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Down from Claremorris on the last train

The Irish Times (April 5th 1976)

Michael Finlan - Western Notebook

AFTER 80 YEARS, the two passenger trains from Claremorris, Co Mayo, and Limerick met for the last time in Athenry Junction on Saturday, fixing a moment in time forever to be looked back on through the mists of nostalgia.

It was the end of the old Claremorris-Limerick passenger run and from now there will be no trains to south on the western seaboard. You can only go in the direction of Dublin, and therein lies a message of some kind.

There was a sense of sad occasion on the last day and people who ordinarily would never go near a train got aboard the two trains that left Limerick and Claremorris at about the same time, to share the experience of utter finality. Many avid railway enthusiasts from as far away as England, loaded down with notebooks, cameras, stopwatches and technical manuals, also came along for the final jaunt. They would pass through towns such as Tuam and Gort that may never see a passenger train again.

I got aboard just before the 3 o'clock departure time from Platform 2 in Claremorris. This town is now the only rail junction in Mayo; further north on the Ballina line, Manulla Junction was closed, along with Bellavary and Foxford, in CIE's massive dismantling operation during the '60s. The line from Claremorris to Sligo was also neutered at that time. The five platforms at Claremorris seem awfully redundant now.

Hugh Dawson, a veteran from the days of steam, was the driver, Des Kelly the guard, and Jimmy Reilly the ticket checker. Hugh and Des are being kept on, but Saturday was Jimmy's last day after 29 years on the job. They're letting him go at the age of 58, an awkward time for any man to be looking for work, with the sparse days that are in it.

But Jimmy was a cheerful as the first day he ever rode the lines down to Athenry and he played with the kids and let everyone keep their tickets as souvenirs. "I'll be taking a rest for a while now," he said.

Richard Wall, from Dublin, was only one of the many members of the Irish Railway Record Society on board the last train. "I'm sad to see this line go," he said. "There has been a lot of protest from people since it was announced that it was to be closed, but the people didn't support it when they had a chance to, and if they had, this line would continue to live."

It is hard to credit, but it is true that back before the turn of the century, there were two railway stations in Claremorris. The present station originally belonged to the Midland Great Western, and just a mile south was the station of the Great Southern line, which we passed through on the way out.

The railway buffs knew every level crossing from there on down to Athenry - Lisduff, Avenue, Cloonrane, Ilaun, Drim, Kilerneen, Liskeavy. Fartamore, Brooklawn, Kilbannon. And every dead station - Ballindine, Milltown, Castlegrove.

When we pulled into Athenry, Richard Wall told me: "This is history now. You will see here four trains together for the last time in this spot."We crossed the bridge to the platform where the train from Limerick was waiting to take us back to Claremorris. Then the two old warriors shunted slowly down the tracks in opposite directions, moving from the main lines to sidings, to make way for their betters &endash; the mail train from Galway on its way to Dublin and the 1.05 heading for Galway. These two VIPs loaded and unloaded and hurried on their way, heedless of the brief moment of history. The two underlings crept back onto the main tracks, ready to finish their final journey.

Ours was the first to head out at 4.17. The train going to Limerick would leave a few minutes later, down through the dead stations of Craughwell, Ardrahan, Kiltartan and Crusheen, and the barely living ones of Gort and Ennis.

On the way back, we stopped briefly at Ballyglunin, which still has a faint pulse of life (they shot the train sequences for "The Quiet Man" there in 1950). As we moved out of Ballyglunin, the iron wheels rolled over the detonators that had been set into the tracks and six loud bangs were heard, a farewell volley like shots over a grave.

There was a big gathering of townspeople waiting on the platform in Tuam. They swarmed around the locomotive to shake the hand of driver Hugh Dawson. They wouldn't be seeing him or his train again. The train lingered longer than usual, and finally, when it began to roll away on the last leg to Claremorris, it was again saluted by a volley of detonators.

At 5.15 we pulled into Claremorris beside the big Westport train from Dublin.The Limerick-Claremorris line was opened in 1894 and even though freight trains will still roll along it, you could say that it died last Saturday.