Remembering the end of the line

Last railcar 1942 - per Selwyn.
Last railcar 1942 - per Selwyn.

By Alan Devers, Headhunters Railway Museum

They were the darkest of days in the dark winter of 1941: Christmas had come and gone and the old year would end in a few hours. It was the darkest of times in the middle of the War with Nazi Germany still an ominous threat to the world. Word had come through to the Clogher Valley from far off aloof Stormont that the Clogher Valley Railway would close on New Year’s Eve. The edict from the Ministry of Home Affairs would be greeted in different ways. Some ratepayers in Fermanagh and Tyrone would be delighted that a burden on the rates would at last be gone. The people of the Clogher Valley would have other ideas - their ‘ould railway’ would be gone; an old friend, “Ahm dambut, boys it’s tarrah”, to quote the local ballad composed by E.O. Byrne as he sat at his desk in the Ulster Bank in Clogher. That day the last steam train had gone through Ballygawley at 2.55pm heading for Maguiresbridge for the last time in the black out, getting there at 6.40pm and returning to Aughnacloy, the line’s Headquarters. But even to the end the Clogher Valley did things its own way! The line’s diesel railcar thumped through the night with the faint light from its ‘black out’ covers giving minimal light to the way ahead. Fivemiletown was reached just before midnight – end of operations but not on this line. The railcar was turned on the Fivemiletown turntable and the railcar still packed with locals set off for home.

Painting (attached) by Norman Whitla commissioned by Headhunters Railway Museum, Enniskillen, and on display there, depicting Fivemiletown Main Street during the heyday of the Clogher Valley Railway.  (full permission is granted to reproduce)

Painting (attached) by Norman Whitla commissioned by Headhunters Railway Museum, Enniskillen, and on display there, depicting Fivemiletown Main Street during the heyday of the Clogher Valley Railway. (full permission is granted to reproduce)

Imagine the scene; the railway technically closed: still running 12.10AM 1st January 1942 the railcar growled out of the station no doubt to the strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and much cheering. For the last time the train would pass up the narrow Fivemiletown Main Street at its regulation 4mph but not having to squeeze past many parked cars. There would be no goat to block the path at the end of the town that night. The goat, Maggie Coulter’s goat, frequently stood on the track blocking the path of trains oblivious to shouts or missiles until hot coals were fired at it. The uncharitable said Maggie Coulter let it stand until the fireman had thrown enough coal to do her fire. Though the darkened Valley to Clogher sped the railcar avoiding Clogher’s Cathedral Hill and onto Augher past the Creamery and hugging the roadside to Ballygawley. The Clogher Valley was a roadside Tramway and spent its corporate life debating which it was. The C.V.R opened as a Tramway from 1887-1894 and then opted to become a railway. In the distance the passengers could see Ballygawley Station as the railcar approached fog signals (detonators) went off to greet their arrival although some were so old they failed to explode. And that was it; the railcar growled away towards Aughnacloy and oblivion. A new year, a new era: the end of the line.

Sale of the Century

By Easter it was all up for sale: 40 miles of track, the lot! – in fact 600 lots. What a sale! Buses took bidders from as far away as Belfast to buy anything from sleepers, locomotives to the 16 Windsor chairs from the Boardroom at Aughnacloy at £2-15-0 each £2.75). The biggest buyer was the County Donegal Railways who paid £4,553-15-0 for everything from the Diesel Railcar, 18 wagons, and 20,000 sleepers. The 7 locomotives all ended up as scrap from £115 each. Legal matters dragged on until 1944 when the land, crossing lodges and stations were sold.

70 Years On

Railcar in Fivemiletown.

Railcar in Fivemiletown.

The Clogher Valley Railway maybe long gone but not forgotten, after all it created the Clogher Valley as an entity. The Clogher Valley Stations still stand as silent sentinels to the Victorian age. Fivemiletown Station still prominent as a red brick oasis at the edge of the town. Augher Station, beside the Creamery and the Square in the village, is still a public building in use as a café. Ballygawley Station can still be seen as you approach the roundabout although its red brick is now hidden. These are probably the best known stations visible from the A4 to Belfast. However Clogher Station is a gem but less obvious as the railway avoided Clogher Hill but if you take the B83 you will find it in all its glory. Aughnacloy, the line’s Headquarters, is still extant – the Boardroom now the Masonic Hall and Tynan, the terminus is still there. In Fermanagh the gem is Brookeborough station restored by Brookeborough & District Community Development Association. Brookeborough even boosts some track, a tramway style carriage and cattle wagon. The small station at Colebrooke built for the Brooke family is now a private house. Sir Basil Brooke was Chairman of the Committee of Management of the CVR 1929-41, and of course Northern Ireland Prime Minister 1943-63 as Lord Brookeborough. The line ended in Maguiresbridge where the CVR shared the station site with the Great Northern Railway but little remains, due to a recent development.

The CVR railcar ran on the County Donegal Railways, until it closed at the end of 1959, as railcar 10 and happily is preserved in its Donegal guise at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Perhaps the authorities could be persuaded to repaint Railcar 10 back to its Clogher Valley Railway colours of brown with a white roof? Armagh Museum have an exhibition of Clogher Valley items and a visit to Headhunters Railway Museum in Darling Street, Enniskillen will transport you back to the railway era with its many exhibits of Great Northern, Sligo Leitrim and Clogher Valley railwayana and memorabilia. For a detailed history of the CVR Dr E.M. Patterson’s book is recommended.

In many ways much of the spirit of the Clogher Valley Railway has survived as this article has tried to catalogue but what have we lost? Gone are the seven locomotives with their tramway skirts to hide their motion like Victorian ladies hiding their legs under long skirts. Gone are the ‘Wild West’ features of the railway – engines with cow catchers, the ringing bell and the quaint verandahs at the end of the carriages. No more torturous excursions to Bangor from Brookeborough taking four hours for only 5s 6d on an August Bank Holiday. Gone are the massive 12th July specials when every carriage on the line was used plus cattle trucks specially cleaned and seated with benches for the day. Gone are the huge pig specials, with their no doubt distinctive pungent odour adding to the atmosphere in Fivemiletown Main Street. Gone too is the chaos the trains added to the narrow street sans goat sans all…..

Obituary, 31st December, 1941

They tuk our ould railway away, so they did,

And Sowl’ the whole thing for a few thousand’ quid

They say now the ratepayers here are well rid.

Ahmdambut, boys it’s tarrah.

For fifty long years past she puffed to and fro,

And whiles she wud get there at ither times no,

She’s worth far more dead nor alive, so must go.

Ahmdambut, boys it’s tarrah.

She run down back gardens an’ up the Main Street,

And frightened the horses she happened to meet,

And now she’s been tuk off tae build up our Fleet.

Ahmdambut, boys it’s tarrah.

They say they are sellin’ the ould line for scrap,

The rails will make bombs for till plaster the map,

Here’s hopin’ ould Hitler’s below when they drap.

Ahmdambut, boys it’s tarrah.

It’s said that the R.A.F. soon will begin

To use up our railway, this war for tae win.

They’ll drap Clogher station all over Berlin.

Ahmdambut, boys it’s tarrah.

When the Roosians an’ us march down Wilhelmstasse,

Ould Hitler will surely say, “Boys, I’m an ass,

I might have knowed Clogher could still ‘hould the pass’.”

Ahmdambut, boys it’s tarrah.

Abridged version of ballad composed by E.O. Byrne, then cashier in the Ulster Bank, Clogher, May, 1942.