Background information

Achill's Railway Station - In History and Story
Maeve McNamara, Caroline Cowley, Emma Dever, Thomas Johnston and Hessel Van Goor

On the right-hand side as you near the bridge to enter Achill Island, will be found the old railway station, which was built, in 1886. During its service to the island, it saw two tragedies. The first was in 1894, in which thirty-two people lost their lives when the boat they were on capsized near Westport Harbour (the Quays). They were on their way to Scotland to work in the bothies (which are also known as potato fields). This tragedy is known as the Clew Bay Disaster. Tragedy struck again in 1937 when 10 boys were burnt to death, as they lay asleep in their quarters in Scotland. They too were spending their time in the bothies when they went to their doom. There were no survivors. There was many a sad heart on the island during that period of mourning. They also are buried with the Clew Bay victims in Kildownet cemetery.

Notes in Mayo News February 1st 1891

Mr. Mc Nulty said some roads in Achill were in a disgraceful condition. He went on to say that before anything else was done, the roads should be repaired properly and if the bad sections were unknown to Mr Dempsy, he would show them to him.

In 1893, therefore, it was decided to extend the Dublin - Westport line to Achill and construction began that year. The first section of the line (Westport - Newport) was opened on February 1st 1894 and the Newport - Mulranny section was opened on August 1st. The last section, Mulranny - Achill Sound, was not opened until May 13th of the Following year 1895, although the first train to run on the tracks ran a year earlier, carrying the bodies of the Clew Bay Disaster. Notice in the Mayo News Saturday May 11th 1895.

On Monday next, the M.G.W.R. open the railway extension to Achill and the event will mark a new era in the history of that out of the way island.There is little doubt that the value of all kinds of stock raised by the poor people will be considerably increased by being thus placed in touch with the outer world and the line will also be availed of by tourists in search of secluded and healthful resort in which to spend their summer holidays.It is hoped the M.G.W.R. will frequent Sunday excursions to the island " (quotation).

An advert offered in the Mayo News of June 15th 1895 stating that there was to be excursion from Castlerea to Achill on Sunday 23rd . It was to leave Castlerea at 3a.m. At the cost of 7 shillings first class and 4 shillings 3rd class arriving in Westport at 9.57 and in Achill at 11.10. Price from Westport to Achill was 3/6 first class and 2/- 3rd class .

They sat up all night, wide awake and full of energy. After all this was their last night on the island for a long time. The sky was pure black and glittering with stars. Eibhlin sighed and almost wished that she was'nt leaving Achill tomorrow morning. It seemed to be a family tradition. First, her elder brother Micheal had taken the train from Achill railway station to Dublin and from there to America on the boat. Then two years later, Eibhlin's sister Niamh followed and now it was her turn along with her twin brother Sean. Jobs were scarce in Achill at that time and Eibhlin felt that the only way to make a living was to emigrate. She remembered how she how she had comforted her grandmother who wept at the thought of her leaving. She sat in the old wooden chair begging her not to leave but Eibhlin explained that she had no choice. Eventually the old woman gave in and handed over her best shawl and old leather- bound bible to her grandaughter. Tomorrow Eibhlin and Sean would leave Cloughmore pier for Westport Quay where they would board a liner for America. Just the thought of it made Eibhlins stomach fill with butterflies. Eventually sleep overwhlemed her and she could'nt help but close her eyes. The next morning Eibhlin was woken up by the impatient calls of her mother. It was barely light and a draught of cold air blew through the room. She picked up her bag and made sure that nothing was missing- her grandmothers old bible and shawl, an extra skirt and blouse, brown scones that her mother had made, her brother Micheal's address in America, a small purse of coins and a woolen blanket. These were Eibhlins only possessions in the whole world. When it was time to leave, Eibhlin hugged her mother and promised to take good care of herself. Ater saying a tearful good bye to her father and younger sister Maeibh, Eibhlin kissed her grandmother on the cheek and left the small cottage for the last time. A group of young people gathered outside the cottage door waiting impatiently for Sean and Eibhlin. Neighbours came out and wished the group good luck in their travels. Eibhlin pulled her shawl tightly around her and began walking towards Cloughmore pier. She pointed out Grainne Uaile's old stone castle to Sean and confessed that she almost felt like the pirate queen, ready for a long voyage out to sea. The boat wasn't as big or spacious as Eibhlin had imagined. It's huge white sail billowed in the breeze and there was no space to sit down. There was an excited buzz of conversation from the young people as they discussed how big the liner would be and what they were going to do when they reached America. Eibhlin guessed that there was about 25 people on board. She took one last look at the Achill landscape. The bog had turned a deep orange colour and the rocky hills were dotted with white-washed cottages and mountain sheep. Eibhlin sighed and felt homesick already. She tried to imagine her journey ahead as the small boat sailed past the beaches of Achillbeag island, the steep cliffs of Currane and into the middle of Clew Bay. Eibhlin noticed that the train had just pulled into Mulranny railway station as she could see its headlights. She imagined her older siblings heading off to America on that same train. Time passed quickly and the boat began to manoeuver between the Clew Bay islands. Finally the lights of fishing boats and the harbour came into view. An excited buzz filled the small boat. Suddenly the boat jolted around revealing the magnificent liner full of emmigrants to the Achill group. The boat tilted to one side as everyone rushed to the middle of the boat to catch a glimpse of the liner. The skipper, with a worried frown on his face, shouted that everyone must return to their places. But in their excitement the commands were not heard and the boat tilted over to one side spilling out the Achill group into the cold water. Eibhlin was swept up by the screamimg crowd and tossed overboard. The icy coldness of the sea made her gasp for breath and she grabbed on to the stern of the overturned boat. Desperately she glanced around hoping to catch a glimpse of Sean. She watch helplessly as her friends struggled for air and were swallowed down by the cruel sea. Still there was no sign of Sean. That was all Eibhlin could remember. Then she saw a light and several people standing over her. Eibhlin coughed water out of her lungs and a sailor tried to explain to her that Sean had drowned along with most of her friends. She stared back in disbelief. The crowd that had gathered around the moved away awkwardly and mumbled that she was lucky to be alive. (Recollection of the Clew Bay Disaster by Caroline Cowley)

