|Company||Great Norther Railway|
|Weight||Engine – 53t 6cwt Tender – t cwt|
|Driving Wheels||6ft 7ins|
|Cylinders||Inside – 19in x 26in|
This was built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester in 1913 (works no 5629) as one of five class S express passenger locomotives – one of a long series of 4-4-0 designs used by the Great Northern Railway (GNR). The S class engines were all named after mountains. Slieve Gullion is a 1,880ft peak in County Armagh which overlooks the Great Northern main line between Dundalk and Newry. The class S locomotives were the most powerful locomtives owned by the company until 1932 when the V class engines appeared.
The GNR railway straddled the border of Irish Republic and Northern Ireland following the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921when Ireland was partitioned into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. The Great Northern Railway was thus not incorporated into the Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) or the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA). As a result of mounting losses the Great Northern Railway was run jointly by the CIÉ and UTA with an independent board from 1953 until 1958 when it was dissolved and its remaining stock split equally between the two parties. 171 Slieve Gullion was allocated to CIÉ.
In 1936 171 Slieve Gullion was fitted to burn oil for a few months before reverting to using coal in December of that year.
In 1937, after 25 years of hard work, it was decided that all the engines needed a heavy overhaul. The overhaul was undertaken at the GNR workshops in Dundalk. The work undertaken was regarded as being significant enough to issue new works numbers for the locomotives. It has been suggested that regarding the work as overhauls was a means of not treating the costs associated with the work undertaken as capital expenditure. Although the locomotives emerged from the works at Dundalk looking very different the design very little changes had been made to their design.
Following the allocation of the locomotive to the CIÉ in 1958 it continued to run until steam ended in 1963.
When steam ended on the CIÉ the UTA had steam locomotives which were in poor condition. When the proposed closure of the lines to Warrenpoint and Foyle Road were postponed the UTA experienced a serious shortage of motive power. As a stop gap measure the UTA bought four steam locomotives including 171 from the CIÉ.
Recognising that the days of steam in Ireland were numbered the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) was formed was formed in 1964. At the first meeting, acquiring an S class was identified as the new society’s top priority. There were three surviving class S locomotives at the time – 170 Errigal, 171 Slieve Gullion and 174 Carrantuohill.
171 was described as being ‘not in very good order mechanically’, but its boiler was the best of the three, and so at the end of 1964 negotiations regarding the acquisition of the locomotive were started with the UTA. The UTA welcomed the proposal, but explained the S class were still needed – at least until they managed to close the Derry Road which was done the following year.
From the start of 1966 the locomotive was leased by the RPSI from the UTA at the rate of £40 per annum with an option to buy it later.
In 1968 the locomotive was overhauled in Belfast by the Harland & Wolff shipyard (at a cost of £2,750) before being returned to York Road depot in Belfast. It then continued to undertake a wide range of duties, on what was by then the Northern Ireland Railways, which included shunting, departmental and passenger duties, and even pulled a breakdown train on one occasion.
Subsequently the locomotive was based at the RPSI’s Whitehead headquarters in County Antrim. From here it travelled all over Ireland hauling railtours. The ability to undertake this work is helped by the power and speed of the locomotive as well as its wide route availability.
The locomotive was withdrawn from service in 2002 when the boiler certificate expired. The locomotive was still in the ownership of the Northern Ireland Railways but the RPSI bought the engine in 2003.
In January 2014 the locomotive was moved to Railway Restoration North East Ltd at Shildon in County Durham for an overhaul following a successful tender had been submitted. Unfortunately, the contactor ceased trading and the locomotive was returned to Whitehead only partially overhauled in early 2015.
In October 2019 the locomotive was removed from display and dismantling of it commenced at the start of an overhaul.