A day out in Clonakilty's Model Railway Village
It's late November in Ireland, and I'm looking for a day of adventure for my 2-and-a-half yr old. I've driven past Clonakilty's West Cork Model Railway village many times but never set foot inside. What's the worst that could happen?, I thought, Clonakilty is a great town so if my little-one decides he doesn't like it then there'll be plenty else we can do, so let's go exploring.
Stepping into the Model Villages
We walked into the reception area of the Model Railway Village where the friendly lady at reception informed me that the road train tour around Clonakilty was leaving in 15 minutes. Perfect I thought, my son will love that. Quick look around the miniature villages, then off to the road train.
What is a Model Village?
To be honest I had no idea before we went in there. Some small houses I thought? Maybe some little plastic people dotted around them? It turned out to be much larger and much more engaging than I'd imagined.
Through the main building we went then outside to discover the model villages. They have built a model of four of West Cork's more famous towns. Kinsale, Bandon, Dunmanway and of course Clonakilty. In each case there are some of the more famous buildings, along with miniatures of the high streets and main squares. The detail they have put in is really quite impressive. Do check out the photos, you'll have to look twice to see if it's a miniature or the real thing.
But I'm there with a small child, and being impressed with the accuracy of the replications of buildings he's never seen is unlikely to hold his imagination for long. That's where the big guns come out - the model railway lines.
Back on track!
Each of the model villages has at least one train station on the model railway lines, and there are lots of other stations dotted throughout. Model steam engines and diesel locomotives make their way through the long and elaborate network of train lines. Through tunnels, over viaducts, around the water, behind hills; they have created a magical miniature train network that captivated the imagination not only of my child, but of all of the children I saw there. For us grown-ups too there was a real fascination in tracking the trains on their intricate journeys.
A functioning village!
Wonderfully created models follow a complicated course through the whole village network - changing tracks, stopping at stations to let other trains pass, all whilst making sound effects as they stop and start. My son was mesmerised by the trains. Following each train along, losing it where it disappears into a tunnel, then finding the next appearing behind a hill and chasing that along over the bridges.
Time for the Road Train... or not...
The 15 minutes until the road train was leaving disappeared in the blink of an eye. Normally a trip on a road train would cause great excitement, but not today. I was met with flat refusal when I suggested it was time for the road train. In the end we delayed our trip on the road train and spent the next hour and a half chasing model trains between the villages.
When we did get on the road train it was a lovely 15 minute journey around Clonakilty town. For us grown-ups it was an interesting look into the history of a town that I thought I knew well. It's the birthplace of John F Kennedy's great-grandfather and where Michael Collins was educated. I also discovered how the innocuous looking roundabout at the start of the town was the site of the town gallows in days past!
For the History Buff to Enjoy
There's plenty of information given on the sign boards for history buffs out there to enjoy. Not only about the 4 village depicted, but also about individual buildings of interest and events that have shaped West Cork.
There's an audiovisual room inside which explains the life and history the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway. West cork used to be full of a whole myriad of small lines connecting towns and villages across the country together. It never ceases to amaze me how lines were built to access what seem today like tiny villages. The last of the lines closed in 1961.
There's an outdoor play area (including, of course, a big wooden train that all the children can climb through and pretend to drive!). Inside is a big soft play area, which proved ever popular. The centre also boasts a café & gift shop.
The café is open to all, you do not have to buy a ticket for the centre to pop into the café.