Rail reminiscences and trains of thought 60 years on from closures

The Bundoran Express in Bundoran Station.
The Bundoran Express in Bundoran Station.

“I cannot remember my first railway journey,” Enniskillen-born railway author and photographer Charles Friel recently recounted.

The founder-member of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland added “I was only four months old at the time and you cannot see much from a carry-cot!”

Mr Friel’s illustrated talk tomorrow night in Enniskillen’s Ardhowen Theatre is entitled ‘Steam around Fermanagh’.

It’s just one of many weekend events marking the closure 60 years ago of the GNR lines to Bundoran from Omagh, Clones and Enniskillen and the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties line between Enniskillen and Sligo.

“Monday 30 September 1957 was a sad day,” Charles recounted wistfully.

“On that fateful day, every railway station and level crossing across county Fermanagh fell silent.”

The hush spread ominously along the lines, and co-incidentally, it was the end of the road too for Cassidy’s buses, officially the Erne Bus Service, which ran the first Dublin Express since the demise of the stage coach!

Charles added another anniversary to his poignant tally of expiry dates - the Clogher Valley Railway closed 75 years ago in 1942.

Not long before embarking on his first train journey in a carry-cot, Charles was born in Enniskillen’s old County Hospital in August 1946.

The hospital overlooked the railway station and “it’s quite likely,” he told Roamer, “that the first sounds that I heard were of engines shunting, cattle lowing, wagons clanging, whistles blowing and the shed foreman shouting at the engine cleaners.”

“As we mark the 60th anniversary of the closure,” Charles added “the few surviving railway men and their families are coming back to Enniskillen, or getting in touch, from places as far away as Bangor and Belfast, Dublin and various parts of England, Canada and Australia.”

“I am reminded,” said Mr Friel “of the last words that I heard from the late Tom McDevitte, alias Barney McCool - ‘They can close all the railways they like but they can’t take away our memories!’”

Late in June in 1957 six-year-old Hugh Dougherty left Belfast’s Great Victoria Street station on one of the last trains to Bundoran with his parents and sister.

Regular Roamer-readers have recently followed Hugh’s journey through Adelaide, Finaghy and Lambeg, heading down the old Ulster Railway towards Portadown; his ‘Ulster fry as the fields flew by’ and then Pomeroy Station ‘up in remote hill-country’ before arriving in Omagh and changing trains.

The final leg of Hugh’s journey ends today’s page - in his own eloquently penned words - and we thank him for sharing his wonderful memories of steam:

My father, in his sports jacket and flannels (remember that you got dressed up for travel in those days!) was directing proceedings as the porter asked in his Omagh accent “Whur yeez fur? Bundoran?” whilst humping our hamper on to a trolley and taking it across a barrow-crossing to the platform opposite, while we used the footbridge, to join the Enniskillen train - three old coaches, a string of vans and a couple of bread containers on flat wagons.

Excitement rose, for we would travel to Bundoran Junction and pass Fintona Junction, where the horse tram of great fame and legend, would be waiting.

I can recall my father pointing out the horse tram, although the horse, ‘Dick’, was in his stable beside the signal cabin, in case our steam engine upset him, and my sister, who had done a project on the tram for school, and who had sourced a colour illustration of the tram out of a Northern Ireland tourist brochure, was duly disappointed not to see the horse, too.

We got off at Bundoran Junction (near Kilskeery) and stood there, waiting for our train, which came from Enniskillen, to arrive.

We boarded the Bundoran branch train, and I can recall, as a child does, three things about our carriage: there were brass handrails on the inside of the corridor windows to help passengers walk along the train which rode somewhat bouncily: there were doors which swung both ways separating the open sections of our coach; and, better still, there was a small hole in the floor and you could see the ballast rushing by.

I wondered if I might fall through the hole and never be seen again.

That’s what you think when you’re six!

On past Belleek, home to the famous pottery whose products took pride of place in my mother’s display cabinet, and which we visited during our holiday on a GNR bus tour from Bundoran Station, and, at last, with the Dartry Mountains above Bundoran coming into view, we were over the Border and into Donegal itself at Ballyshannon.

The Eire Customs men, with their white-topped caps and naval uniforms, came on board and frisked a few regular passengers, no doubt looking for copies of the News of the World, pounds of butter bought in the North, football pools, or God forbid, contraceptives, not that I knew what they were, but all banned in De Valera’s Ireland of 1957.

I can remember detraining on Bundoran’s long platform around 4.00 pm.

We had reached journey’s end.

I wanted to linger, to take in the station scene, but the parents and sister were more interested in making for our boarding house, for food and a wash, for this had been an epic journey, by the standards of the 1950s.

Full details of all the rail-closure commemorative events are at visit www.facebook.com/HeadhuntersMuseum