Eugene looks back fondly at his days on the railways (1992)
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Here is Eugene’s story of a way of life that has almost vanished from the province.
“I started work for the Great Northern Railway in June 1945, just a month after the end of the war in Europe. I suppose that the railways had always ‘been in our blood’ because my granda had been a guard on the Derry trains and I had often heard my father talk of his experiences.
“Now, my father never worked on the railways but he had travelled on them all the time as a joiner in Belfast shipyard on the train and so it was no surprise that I was keen on joining the GNR - which I did, at the age of 15.
“When I was beginning work at Moira Station, you really could tell that the war was still one. There were soldiers stationed at Waringfield and at Moira Demesne and there was an airfield at Maghaberry. Lots of trains full of Belgian and British soldiers would pull into the station.
“There was also an ambulance train kept nearby at Broomhedge. The blackout had been in operation and we were told to save all possible fuel, so in between trains we would turn down the lights on the station platforms.
“There were lots of funny incidents involving the troops: when one lot disembarked they forgot about a soldier who had fallen asleep. When the train pulled out, he suddenly woke up and tried to get out.
“We watched him tumble out yards past the platform and fall down the bank into the briars. Another few feet along the track and he'd have fallen into the canal.”
Lavery added: “When I began in 1945, I received the sum of £1-8s- 9d. I was classified as a junior porter and I had to work on the platform and also as a booking clerk. We were especially busy on Monday mornings, as a lot of people would get their weekly tickets for their trips to Belfast. There were also folk returning to the city after a weekend visiting relatives in the country
“Between past six and nine o’clock I would sell tickets to shipyard men, to the people who were travelling up to the aircraft factories at Sydenham and to the employees going up to the Hilden mills to do a day’s work.
“There were also a lot of passengers on The Stormont Express. This was a fast train that took civil servants direct to the station at Great Victoria Street where buses stood ready to transport them up to Stormont.
“Of course all kinds of goods came into Moira Station: bread, hardware and farmer’s meal. There was lots of ammonia and there were cartons of groceries which Mr Palmer, the local shopkeeper, would pick up in his lorry.
“There were all kinds of difficulties with the wagon-loads of coal that would sit in the station until his lorry would arrive down from the village to pick the produce up. We had to impose a fine because the coal sat in the siding for so long but then that caused a fall-out and Mr Palmer was going to take his business elsewhere. As you can imagine the railways were beginning to hit very bad times so the manager had to eat humble pie so as to get the much-needed business back.
“We had several problems too with people thieving coal from our sidings. We had on funny incident when a wagon of Guinness barrels sat in our station for a couple of days and when it finally got to its destination the discovery was made that some beer had disappeared. We were hauled over the coals, but I think the theft must have happened up the line because it wasn't one of us!”
At the weekends there were big parties going on the Warrenpoint train for an excursion and one of the favourite things to do in Warrenpoint was, of course, to take the ferry over to Omeath and then take the jaunting car to the shrine at a place they called Calvary, recalled Lavery.
“Then there were the pigeon fanciers who would leave their birds with us to release, and the day excursion trains that came through the station on the way to Windsor Park for the big football internationals. “I must also say that I spent time at Hillsborough station as a signalman before the Banbridge line was closed. I also spent time at Kilmore (between Moira and Lurgan). But in 1964 I was back in Moira. I was now a signalman at the station and there had been such severe cutbacks that there were only three signalmen and a foreman now.
“Life was busy as a signalman. Not only had you to do signal duties up in the cabin but you had to come down and open or shut the gate on the level crossing. Walking down on a cold, wet night was not pleasant.
“So eventually the foreman was done away with, in new cutbacks, and the station became an unattended halt. Eventually, in 1984, came a sad day for me as the Moira Station became automatic. I went to work in the station in Portadown, but it was a bit like being put out of my own home to have to leave Moira after all those years. I felt like a caged bird in the cabin at Portadown with all its buttons and switches and modern equipment. I was inside all the time. Finally, I retired a couple of years ago.”
He added: “One of the interesting things about Moira had been that the old canal was nearby. It got filled in when the motorway passed by in the 1960s. I remember going down to the tow-path to talk to the lightermen who would moor their barges by the bridge and get provender for their horses at the local farms. They were still pulling coal and sand up and down to Lough Neagh in the late 1940s. Those lightermen had a wee berth on deck and a kitchen and a fire. When they got up to Lough Neagh a tugboat would pull them across to the far side of the lough.”