On September 30th 2017, sixty years later, but right on time, a ghostly whistle blew, announcing the anniversary of the moment the last train departed from Dromahair Station. The audience stilled. Then Margaret Connolly introduced her wonderful talk at The Clubhouse, right beside Dromahair Railway Station to listeners who included many who had travelled on the trains.
The evening was a great success thanks to its enthusiastic coordination by Terry Leydon. Here is the adapted script of Margaret’s research and stories.
The 1800’s could well be described as the era of rail transport in Ireland. The first piece of railway to operate in this country was the five and a half miles from Dublin to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) and the first train, the Hibernia, went from Westland Row (now Pearse St.) to Kingstown on Oct 9th 1834, that stretch is now part of the Dart system. Several stretches of line opened within the next few years and the Midland Great Western reached Sligo from Dublin in 1862
The local landlords of the Sligo/ Leitrim area were at that time considering a link from Sligo to Enniskillen. Enniskillen already had a line to Dundalk. Two plans were proposed for the Sligo/Enniskillen line: One following the coast via Bundoran and the other taking an inland route via Dromahair and Manorhamilton. The latter plan was the successful one, mostly because it had the support of the most powerful and influential landlords. They would have been
- Francis La Touche and George Lane Fox of Dromahair
- Owen Wynne of Lurganboy and Hazlewood
- Henry Gore Booth of Lissadel
- Lord Massey of Laureen Estate in Kinlough
- And especially Arthur Loftus Tottenham of Glenfarne Hall.
The seal of the Company reflected the decision. It showed the collision of two engines –one derailed, representing the Bundoran route and the other, on the tracks, representing the successful Manorhamilton route.
During the 1870’s an engineer called Frederick Barry surveyed the route and plans were drawn up and on the 11th of August 1875 a bill authorising the setting up of the S.L.& N.C.R. was passed in the British Parliament. Securing the funding and finding a suitable contractor caused some delays but in March 1877 a contract between the new company, with Arthur Loftus Tottenham as its Chairman, and two engineers –Frederick Barry and Henry Tottenham (brother to Arthur) was signed for the purchase of the land and the construction of the line for £300,000, that worked out at £7280 a mile. 2/3 of the money was to come from a share scheme and the other third from the Board of Works.
The First Train – 1882
The line opened in stages and on reaching its railhead at Carrignagat, it travelled the last five and a half miles into Sligo on the Midland Great Western track. The first train to cover the entire route from Enniskillen to Sligo did so on November 7th 1882.
The building of the line was really a great achievement and most of the credit must go to Henry Tottenham —Frederick Barry had left the company some time before the line reached Manorhamilton. The landscape across the counties of Sligo/ Leitrim/Fermanagh was pickled with hills and hollows, rivers, lakes and bogs so the development of the route was anything but simple.
The scheme required not only the laying of steel track but also the construction of
- 35 underbridges,
- 3 overbridges,
- 193 culverts,
- 28 public road crossings,
- 24 gatekeepers cottages,
- 230 pairs of gates at field and accommodation crossings,
- 6 station premises (5 of which had dwelling houses),
- 8 goods stores,
- 5 signal cabins,
- 2 attended and 2 non-attended halts,
- offices in Enniskillen and
- offices, workshops and general stores in Manorhamilton.
This mammoth task was accomplished entirely by manual labour. The working day was ten hours, the weekly wage 7/6 to 10/-. The equipment, by today’s standards, was primitive: picks, shovels, hand barrows and the building tools of the day. Many of the labourers walked long distances to work, some from 15 to 18 miles. This journey they did every day across fields and ditches and mountain passes, in all kinds of weather.
As in most building projects there was an overrun in time and building costs. The actual cost of the line was not the original £300,000 but was £346,334. Finance became a problem from day 1 and as early as 1890 the line was in receivership and remained so until 1897 when a financial package was worked out and the line functioned reasonably well for the next 25 years.
