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Mystery of Achill truck in the Middle East solved

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ACHILL HERITAGEThe Ford Thames truck pictured taking part in an Achill Heritage Day in the late 1990s. Klaus Sweeney is driving it with wren boys/strawboys on the back. In the foreground is Noreen Sweeney and her daughter Aisling.  Pic courtesy of Klaus Sweeney

Edwin McGreal


In last week’s Mayo News we ran the fascinating story of a truck from Achill which ended up on display in a museum owned by a Sheikh in Qatar.
How did it get there and who owned it in the first place?
Derry-man Noel Kelly was in touch with us some weeks ago having happened upon the 63-year-old Ford Thames truck at the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum while visiting his son and family in Qatar.
Efforts to find out who owned the truck and how it ended up in Qatar proved in vain ahead of going to print. There were several different Sweeneys in operation in Achill in the 1950s and 1960s and so we ran the story in the hope of finding out more.
The Mayo News was not long off the presses on Tuesday morning last when Klaus Sweeney in Achill rang to lay claim to the truck. We were also inundated with several emails and phone calls from people in Achill who recall the truck and filled us in. One man recalled it being known locally as ‘the yellow canary’.
It was bought by Klaus’s late father, Niall, at a British Army sale in Derry, ironically where Noel Kelly is from. The family business was ET Sweeney and Co, a garage and petrol pumps located in Polranny, straight across from the Achill GAA pitch.
Klaus Sweeney sold it onto a man in Limerick called Ken Smyth at the turn of the century. Before we had even tried to establish contact with Ken, he emailed us having seen the story online and told us just how a British Army truck bought in Derry by an Achill man ended up in Qatar.
But we’ll get to that. Over to Klaus Sweeney first.
“My father and his friend Nicholas Davin from Donegal went to a British Army sale in Derry in the 1960s. They bought a lot and split it. In the lot were six Willey jeeps, 12 Austin Champs, three Ford Thames and four Matadors,” Klaus told The Mayo News.
“They split them and sold them. We kept this as a recovery truck for taking cars out of ditches. We converted it and put a crane on it for that end. But that was fine for cars when they had metal bonnets but once the bonnets went plastic, the truck was no use,” he added.
“We held onto it for a while but then I sold it to Ken Smyth and that was the last I heard of it until I saw The Mayo News this week,” said Klaus.
The Ford Thames is a V8, 32 horsepower truck. Klaus estimates it did ten miles to the gallon so it was not the most efficient truck ‘but it had great power’.
“If it wouldn’t take a car out of a ditch then the car wouldn’t be coming out!” he said.  
It arrived in Achill army green and Klaus himself painted it yellow and modified it to put a crane on the back for towing. It was originally designed to be a troop carrier. As it was only used on occasion for towing cars stuck in ditches, it was never abused, hence why it remains in such good condition.
“It’s lovely to see it again. It’s hard to believe it, it’s marvellous. We’ve got a great reaction with loads of calls from people asking us did we see it in the paper,” said Klaus.

From Achill to Limerick
Motor enthusiast Ken Smyth bought the truck in the early 2000s and brought it to different vintage rallies. It was he who put the 55-LK-21 plate on as Sweeneys had used trade plates for it.
But time went on and when he started his own engineering company, Ken needed to make space.
He advertised it on Done Deal first, hoping to keep it in Ireland but kept ‘getting too many messers and dreamers’ so he advertised it on a UK classic vehicle site. It was there that representatives of the Sheikh who owns the museum in Doha, Qatar saw it but making contact with Ken Smyth was not straightforward.
“I got five or six calls over a weekend from Qatar but I ignored them as I assumed they were a scam! Then on the Monday I got a call from the people running the website saying someone had been trying to contact me.
“Once I knew the calls were legitimate, I answered the next one and it was a representative of Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani who is a very wealthy man and owns the museum where the truck is now,” Ken told The Mayo News.
A shipping agent arrived to buy it and a low-loader came afterwards to ship it from Cork.
“I heard no more of it until the article appeared in The Mayo News today (Tuesday) but often wondered had it made the journey.”
How small the world is was brought home to Noel Kelly on Tuesday last. His son Ronan who works in Qatar was contacted by a former work colleague, Andrew Fallon, a native of Achill. After seeing the story, he contacted Ronan to tell him Andrew remembers the vehicle well – he used to play in it as a child.
And Noel Kelly himself said the museum visit was a much more pleasant sighting of an old British Army truck than he was used to.
“Army lorries were most definitely not a welcome sight in Derry and the last time I was named in a paper was for my testimony at the Bloody Sunday Saville Enquiry!”

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