It was a memorable weekend at Oakfield Park, Raphoe in more ways than one. Sir Gerry and Lady Heather Robinson opened their home and their hearts to hundreds of visitors as they hosted a 24 hour train drive for the Irish Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. One of their guests was Michael Gallen, who drove the Strabane to Letterkenny train for CIE from 1949 to 1959, and who was celebrating his 90th birthday on Saturday.
Michael’s family got in touch with the Robinsons in advance of the big day and they kindly ensured that Michael was able to take to the controls once again. He even brought his old train-driver’s cap along with him. Afterward, he said: “The smell of the steam and the smoke brings it all back. It’s just wonderful. I didn’t think I would ever do anything like this again in my life.
Sir Gerry commented: “It’s such a great occasion and to have Michael and his family here makes it just perfect. Michael is a gentleman. We spoke about the old railway and he has such a wonderful memory and is in such good health for his years. We were honoured to meet him.”
The steam trains were operating non-stop from 6pm on Saturday to 6pm yesterday and there were huge crowds queueing to climb aboard. Although they’d originally intended to run one or two special ‘Midnight Express’ trains in the middle of the night, demand was such that they ended up running seven. Even then, the tickets were fully booked out. Guests on the midnight trains enjoyed lots of special treats such as stopping for a champagne and finger food reception at the castle while being serenaded by Katie Porter, There was also a marquee at the platform with live music and plenty of fun activities for all the family over the weekend, including donkey rides and a duck race.
The last train run was reserved for cancer survivors, Robert O’Connor, Chairman of Donegal Relay for Life said. “It’s been incredible, a wonderful experience.”
The 24-hour train run was a fundraiser for Claire’s Bluebells, the Relay for Life team from Raphoe. The team is named after the late Claire McGlynn, whose husband Tony works at Oakfield Park. It was hoped to raise €10,000 but that figure was exceeded before the first train left the platform and it’s likely that the final figure raised will be closer to €20,000.