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An Cailleach Bhéara

An Cailleach Bhéara
An Cailleach Bhéara

An Cailleach Bhéara is the name of the locomotive which adds an 'Irish theme' to the Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway carriages with Scottish, Welsh and Northumbrian 'themes'.

Her name translates as 'The Old Woman of Beare' or, more colloquially, 'The Old Hag of Beare'. This is a reference to an Old Irish lament originally composed around the tenth century. There is an evocative translation into modern English by Anthony Weir; there is also a podcast of Anthony reading his translation.

The locomotive's driver conforms to well-rooted ethnic stereotypes by being red-haired. But contrary to gender stereotypes this driver answers to the name Maeve.

An Cailleach Bhéara
The management (who are not experts in these sort of matters) believe that the loco is fitted with Allen straight-link valve gear, a combination of two different motions designed by Stephenson and Gooch. Please email if you know better. The valve gear on British locomotives is usually between the frames.


Most of this model is from the well-known LGB 'Stainz' loco. This is based on an Austrian tank engine built in 1892 so does not have the 'look and feel' of locomotives operating in the British Isles. Therefore the Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway management fitted a cylindrical chimmey and a dome (what else but the end off the broom handle – exactly the right diameter). The cab doors were removed along with some minor details. The major change was the addition of pannier tanks.

The paint scheme incorporates the traditional colours of Burnt Sienna and Hooker's Green, which – along with the harp (the motif on an eighteenth century Irish nationalist flag) – are intended to evoke a locomotive which might have travelled on the rails of Ireland. The typeface used for the nameplate uses the letterforms associated with tenth century manuscripts.

    Nerdish note:

    Hooker's Green is a medium green pigment formerly composed of a mixture of Prussian blue (a dark blue pigment produced by oxidation of ferrous ferrocyanide salts) and gamboge (a yellow traditionally made from the resin of various species of evergreen trees of the family Clusiaceae, also known as Guttiferae). Naturally-produced gamboge is used to dye Buddhist monks' robes because the color is a deep tone of saffron, the traditional color used for the robes of Theravada Buddhist monks.

    However this composition discoloured in sunlight when the gamboge faded so Hooker's Green is now blended from phthalocyanine green and either cobalt yellow or Hansa yellow (also known as arylide yellow or monoazo yellow).

    Hooker's Green is named after William Jackson Hooker (1779–1832), a gifted botanical illustrator, who created the blend to depict leaves. However, Hooker's Green was not sold commercially until about twenty years after his death.

    Just to confuse things, one of W.J. Hooker's near-contemporaries was the Director of Kew Gardens and also called William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865), just six years younger than the artist, and in later life Sir William Hooker. A considerable number of botanical illustrations attributed to Sir William were, more probably, the work of his older namesake.

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Images and text copyright Bob Trubshaw 2018–2021