These were the darkest days of the gloomy winter of 1941: Christmas was over and the old year would end in a few hours. It was the darkest period in the midst of the war with Nazi Germany still a disturbing threat to the world. Rumor had come a long way from Stormont in Clogher Valley that the Clogher Valley Railroad would close on New Years Eve. The edict of the Ministry of the Interior will be received in different ways. Some taxpayers in Fermanagh and Tyrone would be delighted if the tariff burden finally disappeared. The inhabitants of the valley of Clogher would have other ideas – their “ould railway” would have disappeared; an old friend, “Ahm dambut, boys it’s tarrah”, to quote the local ballad composed by EO Byrne while he was sitting at his desk at Ulster Bank in Clogher. That day, the last steam train had passed through Ballygawley at 2:55 p.m. en route to Maguiresbridge for the last time in the blackout, arrived there at 6:40 p.m. and was returning to Aughnacloy, the line’s headquarters. But even until the end, the Clogher Valley did things its own way! The line’s diesel railcar pounded through the night with the dim light from its “black” covers giving minimal light on the way ahead. Fivemiletown was reached just before midnight – end of operations but not on this line. The railcar was ignited at the Fivemiletown hub and the railcar still full of locals returned home.
Imagine the scene; the railway technically closed: still running at 12:10 am on January 1, 1942, the wagon rolled out of the station undoubtedly growling to the accents of “Auld Lang Syne” and many cheers. For the last time, the train would cross Fivemiletown’s narrow main street at its regulation speed of 4 mph, but without having to squeeze past many parked cars. There wouldn’t be a goat to block the path at the end of town that night. The goat, Maggie Coulter’s goat, frequently stood on the tracks, blocking the path of trains without caring about screams or missiles until hot coals were fired at her. The non-charity said Maggie let sit until the firefighter threw in enough charcoal to start his fire. Through the dark valley to Clogher, the railcar sped up avoiding Clogher’s Cathedral Hill and over Augher past the Creamery and along the side of the road to Ballygawley. The Clogher Valley was a roadside streetcar and spent its corporate life debating what it was. The CVR opened as a streetcar from 1887 to 1894, and then chose to become a railroad. In the distance, passengers could see Ballygawley station as the railcar approached, fog signals (detonators) went off to greet their arrival, although some were so old that they did not explode. And that was it; the railcar roared towards Aughnacloy and oblivion. A new year, a new era: the end of the line.
Sale of the Century
At Easter, everything was for sale: 40 miles of track, the lot! – actually 600 lots. What a sale! Buses were taking bidders from as far away as Belfast to buy anything from ties, locomotives to 16 Windsor chairs in Aughnacloy’s boardroom at Â£ 2-15-0 each (Â£ 2.75). The biggest buyer was County Donegal Railways which paid Â£ 4,553 -15-0 for everything from diesel wagons, 18 wagons and 20,000 ties. The seven locomotives were all scrapped starting at Â£ 115 each. Legal affairs dragged on until 1944, when the land, transit pavilions and stations were sold.
80 years later
The Clogher Valley Railway may be long gone but is not forgotten, after all, it created the Clogher Valley as a whole. The stations of Clogher Valley are still silent sentries of the Victorian era. Fivemiletown Station is still prominently visible as a red brick oasis on the outskirts of town. The Augher station, next to the creamery and the village square, is still a public building used as a cafÃ©. Ballygawley Station is still visible as you approach the roundabout, although its red brick is now hidden. These are probably the best known stations visible from the A4 in Belfast. Clogher Station is a gem although less obvious as the railroad bypassed Clogher Hill, but if you take the B83 you will find it in all its glory. Aughnacloy, the headquarters of the line, still exists – the conference hall is now the Masonic hall and Tynan, the terminus is still there. In Fermanagh, the gem is Brookeborough Station restored by Brookeborough and District Community Development Association. Brookeborough even upgraded some tracks, a streetcar-style car and a cattle car. The small Colebrooke train station built for the Brooke family is now a private home. Sir Basil Brooke was chairman of the CVR management committee 1929-41, and of course Prime Minister of Northern Ireland 1943-63 as Lord Brookeborough. The line ended at Maguiresbridge where the CVR shared the station site with the Great Northern Railway, but little remains, due to recent development.
The CVR Railcar operated on the County Donegal Railways, until it closed at the end of 1959, as Railcar 10 and is fortunately kept in its Donegal guise at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Perhaps the authorities could be persuaded to repaint the Railcar 10 in its Clogher Valley Railway brown colors with a white roof? Armagh Museum features an exhibit of Clogher Valley artifacts and a visit to the Headhunters Railway Museum in Darling Street, Enniskillen will take you back to the railroad era with its many exhibits of Great Northern, Sligo Leitrim and Clogher Valley Railwayana and memories. For a detailed history of CVR, Dr. EM Patterson’s book is recommended.
In many ways much of the spirit of the Clogher Valley Railroad has survived as this article has tried to catalog it, but what have we lost? Gone are the seven locomotives with their tram skirts to hide their movement like Victorian ladies hiding their legs under long skirts. Gone are the features of the “Wild West” of the railroad – engines with cow traps, ringing bells and quaint verandahs at the end of the cars. No more winding tours to Bangor from Brookeborough taking four hours for just 5s 6 days on an August bank holiday. Gone are the huge July 12 specials where every car on the line was used as well as specially cleaned and seated cattle trucks with benches for the day. Gone are the huge pork specialties, with their distinctive pungent scent that adds to the atmosphere of Fivemiletown Main Street. Gone is also the chaos that the trains have added to the narrow street without a goat, without everything …