There was lots of smoke and steam, but thankfully no fires in Bundoran last week as the last train to leave the town, 55 years ago was commemorated with the appearance of two steam traction engines; a scaled down version of a third and an old fire tender dating back to the beginning of World War Two. By road they were recreating the last journey by steam from Bundoran to Enniskillen, via Ballyshannon.
While the county railway (CDRJC) closed in 1959, the Great Northern Railway that linked Enniskillen, to Irvinestown, Belleek, Ballyshannon and Bundoran closed two years earlier in 1957. The last train left Bundoran on the last day of September of that year marking a relationship with the seaside resort that dated back to the mid 1860s. The train terminus was located near where the town council offices and the local primary health care centre are now located.
Cllr Michael McMahon supplied the breakfast rolls to a hungry crew that had been up since the crack of dawn, waking up the engines with maternal affection.
Others who were gripped by the early morning commotion were retired Bundoran firemen PJ Clancy and Johnny Mulreany. Marty Granaghan was snapping pictures quicker than Colm McFadden could kick points in Croke Park, as the three could not but help admire the 1939 Bedford fire tender originally from Scotland, owned by Ignatius McGreevy, almost three quarters of a century old.
Jerome Travers a current member of the brigade was thanked for helping out as were other members of the brigade.
Owner Iggy enthused: “I bought it three years ago, gave it a lick of paint and have been driving it ever since.”
The night before the old Station road came to a standstill as locals admired the mechanic and aesthetics of these great workhorses of their day. A posse of local politicians were there to greet them as well including the Chairman of the Council, Cllr Philip McGlynn.
Graham Smith from near Drogheda was driving a majestic steam engine whose history dated back to the Great War. Along with a group of faithful enthusiasts they travel around the country, showing off the machine that draws huge crowds, the engine itself owned by the well known Lynch family of Dundalk.
“We travel around the country to fairs, fetes and vintage rallies every summer. People love the engine and the idea of steam always brings back lots of nostalgia. The machine that we are looking after was built in 1918, a steam tractor for hauling and threshing. It was built in England first for the war department and was used in France to transport Ministry munitions, hauling guns and the war was over that same year, so it came back into England. around Norfolk for farm work for ten to fifteen years.
“Then it was used for hauling the fairground rides, all the different swing boats and that kind of thing. The show engines were done in twisted brass for the fairs as you can see. It came over to Ireland in about 1996/97 and has been in huge demand since, although the boiler had to be replaced about five years ago,” he told the Democrat.
Another engine was being driven by John Tynan. This was built in 1930 in Ipswich and worked for about ten years before being put into retirement, as they were being replaced by tractors that were cheaper to build. It was used for threshing and stone crushing and went into preservation early in life.
Selwyn Johnston has a lifelong interest in trains and railways and is acknowledged as one of the most knowledgeable in the country. Chief organiser of the event, he also runs or rather curator of a unique barber shop, come railway museum in Enniskillen - Headhunters.
He told the Democrat: “The last train left Bundoran on September 30th 1957 and every five years we tend to organise an event that commemorates the closure of railways. This time we did something a little different with the steam traction engines going to every station along the old Bundoran-Enniskillen route as well as linking in and meeting people who were involved with the railway and remember them with fondness.
“It keeps the whole thing alive. Unfortunately they are not locomotives or trains; they are steam traction engines, but the principle of steam is the same that would have been, when the steam trains were operating themselves. Quite a few former employees, now in their seventies, eighties and nineties are still around and it is great that they can share the memories of what they did and how they steamed up and fired up.”
Even then it’s tourism generating ability was acknowledged and the Bundoran Express brought upward of 27,000 pilgrims to Lough Derg each year. Regular specials ran to the big games in Croke Park.
“The main thing is that people who worked on the railways are getting older and we are bringing this story to a whole new generation of people. I do not remember the train as I was not born before the last train departed for Enniskillen. Many kids in Fermanagh and Donegal have never travelled on a train, but ask them to draw a train and invariably, it is a stream train, so even Thomas the Tank engine has a lot to answer for as well. There is still a fascination with steam and that is great. It is something special, you do not switch it on and off, but build it up and down.