Historical Steam Engines In The Engineering Building


In 1850 when NUI Galway (then Queen’s College Galway) accepted its first class of students, the “Age of Steam” wasdeveloping rapidly. In 1851 the national railway network reached Galway and in 1852 the opening of the Eglinton Canal allowed paddle steamers access to the Corrib. The curriculum for the Queen’s University in Ireland for the Diploma in Civil Engineering included a course on “Motive powers, construction and Theory of Machiness”.

The Department of Natural Philosophy (Physics today) in Queen’s College Galway offered a course that included elementary principles of machinery and steam engines. As teaching aids for this, it purchased from Watkins and Hill, Charing Cross, London wooden sectional models of four types of steam engines. These are now on display in the new Engineering Building and represent the principal applications of the rapidly developing technology of steam power in the mid nineteenth century.

There is

  • a condensing beam engine and model steam boiler and furnace for motive power; 
  • a table or vertical engine often used in industry and in mines to pump out water 
  • a railway locomotive showing boiler and furnace and 
  • a marine steam engine for a Paddle Steamer (without the boiler)

‌‌The models were on display for their first 120 years in the laboratories of the Physics Department in the original quadrangle building and can be seen on top of the glass presses in the photograph taken in 1902. When Physics moved to the new Science buildings in 1973 they were put in temporary storage under the Kirwan theatre.

On the initiative of President James Browne they were cleaned and repaired by Conservation|Letterfrack and put on display in the new Engineering Building in the public areas on the two uppermost floors where they continue to instruct, inform and delight the public and engineering students and hopefully will do so for many generations to come.