboxes, leaf springs and blastpipes. A wonderful day.