Apart from its ongoing financial difficulties, the company also experienced other problems.
The Partition 1921
The Partition of Ireland in 1921 brought huge problems. Trade between North and South was severely affected. Duties and tariffs were levied on goods. Customs posts were set up at Belcoo and Glenfarne causing delays for passengers while sometimes over zealous customs officers checked baggage. And a way of life called smuggling flourished.
The Civil War 1922
Dissatisfaction with partition led to the Civil War of 1922/23. This was a time of attacks on many things including railways and neither the Midland Great Western nor the S.L.& N.C.R escaped.On January 10th 1923 the Midland Great Western station at Sligo was destroyed by fire and locomotives at the Sligo engine shed, including one belonging to the SL&NCR (the Glencar) were sent careering down the incline from the station to Sligo Quay. March 7th saw the burning of carriages on the up train between Glenfarne and Manorhamilton and April 3rd the derailment of a train (the Hazelwood) on the same stretch of line.
March of that year also saw fire damage to the signal box at Dromahair and the destruction of the Carrignagat junction box. The Irish Free State gave compensation and some new rolling stock was purchased.
The Economic War 1932
Then came the Economic War from 1932 to 1938. This economic war came about when the Irish Government under De Valera refused to pay the land annuities to Britain. These annuities were repayments of loans from the British Government to enable farmers to buy their holdings from the landlords over the previous 50 years. Britain retaliated by imposing a 20% tax on all Irish goods. Our exports to Britain at that time constituted 90% of all our exports so naturally our economy was crippled. The Irish Government responded to the British tax by putting a similar tax on British goods –coal, steel and iron. Freight traffic on the S.L.& N.C.R. suffered as did its finances and it was unlikely that the company would have survived had not the Northern Government introduced a Grant-in-Aid scheme in 1935 and this compensated the S.L.& N.C.R. for its yearly losses.
World War II 1940
The 2nd World War, which was a time of scarcity for many, was a time of relative prosperity for the S.L.& N.C.R. The scarcity of petrol in the South saw a move away from road transport and a return to rail transport. Because of its northern outlet the S.L.& N.C.R. had a continuous supply of coal from Wales and because it also had access to petrol, the company established a road freight service south of the border with the purchase of two lorries in 1943 and followed that by the purchase of the Appelby Blacklion to Manorhamilton and Sligo bus service in 1945.
In 1946 when the service, which went from Blacklion via Dowra, Drumkeeran and Dromahair to Sligo commenced, the first day was an eventful one. To start the day the conductor didn’t show up so the supervisor had to fill in. The bus was very crowded and there were 10 bicycles on top. When they reached Sligo, one of the bicycles was missing so back went the bus towards Dromahair and the missing bicycle was located hanging from the branch of a tree.
Paddy Nevins’s Duo-Directional Diesel
This period also saw the purchase of a modern duo-directional diesel rail car in 1947. That was the one we called ‘Paddy Nevin’s Rail Car’. The operational cost was 4d a mile as against 2/6 a mile to run the steam train.
The end of the War in 1945 was also the beginning of the end of that relative prosperity which the railway had enjoyed during the war years. Any small profit made during those War years was quickly swallowed up by the rising cost of materials, the demand for higher wages and a reduction in the subsidies and a gentleman called the Income Tax Inspector absconded with the rest of it. The 10 years from 1947 to its closure in 1957 were a constant struggle for survival. The final blow came when the Northern Government decided to close the GNR through Enniskillen.
By Dromahair Station and Lake Steamer to Sligo
Officially Dromahair station opened on September 1st 1881 but a train did arrive there slightly before that. Towards the end of August a notice appeared in the Impartial Reporter advertising an excursion from Enniskillen to Sligo. That excursion took place on August 26th. Passengers travelled by train from Enniskillen to Dromahair and from there to Sligo by steamer. The paddle steamer on Lough Gill at that time was the ‘ Maid of Breffni’. (history)
She was capable of carrying 300 passengers and operated from 1872 to 1885. She sank that year at the mouth of the Bonet and wasn’t raised. By that time the service had come under intense pressure from the S.L & N.C.R. and the carriage of goods on the lake had virtually disappeared.
