Mixed menu of bacon, eggs, sausage, politics and religion on steam train

Bundoran Station and Timetable. Photo J.J. Smith.
Bundoran Station and Timetable. Photo J.J. Smith.

The 60th anniversary of the end of a historic era is approaching.

On Saturday September 30, 1957, the last trains ran on the GNR lines to Bundoran from Clones, Omagh and Enniskillen and on the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties line between Enniskillen and Sligo.

Commemorative events are being held in the towns most affected by the closures like Manorhamilton, Bundoran and Enniskillen, and Roamer’s page has already shared more than a few enormously evocative railway memories.

Glasgow railway-historian Hugh Dougherty now continues the story that he has been recounting here of a journey he made on the train with his family just a few months before the Bundoran train was shunted forlornly into compulsory retirement.

The Dougherty family-tree was Catholic with deep Donegal roots, and Hugh’s dad “made the same journey as a boy each summer, away back about 1916.”

In June 1957 six-year-old Hugh, with his parents, sister and a big wickerwork luggage-hamper, arrived by plane from Glasgow and set off on the steam-train from Belfast to Bundoran.

Even on a summer trip to the seaside, religion and politics featured significantly amongst the little lad’s many excitements and distractions!

The rest of today’s page is Hugh’s, and as you read it, his vivid narrative will evoke the almost hypnotic sound of clickety-clack and the distinctive smell of smoke and steam.

Enjoy!

My recollection of the journey 60 years ago continues with our train speeding through the smaller stations, such as Adelaide, Finaghy and Lambeg, on the outskirts of Belfast, heading down the old Ulster railway for Portadown, while we repaired to the restaurant car, where we enjoyed a magnificent, railway, Ulster fry, as the fields flew by, the telephone lines rose and fell, colliding with each passing pole, and with steam passing the window.

Not that earning the right to enjoy that fry - served up with genuine GNR(I) cutlery and with tiny jam pots with GNR(I) marked on the lids - had been easy.

We were travelling on the eve of the feast of St Peter and St Paul, a holiday of obligation on which Catholics must attend Mass, and we had to observe abstinence from meat on the eve of the feast.

But my mother, a dab hand at all things theological, had discovered a clause in canon law which said that bona fide travellers were exempt from the rule.

After a quick visit to our parish priest in Glasgow, himself a Donegal man, she returned with a dispensation: we could enjoy a GNR fry, just as my father had recalled from his own boyhood journeys.

Such were the vagaries of rail travel for Irish Catholics in those pre-Vatican Council days!

Just to be sure, when the steward had given us a look-over, clearly to determine whether we were Catholics or Protestants, which was normal in the North in those days, my mother told him straight that we were en route to Bundoran with a ‘traveller’s dispensation.’

That was the signal for ‘Rolls-Royce treatment’ and as many rashers, eggs and sausages and as much toast as we could eat. Extra tea arrived too.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if our smiling steward had kicked with the other foot!

I can clearly remember passing through Pomeroy Station, up in remote hill-country, and my sister singing the verse ‘For the maid she bound her golden hair on the mountains of Pomeroy’ from ‘The Mountains of Pomeroy’ that we sang at home in Glasgow as Irish exiles.

Excitement rose as we neared Omagh where we had to change trains to make the connection to Bundoran Junction, our current train going on to Derry.

My childish paranoia had set in by this time.

We were miles from home.

We were in the middle of ‘the Black North’ so long portrayed in our community as unfriendly to Catholics, and what if I, or my sister, got left on the train at Omagh, and were carried away to territory unknown?

I think we all forget in today’s world of instant communications and shrunken distances, just how frightening and exciting a long railway journey was in those days of steam, especially to children, whereas today, youngsters are bundled into cars, entertainment is switched on, and that’s all there is to it.

I will always recall the GNR trains as looking indefinably old, faded brown inside and out, and even older than the trains I was used to on Glasgow’s Cathcart Circle (a suburban railway route) or on trips to Troon on the Ayrshire coast.

But it was the ancient, even-more-faded brown, four-wheeled, van attached to the rear of the passenger coaches that sticks in my memory of the Omagh Station stop.

I have a very vivid memory of the station having curving platforms and sitting above the town, while it was very busy, with a train, this time a GNR, blue-and-cream AEC diesel set, sitting in the opposite platform to head back to Belfast.

The porters were dragging our hamper out of the van, and, there was an all-pervasive smell of fish coming from its dark, and, to a child, quite threatening interior, while the floor was covered in sawdust, with piles of parcels and newspapers in the dark recesses of it corners.

As the 60th anniversary of the railway closure approaches, Hugh Dougherty will share more memories on this page of his onward journey from Omagh to Bundoran.

For details of the commemorative events see www.facebook.com/HeadhuntersMuseum.