On Saturday 22nd April 2023, I had the pleasure of dropping into the Railway Heritage Centre in Donegal Town. We had planned a holiday in Co. Donegal in 2020 but we were foiled by the COVID-19 lockdown. This visit was well overdue.
The Donegal Railway Heritage Centre records and celebrates “the operations of the County Donegal Railways Committee which operated two narrow-gauge railways in County Donegal from 1863 until 1959. The County Donegal Railway Restoration Society restored the centre, which opened in 1995 and is housed in the old station house in Donegal Town. Today, it operates as a visitor attraction comprising a museum, information centre and shop. On display are rolling stock, historical artefacts and an audio-visual presentation on the railways’ history.” 
Over the period of lockdown quite a lot happened at the Heritage Centre.
The most significant event was the home-coming of No. 5, ‘Drumboe’, the Co. Donegal Railway Joint Committee 2-6-4T Locomotive on 9th October 2021. This locomotive was originally built by Nasmyth, Wilson and Company  in 1907 and served on the railways of Co. Donegal until the end of 1959. Now cosmetically restored, ‘Drumboe’ has pride of place at the entrance to the Heritage Centre.
No. 5, ‘Drumboe’ in service at Barnesmore Gap in the late 1950s.  [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
‘Drumboe’ underwent an extensive restoration job in Whitehead, Co. Antrim. The locomotive is shown here at the Works prior to being returned to Donegal. 
‘Drumboe’ on its way home. 
‘ Drumboe‘ settled in its new home. It is undercover to protect it as much as possible from the elements! The text on the display board reads: Built in 1907, Nasmyth Wilson/Manchester. Drumboe’s original name was No. 17 Glenties. She was renamed in 1937 to No. 5, Drumboe. In 1907/8 the CDRIC ordered 5 new modern steam locomotives to deal with the growing traffic as the CDR network expanded. They were called the Class 5 locomotives and numbered 16-20. All of them were 2-6-4Ts: the numbers stand for the wheel arrangement and the T for tank engine. On the evening of 31 December 1959 Drumboe hauled the very last train from Stranorlar to Strabane and back as the CDR finally closed as a railway. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Preparing for Drumboe’s arrival at the Heritage Centre required a significant re-organisation of the centre’s outside exhibits. All are now protected from the worst that the elements can throw at them by a series of different roof structures. Just a few photographs from 222nd April 2023.
The Red Van in its new location: the text on its display board reads: Built in 1887, Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Company for the Clogher Valley Railway. Red Vans only transported goods. They were for lighter use, up to the capacity of 2 tons. The Clogher Valley Railway (1887-1941) was a 37 Mike long narrow-gauge railway in County Tyrone and County Fermanagh. After the closure of the Clogher Valley Railway in 1942 the County Donegal Railway (CDR) bought all the red vans. These covered vans were converted to run behind the CDR Railcars. Our red van retains its original wooden chassis from 1887 and all original metalwork. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
The Grey Van (No. 84) in its new display position: the text on its display board reads: Built in 1893, the Oldbury Carriage & Wagon Company. The grey vans were used for heavy freight up to 7 or 8 tons this could be the transport of livestock or general goods. Grey vans were normally only used in steam hauled freight trains. Our grey van 84 was built as a sliding door van.It was withdrawn in 1960 and sold off before being rescued by the NWIRS (North West Irish Railway Society) in the early 1990s. Grey Van 84 was stored in Derry where it was set on fire in the early 2000s. After the closure of the Foyle Valley Railway it was moved to Donegal town. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Coach No. 58</strong>: the text on its display board reads: Built in 1928, Coach 58 was built on a second-hand frame 41 feet and 3 inches in length. The CDR bought this coach along with two others in January 1952 from the NCC numbering them 57-59. Formerly Coach 318 became CDR 58. Coach 58 was one of the three most modern on the whole of the Irish narrow gauge lines. It came to the County Donegal Railway on the closure of the NCC (Northern County Committee) lines near Larne in 1950. Though Coach 58 was built on an original chassis from 1879, it provided modern accommodation for Donegal excursions, and later on as a railcar trailer until the railway closed. