Recalling the Letterkennny to Burtonport railway line

MORE than ninety years have passed since Bridget Doherty accompanied her two brothers on the first stage of their journey to America.
The train from Gweedore to Letterkenny stopped off in Crolly from where the boys set off on their journey to the quayside and then across the Atlantic.
There was a painful poignancy to the last goodbye from a twelve year old girl to her older brothers that can still be heard in her voice today. Born in 1915, Biddy recalls standing on the platform giving an interview for a film which will be shown in the Station House Hotel, Letterkenny, on Friday night.
The 40 minute film by Rathmullan man Arthur Lynch is about the railway line from Letterkenny to Burtonport (better known as the Burtonport Extension). The film includes drone footage of the line, information on the people who worked on the construction of the line, people who operated the stations and gatehouses. There are also interviews with people who remember the train and people who travelled on it and some original film of the train.
Bearing in mind that part of the line is closed for almost eighty years, the film provides a fascinating look back at history.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Arthur Lynch explained how the idea for the film was first conceived.
A wedding videographer, he has always had an interest in local history and was a member of the Rathmullan Historical Society for more than twenty years.
However, it was a conversation with a man cleaning carpets at his home which piqued his interest in Donegal railways.
“I knew very little about the railway line from Letterkenny to Burtonport before I met Fintan Coll. He cleans carpets and we got chatting while he was working in my house. He was really enthusiastic about the old railway and spent two days showing me the whole route. I’ve been working on this project for about a year now,” he said.
The railway line took three years to build (1900-1903) and provided work for 700 men. On a good day the fifty mile train journey from Letterkenny to Gweedore took three and a half hours. The section to Burtonport was lifted in 1940 while the last train journey out of Letterkenny was 1947.
“There has already been much written about the trains and technology end of things over the years so I decided to concentrate on telling the stories of the people,” he said.
One of those is Bridget Doherty who is still hale and hearty in her 105th year. Another is Maggie Boyle, daughter of the train driver Hugh Boyle while the film also hears from Louis Breslin, the daughter of Charlie John McBride, the last station master in Burtonport.
John McFadden, who was born in 1938, was from a family of thirteen, They had the gatehouse at Meenderry between Cashelnagore and Falcarragh. He remembers the railway well and he also talks to Arthur for the film.
Karl Fisher is a brother of former Letterkenny councillor Victor Fisher. His family home at Rosemount was the first station house on the line and he too remembers the train.
The Letterkenny to Burtonport train departed from the old station (Letterkenny Shopping Centre) and went along the Pearse Road (Railway Road) and out to New Mills, via Bomany, through Foxhall and Glenkeeragh to Churchill.
Two great big archways remain visible where the line crosses the river Lennon before it goes past the rear of Harley’s pub in Trentagh, on to Kilmacrennan and then Barnes before going over the viaducts (where there was a derailment in 1925) and into Creeslough. From there it made its way to Falcarragh and on to Gweedore.
“There’s old arches, pillars and copings which I feel should be preserved at different places along the line. The level of skill and craftsmanship is second to none and it’s important that we remember this important part of our history.
“I hope to take the film to Burtonport and somewhere in the middle of the line, maybe Falcarragh or Creeslough in the coming months,” Mr Lynch said.
The film will be shown in the Station House Hotel on Friday, February 21, at 8pm. All welcome.

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