'Casino' on track to open

Tuesday 28th January 2020

This week the people of Malahide will finally welcome home a beloved model railway exhibition and see new life breathed into a landmark building in the village with the opening of the Casino Model Railway Museum.

It's been almost a decade in the making but this week, Malahide residents and tourists alike will get their first peek at the new museum which features the Fry Model Railway which was once housed at Malahide Castle as well as modern additions in a lively and interactive exhibition that has something for the most dedicated of railway enthusiasts to the casual visitor and the eight-year-old child inside us all.

County Architect, Fionnuala May has overseen this unique project from the beginning and is rightly proud of the results.

She explains the nine-year development of the project: 'Well this project has had an extremely long gestation and in fact, going back on my files, I found this was first mentioned on the December 23, 2011 so this has been a long time putting it together but it was quite complex and not at all a normal sequence of events that led to where we are today.

'It's a very important house. It's a little cottage orne. It's thatched and it's within a central location in Malahide, quite a prominent site on the tree-lined approach to Malahide that is very precious to people.

'It belonged to the Malahide estate. It was the Talbots that built it but we don't exactly know why. A lot of those little cottage orne were just houses in the landscape but it might have been a type of dower house or a house for the steward, we don't actually know.'

Fionnuala explaines: 'The last family to live there were the Kirkers and they sold the property to Gannon Homes and the land associated with the house to the rear was developed and that's where the apartments are today.

'Gannon Homes had an intention for it to be a restaurant and we were quite happy with that and worked with them as a planning authority on that and then we had the economic downturn and it was no longer a viable project for them.'

The building then lay idle for a time and it was important that situation did not last two long as the county architect explains: 'The thing about these houses is that if they are not occupied they deteriorate quite quickly, particularly with a thatched roof.'

The project got a huge boost in 2012 when a generous local benefactor got involved.

Fionnuala explaines: 'At the beginning of 2012, Micheal Gaffney who lived in Malahide was contacted by a group, which we call the Malahide Group who were trying to save the building and find a new home for the Fry Model Railway.'

Renovations at Malahide Castle had meant the model railway had to find a new home. It was owned by Dublin Tourism and went into cold storage while the project to refurbish the Casino building progressed.

Fionnuala says: 'Micheal Gaffney gave a bequest of €1.5 million to help realise this project and then with the Malahide Group, we started talking about all the things that had to fall into place to make this work. We had to purchase the building, do a legal agreement to purchase the Fry Model Railway and it was quite a complicated series of events that had to happen to bring it all together.

'Eventually it became a real project and Fingal County Council undertook to contribute substantial council funds to this and the project in total will come to over €4 million.'

Commenting on the work that had to be done to the house, the county architect remembers: 'There was quite a lot of work to do. The structure of the house was quite good. Gannon Homes had done some demolition to do investigative work for the restaurant project so it had altered from when it was a house and there had been, in the last few years, some holding maintenance on it.

'The roof had deteriorated quite seriously so the main body of work was on the roof. The rest of the building was quite sound.'

She adds: 'The design challenge was that it's actually quite a small little building. It looks quite substantial from the road but when you go into it, it's really small.

'We reckon it was built in two phases so some of the rooms are quite small and higgledy-piggledy and the sections to the south are more Georgian and they are of a different kind of quality.

'Our plan for the building was to open it up as a visitor attraction so it had to hold the interest of the public so it couldn't just be a museum where you go and look at things in a glass case -- we felt it had to be a bit more than that.

'Given our experience with Malahide and Newbridge and our other historic properties and knowing what the public want, we knew we had to make it more than just a glass-case type museum.'

Describing how the new exhibition will look, Fionnuala says: 'The core of the collection is the Cyril Fry collection but as well as that we have a huge collection of railway memorabilia and a working model railway layout which are engines we bought and not part of the Cyril Fry collection.

'The layout in Malahide Castle was enormous. It was a very big gauge and we knew that we simply didn't have the physical space within our site to be able to accommodate that as it had been. Given our site, it was important that the Casino itself remained the most prominent part of the site so the paddock in front of the house wasn't developable and you wouldn't have wanted to either because it would obscure the view of the house which is very important.

'The Casino is a protected structure so were were restricted to some degree in what we could do.

'There was the Casino building itself and then there was a little out building, originally a cart house and in between that we had our site effectively. So we knew we could infill there and have a larger space that could contain the layout.'

As well as the Fry collection, there are four working model railway layouts at the museum and one that goes over visitors' heads which should delight the children visiting.

Fionnuala says: 'It will be as user friendly and as appealing to the widest section of the public as possible.'

Some 'light touch' restoration was needed on the Fry collection itself, according to the county architect who said the story of the Cyril Fry collection is told in the exhibition as well as the story of the railways in Ireland in general.

Fingal County Council will open the Casino Model Railway Museum on Wednesday following an extensive restoration and extension to the Casino Building and conservation of the famous Fry Model Railway collection. As well as the Fry Model collection, the museum will also accommodate a large modern model railway layout depicting several Irish railway scenescapes, interactive displays, soundscapes, an education and exhibition space, and historical interpretations and memorabilia from Irish Rail and Malahide Village dating back to the 1920s.

The Casino Model Railway Museum preserves for future generation the iconic model railway collection crafted by Cyril Fry who built, in his spare time, over 350 precision made models.

Following his death, the collection was put on public display in Malahide Castle from 1988 to 2011 when the exhibition closed. Now, following a €2.8 million investment from Fingal County Council, which includes a €1.5m bequest from the late Michael Gaffney, a resident of Malahide, the collection is once again on public display and is set to become one of the major tourism attractions in the Dublin region. The Casino Model Railway Museum is housed in the beautifully restored Casino cottage which is a major landmark in the heart of Malahide Village. It is a 200-year-old Cottage Orne and one of the finest thatched cottages in the country.

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