Hands up who knows what the connection is between two sleepy north Kerry towns and the vast deserts of Algeria? Top marks for anybody who said the world’s first commercial passenger monorail. Invented by French engineer Charles Lartigue, the prototype originated in Algeria and was based on the ship of the desert – the humble camel. Inspired by the way camels lumber through the desert carrying large loads in panniers, Lartigue built a cargo train that carried esparto grass in pannier-like wagons on either side of a single rail, which was mounted on A-shaped trestles.
The monorail was suited to sandy terrain, where the single raised rail was a distinct advantage, but how did it make its way to 19th-century Ireland? Fortunately for Lartigue, he promoted his monorail at an 1886 exhibition in London, just as the people of north Kerry were lobbying for the railway to be extended to connect Listowel and Ballybunion.
Powered by steam, the Lartigue monorail operated successfully from 1888 to 1924, bringing people, animals, and cargo the 14 km between Listowel and the seaside resort of Ballybunion. The system was not without its drawbacks, however: The requirement that loads be evenly balanced meant that if a farmer wanted to send a cow to market, for example, he would have to send two calves to balance it, and the calves would then have to travel back on either side of the same freight wagon.
You can get a flavour of monorail travel today in Listowel, where a full-scale diesel-powered replica reveals the clever switching mechanism and other unique features of the system. The service operates from 1pm to 4.30pm daily between May 1st and September 14th and on selected days during the year.
Take a trip on the monorail and discover all the other unique charms of this part of the world by booking a holiday home in Kerry with PlacesToStay.com.