Irish Arks and Waltzers

Part 1 - 1990 to Present Day

click here for the 1980s

click here for the 1970s

click here for the 1960s and earlier

The platform ride - originally in Ark form and later in Waltzer form - has always been a staple part of any fairground. It provides an atmosphere, a gathering point, a social nucleus - the lights, sounds and effects come into full force like no other ride. Irish fairgrounds, up until recently, received very little coverage in the fairground press, and were generally perceived as poor relations to their UK counterparts. As interest in Irish fairs continues to grow, and the medium of the internet allows a more democratic and opportunistic method of information sharing, it is now seen that the contemporary Irish fair, in terms of machines, is up there with the best of the UK fairs. Prominent families such as the Cullens, McFaddens, Birds, Perks and Bells provide bang up-to-date attractions on busy fairgrounds, whilst show families such as the Turbetts, Hudsons and McCormicks travel a broad selection of machines around the scenic coastal resorts in the west of the country.

A better understanding of the history of Irish fairs is something still being drawn up, but the assumption that they were once 'poor relations' is slowly being demolished, as research into individual machines and machine types reveals that many Irish showmen were quick to travel up-to-date machines. What generally occured is a popularity swell in particular machines such that the need to update to new machines was not so pressing as on the UK fairs. Thus the Chairoplanes remained popular well beyond their time, and similarly the Octopus became and remained a sensation on the Emerald Isle.

Arks and Waltzers in Ireland have always been present, with machines being exported from the 1930s up until recent times. The ownership and operation specifics of these rides has not been documented to any particular level, so this article attempts to address this subject by working back through the past few decades. First up is the period covering the 1990s to current times.

The Modern Set

A brand new Waltzer (W260) was provided for the Bird and Curry partnership, this being one of the last Waltzers built in the UK. The ride is very modern in its appearance, with futuristic lighting effects and a heavy emphasis on checkerplate. With rumours around that the UK will once again see Waltzers built, then you can only wonder whether this machine will be a template. The Waltzer is a staple part of Birds 'Funderland' touring theme park, having long stays at some of the more prestigious events in the country. In 2007 showman Pat Fox imported another modern ARM (UK) built Waltzer to Ireland from Scandinavia.

Another high-calibre machine to travel across was Billy Crow's superb Maxwell Easy Rider (A197), which found a new home with the Cullen family in Northern Ireland in 1992. To many enthusiasts this machine was a classic, kept in immaculate condition in line with the Crow tradition. The Cullens were ideal operators of this machine, keeping its pristine appearance and smooth-running throughout the 1990s. This machine was converted to a Waltzer for its Ireland debut, and underwent a retheming by artist Pete Tei in 2001.

A close neighbour to Cullen's 'Illuminator' is Elmer Bell's 'Dominator' - this Waltzer (A215) arrived in Ireland in the late 1990s after a short spell with showman Jim Wensiora. The machine is a heavily modernised version of an old Ark whose full history has only just been unravelled. Elmer Bell's fair is a fast-growing collection of high-calibre riding machines, with the family having the added advantage of permanent park space at the small County Down resort of Newcastle.

Photo: Bird and Curry's Waltzer, 2001
Bird and Curry's Waltzer - W260 - Tralee, 2001.

Photo: Cullen's Waltzer, 2001.
Cullen's Illuminator - A197 - with new artwork for 2001.

Photo: Crow's Easy Rider.
Crow's Easy Rider - A197 - shortly before leaving for Ireland.

Photo: Elmer Bell's Dominator.
Elmer Bell's Dominator - A215 - with its regular stand at Warrenpoint, 2001.

Photo: Davey Briggs' Ark.
A215 in its earlier form - with Lincolnshire showman Davey Briggs.

The Next Generation

The latter part of the decade saw a debut Waltzer for John Turbett (W233 purchased from long-standing owner Bert Stocks) - this signalled the growth of Turbett's fair, and the ride can often be seen at Turbett's summer stand at Dingle. Reports suggest that this ride has recently been redecorated by DC Slater.

George Webb's Jackson built 'Flatliner' (W110) was actually purchased by John Turbett in 1996 BEFORE the ex-Stocks machine, but this machine was quickly sold to Mark Piper who in turn sold it on to Ken and Alan McFadden - the McFaddens have put a great deal of work into this ride having the advantage of some very industrious sons, and a recent airbrush repaint by artist Kev Bambra has brought the ride up to a very high standard.

Another recent addition to the Irish scene is Peter Curry's Maxwell built Waltzer (W61 purchased from Henry Danter) - this machine is interesting in that it came over with the flash from another Danter machine - A199 - however, the ride has received a 2004 repaint by DC Slater.

Photo: Turbett's Waltzer, 2003.
Turbett's Waltzer - W233 - at a busy (muddy) fair in 2003.

Photo: Piper's Flatliner Waltzer.
Piper's Flatliner Waltzer - W110 - arriving as Crosshaven, photo Tim Wilkinson.

Photo: Ken and Alan McFadden's Waltzer, 2002.
McFadden's repainted Flatliner Waltzer - W110 - ready to open in the far west of the country on wet ground.