Timetable of Achill Trains taken from The Mayo News April 11th 1936
On and from Monday 20th April the train service will be resumed from Westport to Achill.


Closing the Achill Railway
In the 1930s, as the roads improved and cars became more common, trains became less popular, and Midland Great Western Railways began to discuss closing down the Westport - Achill line. In 1934 the passenger service was closed, although it was reopened temporarily 1936 while road repairs were in progress. Freight trains continued to run until 1937. In 1937, when the Kirkintilloch Disaster claimed 10 Achill victims, train again took the bodies' home.

Tragedy struck Achill again in 1937, people on the island received the news of the fire in Scotland and they were shocked when they heard that 10 Achill boys were burned to death in a place in Scotland called Kirchintilloch. It had been there first year working away, they too, like the pervious disaster were going to work in bothies. While 10 young boys lay asleep the place caught fire, they made several attempts to get out but to no avail...

Smoke filled the Bothie (the cow barn), the straw in their beds having caught fire, the men workers slept unaware, resting their bones after a long day of potato picking and would start again early (4am) the following day. The noise of the fire startled the sleepers and the fear-full men made a desperate effort to escape but discovered that the doors were locked. Hands clawed at windows - too high and too small to escape from. However when the women saw that men's Bothy had caught fire, they hysterically assembled outside the burning Bothy calling the names of family members trapped inside. They watched the fire brigade doing their best to quench the raging flames of the fire, and knelt in prayer for their loved ones trapped in the burning inferno. A temporary shelter, set up to house the bodies, was filled with the mournful laments for the ten young men who were killed by the fire. The family and friends leaned against each other, comforting one another and trying to reason and accept what had just happened. The compassionate priest went around the group consoling them and also a few volunteers donated clothes, food and money in order to make these people who had lost more than material goods more comfortable. They also made an effort to console them as best they could. On the following day, the corpses were laid in the coffins. The coffins were very basic, as times were poor, they were carried by friends and relatives along the streets, lined with the townsfolk dressed in black with their heads lowered in respect for the ten young men who had died and for those who suffered their loss. A large crowd had gathered at the railway station in Dublin awaiting the train which was to carry corpses, their families, relatives and neighbours…. This sad cargo was destined Achill Island and the final resting place of the young men…. Kildownet cemetery. When the train pulled in to Achill Sound station the people gathered round and joined in prayer, hoping their prayers would ease the pain and suffering of their neighbours. When the coffins were carried off the train the gathering of people separated to form a path of loneliness and tears to the church for the requiem mass. A large Celtic, interlaced cross stands over their grave in Kildownet cemetery which marks a dark period in the history of Achill and will remain a heavy and dark memory in the minds of the people.

The last train into Achill carried these bodies thus the Prophecy - as spoken by Brain Rua O'Cearbhain was fulfiled " carriage on the iron wheels emitting smoke and fire will carry dead bodies to Achill". (Maeve McNamara)

The railway line was built with the intention of making the island more accessible; improving tourism and increasing exports. However, it also caused many other improvements. It created employment, in the construction and maintenance of the railways, work in the station etc. It enabled emigrants to travel more easily, including the laborers who did seasonal work in Scotland, who traveled to Dublin on special trains known as "harvesters". It made importing good easier, improved the postal services greatly and by making the island more accessible, created spin-off industries. Now, the station and the large site on which it stood are owned privately. After the line was closed, the railway lines themselves were removed and sold. A few years ago the main building was modernized and converted into the Railway hostel.

(This is compiled and presented by Maeve McNamara, Caroline Cowley, Emma Dever, Thomas Johnston and Hessel Van Goor)

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