A touching sculpture of a carefree girl with bucket and spade was unveiled in Armagh yesterday in memory of the Sunday school trip 125 years ago which ended in a railway disaster.
The Armagh rail disaster was the worst in Europe at that time, resulting in the deaths of 89 people and leaving 260 people injured. It still remains the fourth worst railway tragedy ever in the UK.
Descendants of those killed, together with civic and religious leaders, gathered on the Mall in the centre of the city yesterday to the strains of a lone piper playing ‘Abide With Me’.
The crowd observed a minute’s silence at 10.45am – the precise time of the tragedy on June 12 1889.
Those gathered expressed respectful tones of approval and applauded as the work of Mayo artist Rory Breslin was unveiled by Transport Minister Danny Kennedy.
The memorial shows a girl of 10 years of age, barefoot and playing with her bucket and spade, in memory of the children killed on their way to their Sunday school outing. Around the base of the sculpture is engraved the names of all those who were killed in the accident.
Mr Kennedy said: “I pay tribute to the work and effort that has been put in by so many in an effort to establish this appropriate memorial to all of those affected by the tragic events 125 years ago in Armagh.
“It is heartening to see how many elements of the community have come together today to remember the events of 125 years ago.”
An associated school poetry competition, he said, was a great way of sharing the history with the younger generation.
“The great tragedy of the Armagh railway disaster led directly to various safety measures becoming legal requirements for railways in the United Kingdom, and encouraged a move towards direct state intervention in such matters,” he added.
Lord Mayor of Armagh Councillor Robert Turner said the tragedy remains “one of Armagh’s largest civil disasters”.
He added: “I’m delighted that along with the minister, church representatives and members of the Portadown Armagh Railway Society, and Armagh City and District Council, we can officially mark this important anniversary and remember those who lost their lives or were badly injured in the devastating crash,” he said.
“I hope this meaningful artwork acts as a poignant reminder to this and future generations of the young lives which were so tragically lost.”
The News Letter at the time recorded that 34 people died from the Church of Ireland, 19 from the Presbyterian Church, 18 from the Methodist Church and nine from the Roman Catholic church – over 1,000 people from across the community took part in the annual trip.
Following the official unveiling, a lone piper led guests along the Mall and on to the Market Place Theatre, where a presentation about the disaster was shown.
A poetry recital from local schoolchildren also took place as well as closing remarks from Mr Kennedy and Mr Turner.
The Market Place Theatre will hold an exhibition on the disaster until tomorrow, allowing the public to come along and understand more about the tragedy and pay their respects.
Other events included a flowers and arts event depicting the story of the disaster at Armagh Methodist Church, which many of the children who died had attended.