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]: the text on its display board reads: Built in 1928, Coach 58 was built on a second-hand frame 41 feet and 3 inches in length. The CDR bought this coach along with two others in January 1952 from the NCC numbering them 57-59. Formerly Coach 318 became CDR 58. Coach 58 was one of the three most modern on the whole of the Irish narrow gauge lines. It came to the County Donegal Railway on the closure of the NCC (Northern County Committee) lines near Larne in 1950. Though Coach 58 was built on an original chassis from 1879, it provided modern accommodation for Donegal excursions, and later on as a railcar trailer until the railway closed. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Railcar No.15 passenger unit: the text on the railcar body’s display board reads: Built in 1936, Walker Brothers & the Dundalk Works (GNR). Railcar 15 was the first articulated Railcar. This means that the driver’s cab was separated from the railcar body. The railcar cost £2,275, seated 41 passengers and could transport a weight of 12 tons. The County Donegal Railway pioneered the use of diesel railcars introducing the first one in 1931. The passenger unit of railcar 15 survives here at the museum, restored after a period of dereliction following the railway’s closure in 1959. Railcar 15 was withdrawn in 1960 and was sold at auction in 1961.The body of Railcar 15 was acquired by the CDRRS in 1995 and moved to Donegal Town. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
On entering the museum, which occupies the ground floor of the old passenger station building, one has the opportunity to look at an excellent model railway which depicts Donegal Town Railway Station and Inver Station. Inver Station was on the branch from Donegal Town to Killybegs. All six of the pictures immediately below were taken by me on 22nd April 2023.
As well as this working model a number of other models of railway vehicles are on static display. Just a couple of examples here. The first is a Walker Brothers Railbus, the second is Phoenix a unique diesel shunter. Both of the pictures below were taken by me on 22nd April 2023.
Phoenix was built by Atkinson-Walker Wagons Ltd of Preston in September 1928 as one of their Class A3 engines. After a short trial on the Clogher Valley Railway, it was found to be totally unsuitable. No buyer to be found and the engine lay idle at Aughnacloy coach and wagon shed until 1932. It was bought by Henry Forbes for the County Donegal Railway and converted at the Great Northern Railway’s Dundalk workshop to diesel power. It was fittingly named the “Phoenix” and worked on the County Donegal Railway till its closure in 1959. It can now be seen in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum.
The major part of the indoor space at the Heritage Centre is dedicated to a series of displays centring on the different stations on the network. Each includes a track plan and a series of photographs of the location. Carefully placed around the Centre are artifacts and railwayana from the Co. Donegal Railways.
Of particular interest to me were the track plans of the various stations on the network. Some of these are shown below. Much of the text attached to each station plan comes from the Heritage Centre’s displays …
Donegal Town Railway Station was opened in 1889 and closed in 1959 it was about 19 miles from Stranorlar. The West Donegal Railway was opened between Stranorlar and Lough Eske (Druminin) on the 25th April, 1882. From 1882 to 1889, the journey between Stranorlar and Lough Eske took some 40 minutes and then passengers transferred to horse-drawn road cars for the last four miles down into Donegal. The fare was 6 pence. The final section to Donegal town was inspected on the 9th of September 1889 and opened on the 16th of September 1889. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Killybegs Railway Station opened in 1893 and closed in 1959. The journey from Killybegs to Donegal was 19 miles. The line out to Killybegs from Donegal Town was the result of government intervention some forty years after the famine. For the promotion of the local food industries (agriculture, fishing and food processing) a good transport infrastructure was needed. Railway travellers were reminded of their arrival in Killybegs by the intense smell of the fishmeal factory when entering the town. The Killybegs line served the local communities it passed with regular passenger and freight. In summer it was often the destination for excursions from Derry and Strabane. There are many fond memories of steam-hauled specials cautiously winding their way along the Atlantic coast. There is very little evidence of the station in Killybegs in the 21st century. Killybegs is now a thriving port which has seen major redevelopment. