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
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.
Bird and Curry's Waltzer - W260 - Tralee, 2001.
Cullen's Illuminator - A197 - with new artwork for 2001.
Crow's Easy Rider - A197 - shortly before leaving for Ireland.
Elmer Bell's Dominator - A215 - with its regular stand at Warrenpoint,
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
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.
Turbett's Waltzer - W233 - at a busy (muddy) fair in 2003.
Piper's Flatliner Waltzer - W110 - arriving as Crosshaven, photo Tim Wilkinson.
McFadden's repainted Flatliner Waltzer - W110 - ready to open in the far west of
the country on wet ground.
Curry's Waltzer - W61 - with flash from Danter's Ark/Waltzer A199 - and,
yes, its raining.
Curry's Waltzer with sunshine and redecoration by DC Slater, 2004.
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.
Melvyn Bell with Waltzer A160 at a very wet Ardglass, 2004.
Classic Fowle artwork remains on Piper's Waltzer (A151) at Crosshaven Amusement Park.
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.
Pat Fox's Waltzer - A206 - Mosney, 2001.
John Scarrott's Waltzer - A20 - shortly before leaving for Ireland.
The same machine with the McGurk family in Irleand, 2004.
Billy Watkins' Waltzer - A36 - a 1984 shot on Worcester Racecourse - now packed up in Ireland.
Tofts' Waltzer - A36 - open at Skerries with cars from W123, photo Tim
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.
Adcroft's Ulster Scene - A74 - at Portrush.
The famous Hellraiser - W79 - debuts at Portrush in 2004.
Thomas Wilmot's Waltzer - A53 - is a regular at Bundoran.
Billy Joe Butlin's Waltzer - A64 - a rare shot by Tim Wilkinson.