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Full Steam Ahead - Painting the No.5 Mona back on track

A painting is very similar to a photograph. It is a snapshot of a time, the preserving of a precious memory. It can evoke joy or sadness and - in Freelance Artist Ian Smith’s case - the feeling of nostalgia.

For his painting is of the proud No. 5 Mona. A grand locomotive which frequented the Peel Line in the Isle of Man – his childhood home - and did so with steam and splendour.

As a child aged six Ian had fond memories of Mona. Peering out of his parent’s windows, which overlooked Peel Station, to observe and become spellbound by all the locomotives that passed through. One of which was No.5 Mona, a smart looking steam train named after the Latin translation of Isle of Man.

Introduced to the rails in 1874 Mona soon started developing a nickname for herself ‘The Sulker’ as the train was always shy of steam. Unfortunately, Mona was retired with a weak boiler after the 1968 season on Port Erin line. It appears here that the subject influenced artist as Ian too found himself struggling to steam ahead with his ambitious paint project.

“It certainly has been quite a journey with this painting with plenty of ups and downs and problems,” Ian explained.

“There were times I thought that's it I can't go any further with it but somehow I got through after two years.”

An artist can be his / her worst critic and it is clear that Ian wanted to do justice for not only a piece of the Isle of Man’s history, but for a part of his own childhood. What is evident from the canvas is Ian’s eagle eye for detail. On closer inspection of the ‘The Sulker’ - Ian's titled the painting after Mona's humorous nickname - you can see the fascinating little details added that gives the painting such character and depth. Nestled in the background you can spot the villages Creek pub, the Viking long house, a restaurant and the buildings and railings for the harbour.

“Certainly there is much for the eye to see as I've not skimped on the detail one bit,” Ian said.

And, of course, Mona, ‘The Sulker’ herself received the same intricate detail and attention, a locomotive restored to its former glory through the power of paint.

Just like Mona, Ian has been on his own journey. Ian remembers when he first arrived at the PSS Umbrella Centre, Liverpool, where he was first tempted to paint.

“Coming to the Umbrella has encouraged me so very much since 2005,” Ian said.

“Here was the start of turning my life around, and really finding I had something promising with my art.”

“The canvas has been a learning experience, and opened up a new belief in myself,” Ian continued. “I feel at the end of the day, I am most proud of this achievement.”

‘The Sulker’ will soon be on permanent display in the Port Erin railway museum, where visitors will be able to enjoy the beauty and vibrancy of the stubborn train that struggled with steam.

Ian recommended ‘The Old Peel Line’ a poem by author Joan Pomfret, to compliment his artwork.


The old Peel Line is over grown,

Finished, forgotten and alone

It runs beneath an Island sky

Where once the little trains went by.

Yet faintly on a summers day

With laughter echoing all the way,

A ghostly engine- whistle shrills

By Tynwald and at Union Mills.

And I remember, looking through

Those carriage-windows, every view

Of cushag covered bank and bends

Was like an old familiar friend!

For me, the Peel Line seemed to span

Each lovely golden mile of Man,

Its trains with every stop and start

Brought magic to an English heart.

And how I wish Time could turn back

Along that narrow weed- grown track-

That once more I could catch a train

To Peel, and to my youth again.

A recent fundraiser to mark the 150th anniversary of the Railway is in action to help get Mona back on track. For more information visit here:


Sep 13, 2022



Sep 12, 2022


Sep 12, 2022

I love Ian’s work and finding out the history behind the painting makes it all the more special. How wonderful that Ian’s work will be on display in the IOM, where so many people can enjoy it.

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