Three Steamers on Lough Gill
The ‘Maid of Breffni’ was the third of three steamers on Lough Gill. The first one, ‘The Lady of the Mill’ operated from September 17th 1840 and was used to carry corn from Fox’s Mill in Dromahair.
The owner of the mill at that time was George Fox of Yorkshire, absentee landlord. By 1843 a lease on the mill had been taken by William Kernaghan and he built a cornmill in Dromahair that year. Kernaghan seems to have experienced financial difficulties towards the end on the 1840’s and the Hosie family became the mill owners in 1849. The Landed Estates records show that the Hosie family occupied ‘a property at Castle Dargan including a mansion house and almost 200 acres of untenanted land previously owned by the Ormsby family’. According to the local papers of that time, Hosie’s store in Dromahair was completed in 1899 and this was followed by the mill structure in 1908.
What kind of goods travelled through Dromahair station ?
The biggest trade of all on the line was the cattle trade and that was the reason why the big landlords invested in the railway at the beginning. A cattle train could haul from 18 to 25 wagons. The Directors Report for 1892 tell us how many animals were carried that year – 26,635 cattle, 4950 calves, 9114 sheep, 1449 pigs, 301 horses and 85 miscellaneous. In the post war years the main shippers from this area were James and Mervyn Hamilton and Joe Gorman. Cattle were unloaded at Enniskillen and transferred to the GNR for export to Scotland and England through the ports of Belfast and Derry.
Egg export was a big trade on the railway in those years too, both from Manorhamilton and Dromahair. Stuart J. Gilmore ‘s were egg shippers as was John Beirne of Drumkeeran. The latter shipped three wagons every week to Sinclairs of Glasgow.
In the pre-Christmas period turkeys travelled in large numbers. They were unloaded, plucked and re-packed in Belcoo. There was always a rush at that station for the wagon with the hen turkeys. Pluckers got 3d for plucking a hen and 4d for the harder job of plucking a cock.
Another item of interest leaving Dromahair station was eels. These were caught in early Summer on Lough Gill and surrounding lakes by Fermanagh fishermen. Every morning six large wooden cases of eels packed in ice and weighing a cwt. were sent to Billingsgate Market in England.
During the war years, 50 wagons of turf left the station every week for Fuel Importers Ltd.,Barrack Street, Drogheda. The turf was cut at Greaghnafarna, Tullynascreena, Corglancy and Raemore and brought to the station by S.L & N.C.R and C.I.E. lorries. Leitrim Co. Council workers were responsible for loading the turf into the wagons. The lorry drivers were Tom Corcoran and Paddy Conway for C.I.E. and Stephen Murphy, John Roche and Frank Lee for the S.L & N.C.R.
For many years grocery and hardware supplies for Dromahair, its hinterland and surrounding towns came by rail –sugar from Tuam, bread from Derry, flour from Pollexfens of Ballisodare, biscuits from Jacobs of Dublin, cigarettes from Carrols of Dundalk and the list goes on. One item in particular was of special interest to the children. On Friday evenings in Summer, Paddy Downey of the Post Office collected an insulated container of ice-cream from Kevinsfort Dairies in Sligo. Mrs. Downey sold it in the Post Office and many, then children and now in their twilight years, can still remember the joy of a twopenny ! The shopkeepers nearest to the station were Pat Mc Goldrick, John Ward, Marie Travers, James Latten and William Parkes.
Larger consignments arrived at the station too. Cement from Drogheda Came in 12 ton wagons for Gilmores and O Haras and for Frank Dolan of Drumkeeran . Sheets of tin in ½ ton consignments came from Thomas Henshaw & Co. Dublin for Gilmores and Robinsons. Indian corn was railed from Dublin every month—12 wagons each carrying 12 tons. Whiskey, beer, cider and Guinness arrived for the local pubs The largest licenced premises was Jeiters.
