|Joe Thompson C.D.R. train driver at Rossnowlagh|
The section of the County Donegal Railway (C.D.R.) which ran from Ballyshannon to Donegal Town was commonly called “the wee train or the narrow gauge,” by passengers who frequented it during its lifespan in the twentieth century.This branch of the C.D.R. network began construction in 1903 and the contractors, Thomas Dixon, Surrey, had completed their construction of the line by the summer of 1905.The cost of construction was estimated at £150,000 and the work had proved challenging as the line ran through hilly drumlin countryside.The contract for the building of the station buildings and the cabins on the section of line from Ballyshannon to Donegal Town was given to Mr. Campbell of Belfast.Each station had fittings to handle cattle traffic which was expected to bring in revenue.The line ran through sparsely populated areas and was to face financial problems as passenger numbers were limited.
C.D.R. Opens in Ballyshannon 21st September 1905
The line from Ballyshannon to Donegal Town officially opened for passengers on Thursday 21st September 1905 and the journey from Ballyshannon to Donegal Town took 50 minutes. (The line had opened on the 2nd September only for livestock and goods). Mr. Elliot was appointed Stationmaster at Ballyshannon and his salary was £110 which was considered very high at the time. The Donegal Independent, a local newspaper, saw benefit in having the C.D.R. station at the top of the hill, as businesses could cart goods down the streets to their premises. This unusual benefit of the siting of the railway terminus also had a downside, as passengers returning from an excursion to Bundoran had a steep climb back up to the C.D.R. station. These visitors from down the county to the sea-side town of Bundoran had to walk acrss the bridge to the Great Northern Railway station on Station Road. They had to make two train journeys from Ballyshannon.
There were a number of halts and stations developed on the line. The train left Ballyshannon Station and travelled via, Creevy Halt, Coolmore Halt, Friary Halt, Rossnowlagh Halt, Dorrian’s Bridge Halt, Dromore Halt, Ballintra Station, Bridgetown Halt, Laghey Halt, Drumbar Halt, Hospital Halt and Donegal Town Station:
At the start, the Ballyshannon branch had the familiar three trains up and down .With motive power based at the small Ballyshannon shed, first train of the day in the summer of 1906 left at 9.15 am and was into Donegal in fifty minutes. The last train left Donegal at 7.20 pm.
Tourism, Emigration and Excursions
The railways were designed to open up isolated areas and make them accessible for goods and services. In areas where no public transport existed, the railway proved a lifeline for shopping, commuting, and getting goods transported to homes isolated from the town. The line was to prove advantageous to the growth of tourism in Rossnowlagh, as day excursions and regular services brought holidaymakers to the sandy beach resort. This was also to be a lucrative section of the line for the railway company. Locals from Ballyshannon used the train to go to Creevy and Rossnowlagh which proved to be popular places for swimming and sunbathing. The arrival of the Franciscans in Rossnowlagh was to bring additional business to the line, as churchgoers attended Masses, Sodalities and Novenas in large numbers. A special Friary Halt was opened to meet the needs of people visiting the Friary. Both railways in Ballyshannon were to speed up the emigration of people from the area as the following advertisement for the C.D.R. indicated:
The opening of the new railway to Ballyshannon affords its inhabitants several alternative services to Scotland via England.Not the least important of these is the service from Ballyshannon to Glasgow offered by the C.D.R. and Midland & Glasgow South Western Railways.To leave Ballyshannon shortly after noon and reach Glasgow at midnight is a big inducement to those who wish a speedy run. Leaving Ballyshannon at 12.15 and arriving in Derry in good time to catch the 4pm train for Larne.
A typical excursion from Ballyshannon to Killybegs in September 1908, at a return fare of 1/9 was a memorable occasion, as about 200 people boarded the train at Ballyshannon and this was increased to 400 along the route. On arrival Mass was celebrated by Rev. P. J. Brennan in Killybegs church and then visits were made to St. Catherine’s Well, The Carpet Factory, The Harbour and the Industrial School. The Ballyshannon Brass and Reed Band played selections in The Industrial School and in return the Industrial School Band played marches and waltzes. Bandsmen must have been fond of their music because on their return to Ballyshannon the band, accompanied by torch bearers, played from the station on the Donegal Road to the bandroom in The Market House. Those were the days when the community went on a holiday together!
Railway Museum in Donegal Town well worth a visit with lots of railway memorabilia.
Book available from A Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town and Local Hands Ballyshannon.
Hardback and softback book also available from the author Anthony Begley- contact firstname.lastname@example.org