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Stranorlar Railway Station was opened in 1863 and was due to close in 1959, however, it remained open to goods until 6th February 1960 because road improvements necessary for lorries had not been completed by 31st December 1959. It was 13 miles from Strabane. Stranorlar Station was first constructed as a branch from the GNR station at Strabane. With the construction and operation of the West Donegal Railway to Donegal Town the station became an important junction. Stranorlar was at the heart of the Co. Donegal Railway network. The extensive layout of Stranorlar reflected its key role in all of the operations of the railway and it was the headquarters for all administration and the running of the system. Skilled jobs specific to the railway were signalmen, drivers, guards and shunters. Stranorlar Station and the associated offices, depots and fitters’ shops was a major employer. Practical skills included engineering, joinery, coachbuilding, foundry work, smithies and clerical workers. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Glenties Railway Station opened in 1895 and closed in 1952. It closed to passengers in 1947 and all traffic 1952. Glenties is 24 miles from Stranorlar. I have covered the branch in two previous articles. ( https://rogerfarnworth.com/2020/05/27/co-donegal-railways-ireland-part-1-the-glenties-branch-stranorlar-to-ballinamore, and https://rogerfarnworth.com/2020/06/22/co-donegal-railways-ireland-part-2-the-glenties-branch-ballinamore-to-glenties) The line never paid its way and services were lightly used at all times though there were occasional heavy workings associated with market days. Hugging the valley floor and in company with the river and road it continued north-westwards from Stranorlar. Proceeding on through the now bleak and windswept moorland the line continued alongside Lough Finn down into Glenties Station.
I have covered the branch to Glenties in two previous articles.
Co. Donegal Railways, Ireland – Part 2 – The Glenties Branch – Ballinamore to Glenties
Letterkenny Railway Station was opened in 1909 and closed in 1959. The Strabane and Letterkenny Railway began life to promote the prosperous farmland north-west of Strabane. Letterkenny to was 19 miles. It was intended to facilitate trade and agriculture in the area of south-east Donegal north of the Finn Valley. Letterkenny was also served by the Lough Swilly Railway to Derry and Burtonport. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
I have covered the line between Strabane and Letterkenny in a series of three previous articles:
Co. Donegal Railways, Ireland – Part 4 – Strabane to Letterkenny (Part A – Strabane to Raphoe)
Co. Donegal Railways, Ireland – Part 6 – Strabane to Letterkenny (Part C – Convoy to Letterkenny)
Strabane Railway Station opened in 1863 and was due to close in 1959, however, it remained open to goods until 6th February 1960 because road improvements necessary for lorries had not been completed by 31st December 1959. Strabane was approximately 13 miles from Stranorlar. Strabane to Stranorlar was the first stretch of line in Co. Donegal. The line was built by Finn Valley Railway as 5’3″ gauge. It was re-gauged to the narrow (3′) gauge in the summer of 1894 over only one weekend to match with the rest of the Donegal network! The partition of Ireland in 1922 led to serious delays and other complications for the Railway. All of its extensive freight traffic and all passengers had to clear through customs at Lifford (Republic of Ireland) and Strabane (Northern Ireland). [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
Derry Railway Station was opened in 1900 and closed.in 1954. It was just under 15 miles from Strabane. The County Donegal Railway’s own line to Derry improved the handling of the substantial through goods traffic of imported coal from the Foyle quayside to the many customers throughout the system. This station was adjacent to the twin-deck Craigavon Bridge which, at its lower level, gave rail access to Derry’s three other railway stations and the Harbour Commissioners’ own lines. The Derry line was always steam worked for both passenger and freight services. This was to gain maximum benefit from cheaper coal in Northern Ireland and to save depleting stocks at the company’s depot at Strabane. [My photograph, 22nd April 2023]
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donegal_Railway_Heritage_Centre, accessed on 29th April 2023.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasmyth,_Gaskell_and_Company, accessed on 29th April 2023.
https://www.steamtrainsireland.com/members/galleries/56/whitehead-news-2021, accessed on 29th April 2023.
https://www.donegaldaily.com/2021/10/09/train-coming-the-beautiful-drumboe-is-on-her-way-home, accessed on 29th April 2023. From a display board alongside the loco at the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre.
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