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Small sheep, sectarian songs, teenagers and the Gaeltacht

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So there was to be a new station at Portadown, replacing the old GNR one, which was still in use but just about. It was about 1969 / 1970. NIR were building a brand new concrete box; any contemporary communist state leader would have been proud of its clean straight lines and right angles, its plain grey exterior concrete brick walls, and its plain grey interior concrete brick walls. Minimalistic 1970's concrete-box architecture; glad that its latest incarnation sweeps much of that away. Between 1970 and the present, Portadown must have been the ugliest station in Ireland.


The new station was to be called "Craigavon West" after a ficitious "city" planned by politicians, civil servants and 1970 town planners; as dubiously qualified a bunch of people to arrange where people lived as there could be. I am not sure what they had planned as Cragavon East; maybe Lurgan? It never came to be, but they did obliterate without trace (bar part of one platform) the old GNR station.


Off to see my school friend who lived in Waringstown, not far away from Lurgan. The train was a dilapidated graffiti-strewn AEC railcar set. The graffiti was internal, rather than the external work of retarded "artists" which adorns just about everything in certain areas of certain cities today. The subject matter related (delicately put!) to expressions of intent to obliterate certain sections of the community; there were some invoking victories in battles some three hundred years earlier, and others inviting the listener to indulge in various activities aimed at subverting normal society.


Nice stuff; now they have tours of this "graffiti" in Belfast for tourists! Plus ca change....


The AEC set was overheating and a smell of diesel filled the cab. I was in what had been the old first class, but the driver had the blinds pulled down so that I couldn't get a decent view ahead, which was a beneficial feature of a schoolboy sneaking into the first class in recent times. For some reason, right towards the end of AEC operation I used to find these blinds down more often than not. Maybe the driver just saw me coming.


A good afternoon was spent with my school friend, and I was put back on the train by his grandfather about 8pm that night. I sat on my own in a carriage with nobody in it but me. It was approaching the end of the school year; summer was upon us. It was a lovely warm evening.


Just before the train departed, four young men (as it seemed; they might have been 16 - 20) appeared in the seating bay opposite. They had a staggering amount of "carry out" beer cans, and were already enthusiastically guzzling them. They were in high spirits. The conductor appeared, clipped their Edmondson card tickets, looked at my school travel pass, and disappeared - not to appear again.


My travelling companions started singing. Their initial song was one I knew; it is well known in the north. It commemorates certain events in history. Even at the age of 11 / 12 / 13 or whatever I was, this seemed intimidating. One of my companions stood up on the seat, roaring it out.


The concert proceeded, with the listener regaled with expressions of support for past events liberally interspersed with exhortatations of battle cries against, let us say, those born into different communities, or in Portadown-speak, themmuns that kick with th'other fut!


Whew. Lisburn. Off the train. I often wondered where they had been, or where they were going; and why the train guard left them alone....


In Lisburn a rake of loaded wooden ballast wagons sat in the back road. Tommorrow, presumably, a "Jeep" would pick them up for ballasting.


Not long later, I was on one of my early CIE Rambler tickets. I decided to take a spin to Tralee. Senior had provided me with a note of the numbers of carriages designed by a past relative at Inchicore. Such vehicles were now rare, but a few were still in traffic. Sure enough, I spotted two at Heuston Station right at one end of a train which I soon discovered was the Tralee train. They were numbered in the 13XX series; "Bredins". That'll do me, thought I; and boarded one. It looked a bit tatty - in fact I found out later that it did not remain in traffic much after this, but what had happened was that the train had been strengthened for reasons which will become apparent. Up front was an "A"; ten or eleven bogies and a couple of tin vans were no big deal for GM's finest.


The "Bredins" were right behind the locomotive, thus most passengers boarded at the far end. So we left Heuston with few passengers in my carriage. Maybe the others were afraid I'd start singing the songs I had learned on the AEC. As we swept up past Inchicore, a derelict "D" and two "G"'s were visible. I took a picture out of the window quickly as I hadn't seen a "D" before, and I still have it, though it is dark and poorly exposed.


As I sat there, a very elderly man appeared and asked me was there anyone sitting opposite me, and would I mind if he sat there. No problem.