Apart from the regular service there were lots of excursions to various events such as football matches, sports, religious events or just days out. So where might people have gone from Dromahair ? Let’s take the 1930’s as an example. Perhaps the biggest event in the 30’s was the Eucharistic Congress which took place on June 26th 1932. Travellers from Dromahair got on the train at 3.15 am. The fare was 10/9 and the return train left Amiens Street at 10.45 pm. It was a long day ! The recent Football Final between Dublin and Mayo brought to mind another Mayo/ Dublin match played in Enniskillen in 1932. The train left Dromahair at 11.50 and the return fare was 3/6. One could go to Collooney Races on September 6th 1933 for 1/- and for those who opted to travel to the All Ireland Final in Croke Park on September 24th that year, they boarded the 6.20 am. train and the fare was 9/6. Some of the excursion trains had three classes –1st, 2nd and 3rd with fares to match. Those who attended the St.Patrick’s Day Parade in Sligo in 1935 travelled on the 1pm train. The fares were 3/- 1st class, 2/- 2nd class and 1/6 3rd class. The Garland Sunday outing to the Holy well at Toberanault was extremely popular. The platform at Dromahair station would be crowded with people waiting for the 1.15 train and the train itself packed to capacity. Judging by reports of merriment on the return journey the entire day was not spent in prayer !
Workers at Dromahair Station.
Station Master Eddie Lambe is well remembered for his quiet gentlemanly manner. On the platform was porter Tom Mc Quaid. He had replaced Charlie Leahy.
The Hamiltons were a real railway family with three members employed by the S.L & N.C.R. –James and his two sons Tommy and Michael. James was a ganger on the Dromahair/ Ballygawley section. Michael started as a boy porter at Dromahair and worked there from 1945 to 1950 when he went to Sligo as a train guard. Mrs Hamilton saw to the opening and closing of the gates for the princely sum of 2/4 a week.
John Ward worked at Dromahair station for some years before moving to Manorhamilton where he eventually became station foreman.
John Loughlin was a supervisor on the Dromahair to Lisgorman section and some of the workers on that section were Tommy Fowley, Charlie Carty, Patrick Wynne and Tommy Parkes.
Further down the line, from Lisgorman to Manorhamilton, were
- Paddy Banks,
- James Mc Tiernan and
- Owen Rooney.
On the other side of Dromahair, the Dromahair to Ballygawley section, the workers remembered were
- James Hamilton,
- Francey Leahy,
- Paddy Mc Daniel,
- Jimmy Bredin,
- Tom Cullen and
- Michael Carney.
Sorrow and Joy
All stations along the line witnessed scenes of joy and sorrow. At Dromahair station children assembled for their school trip to Sligo and Manorhamilton. Young couples just married set off on their honeymoon. Parents parted with their emigrating children, sometimes never to see them again. The station saw the excitement and joyous welcome for those returning home for Christmas and the tears at their leaving again. But all that ended on September 30th 1957. The last passenger train, the 7.20 pm out of Enniskillen, with driver Gerry O Connor and fireman Bertie Hegarty passed through the station for the last time and with the passing of the Lough Melvin that evening, the last privately owned and operated railway in Ireland was laid to rest.
The company’s stock was sold at auction at Enniskillen in October 1958 and at Manorhamilton in April and November 1959. Most of the engines were sold for scrap. Railcar B was bought by C.I.E. and used as a training vehicle at Limerick Junction for some years. It is now in a dilapidated state at Downpatrick. The Lough Erne and Lough Melvin were bought by the Ulster Transport Authority. The Lough Melvin was sold for scrap in 1968 but, thankfully, the Lough Erne was preserved and can be seen at the Railway Preservation Society at Whitehead, Co. Antrim.