Photo: Curry's Waltzer, 2001.
Curry's Waltzer - W61 - with flash from Danter's Ark/Waltzer A199 - and, yes, its raining.

Photo: Curry's Waltzer, 2004.
Curry's Waltzer with sunshine and redecoration by DC Slater, 2004.

Newcomers

A batch of machines arrived in Ireland as recently as 2002/3, with Warner Wilders purchasing Alfie Miller's Waltzer (A160), James Hudson purchasing Simon Meah's Waltzer (A151) and John Mohan purchasing the Waltzer from Brean Amusement Park (A208). The first two of these machines have already changed owners, with A160 now travelled by Melvyn Bell in the North, and A151 finding a home at Crosshaven with Mark Piper.

Photo: Melvyn Bell's Waltzer, 2004.
Melvyn Bell with Waltzer A160 at a very wet Ardglass, 2004.

Photo: Piper's Waltzer, 2004.
Classic Fowle artwork remains on Piper's Waltzer (A151) at Crosshaven Amusement Park.

Photo: Calypso
Waltzer A208 open at Brean - this machine is now with John Mohan (photo by Tim Wilkinson).

Completing the 1990s

The remaining machines exported to Ireland in this decade are Pat Fox's Waltzer (A206) which travelled for many years with Joe Stokes, McGurk's Waltzer (A20) famous for its time with John Scarrott, Brian Reeves Waltzer (A36) again famous for a long ownership with Billy Watkins, and Brian Harrison's purchase of A60 from Billy Hammond.

Pat Fox is the brother-in-law to Harry McFadden, and the Waltzer travels on his very busy circuit nestling in amongst some of the finest and breathtaking attractions in the country. McGurk's Waltzer opens throughout the year in the north of the country taking in some of the very important festivals in and around County Donegal. Finally, Brian Reeves' machine was part of Barbara Tofts fair at Skerries and has been packed away for a few years (note that it received new cars from the Bray Waltzer - W123 - with the old cars going to convert A175 into a Waltzer!), and the Harrison purchase of A60 was intended for use at Bundoran, but has seen little time actually open. The latest news is that Waltzer A60 will be travelling with showman Barry Hudson, sometime in 2007.

Photo: Pat Fox's Waltzer, 2001.
Pat Fox's Waltzer - A206 - Mosney, 2001.

Photo: John Scarrott's Waltzer.
John Scarrott's Waltzer - A20 - shortly before leaving for Ireland.

Photo: McGurk's Waltzer, 2004.
The same machine with the McGurk family in Irleand, 2004.

Photo: Billy Watkins' Waltzer, 1984.
Billy Watkins' Waltzer - A36 - a 1984 shot on Worcester Racecourse - now packed up in Ireland.

Photo: Tofts' Waltzer..
Tofts' Waltzer - A36 - open at Skerries with cars from W123, photo Tim Wilkinson.

Photo: Frank Codona's Ark.
Frank Codona / Hammond's Ark - A60 - later converted to a Waltzer and sold to Ireland, but rarely seen open.

Scottish (and an English) Visitors

Two Scottish showmen have been regular visitors to Ireland in the 1990s. John Willie Adcroft set up amusements in Mill Isle and then Portrush after purchasing the land adjacent to Barry's famous amusement park. Adcroft had the famous Lakin Ark travelled in Scotland by Nathanial Codona - A74 - purchasing the machine after it spent a brief spell at Hunstanton. The ride was converted to a Waltzer and re-themed 'Ulster Scene'. However, after the best part of a decade, Adcroft purchased what was considered to be one of the finest modern Waltzers to be built - Raymond Codona's Hellraiser (W79). This machine had been travelling around the south of Ireland with Raymond's other attractions, but its purchase by Adcroft represented a major coup for the showman, and the proud ride now stands at Portrush.

Thomas Wilmot is another well-established Scottish showman who slowly brokered a deal to present amusements at Bundoran in County Donegal. This busy resort had been established by the Harrison family for many decades, but as the 90s progressed Harrisons seemingly had deals with Billie Joe Butlin and Thomas Wilmot, with amusements recently being presented by the powerful firm of Birds. Thomas Wilmot's vividly decorated Waltzer - A53 - has been present at Bundoran for over a decade.

The final showman to feature in this 1990s section is the elusive Billie Joe Butlin. He had various attractions and venues throughout the country, and his Waltzer - A64 - appeared fleetingly at nearly all of these places. It is said that the machine is now burnt out, but we are lucky enough to have an image from Tim Wilkinson's collection of the Waltzer at Portrush Safari park - thanks Tim for this, and other help, in writing this article.

Photo: Adcroft's Waltzer at Portrush.
Adcroft's Ulster Scene - A74 - at Portrush.

Photo: Adcroft's Hellriaser, 2004.
The famous Hellraiser - W79 - debuts at Portrush in 2004.

Photo: Wilmot's Waltzer, 2002.
Thomas Wilmot's Waltzer - A53 - is a regular at Bundoran.

Photo: Billy Joe Butlin's Waltzer.
Billy Joe Butlin's Waltzer - A64 - a rare shot by Tim Wilkinson.