Down he sat, and proceeded to slurp his false teeth about in his mouth, and settled himself. He said nothing until we were going through the Curragh. I noticed his trousers were held up with a "belt" made of baler twine. He appeared to be of a distinctly rural disposition.


Eventually, as we sped through the Curragh, the noise of an "A" at speed as background music through the open window, he finally spoke. His accent was as rural as, well, something that ye do be seeing in de fields, d'ye know, down the shtix.


"Ye see them sheep?" sez he.




"D'ye know dem sheep are special sheep?"


"Eh, no"


"Yeah, dem's special sheep, a special breed. They're smaller than normal sheep."




"Yeah, dey are a special breed, ye only get dem in de Curragh"


"Oh... I didn't know that"


Whereupon he gazed (longingly?) at them, and drifted off to sleep.


About Port Laoise, off he got, having uttered no more. I was alone again. The day was sunny, and I moved over to the other side of the carriage so that I could see trains passing me on the up road. I remember a goods train of loose coupled "H" vans, and another "A" ahead of a string of coaches, most of which were Park Royals. There can't have been more than 2 or 3 other people in my carriage, and I hadn't even started singing yet.


Into Thurles, and the platform was absolutely thronged. Jammed solid. The carriage door opened and an avalanche of young ladies, all aged I'd say 15-18 started pouring in. Soon every seat in the coach was taken and more; in the seating bay opposite me one was sitting on the table with her four friends in the seats either side of her, and another three surrounding me. The decibel level obliterated the "A" class music through then window. Never before had this distinguished old carriage carted so many teenage female hormones about the place, I could sense it saying.


Some were talking in English, some in Irish. They were on their way to one of the "Gaeltacht" summe schools in Ventry, Co Kerry, one of them told me. Buses would await them at Tralee. Probably every bus in Counties Limerick, Kerry and Cork, I thought. There were over 150 of them in the train, I was told. The older ones were allowed to sit on their own, and the younger ones (more my age!) were under supervision in the next coach.


It occurs to me now, some 40 years later, how these elderly carriages had their last swansong in this way, with a crowd of exuberant, excited teenagers cramming their faded doors and dark red GSR upholstery, in the Swinging Seventies; a far cultural cry from the conservative Thirties when they entered service behind "Maedb" on the very same line.


At Tralee, I left them, and retreated to the peace and quiet of the old T & D station, and the erstwhile Basin Halt, which still had a T & D "No Trespass" notice.


The way home was more orderly. A cab run in 135 to Mallow, and a laminate diner with a steak dinner en route back to Dublin.


This day last week I was in an ICR, (or is it an iPad? I can never be sure) speeding through the Curragh. The sheep still look the same to me as any others.

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The Curragh brings back some evocative memories for me

In the mid 70's I was there for a month as part of my Cartographical projects

We had to survey and map the old military barracks and some of the outlying buildings including "Donnollys Hollow"

One of my jobs was to run a Tacky Traverse in from the nearby Hill of Allen

We had a battered Mk 2 Land Rover and a tank full of Diesel and all the plains of the Curragh as our workplace

We chased many of the a fore mentioned sheep for miles in our Mk 2

Always remember one of the lads in the crew telling us about his grandfathers words of advice before he went to the Curragh

"I was in The Curragh during "The Emergency"

One small bit of advice

Best way to (make love) {not the words he used, they had more in common with cycling} to a sheep, son

Get her on her back

Then you can kiss hes as well"

Took the 3 of us about a half hour to get the Mk 2 out of the ditch.....................

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The "Bredins" were right behind the locomotive, thus most passengers boarded at the far end.


It was always my habit to sit at the back of the third carriage, when boarding at Heuston - that way, you get a less crowded carriage and you're next to the bridge steps if it's raining when you get to Ballybrophy.

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My first holiday away from home on my own so to speak and long distance rail journey was on a crowded Heuston Tralee joiney by a very talkative Kerryman just off the Mailboat on holidays from over beyont and a rather attractive girl and a friend who joined at Thurles.


The craic was mighty our friend from the Kingdom got off at Killarney and arrangements made to meet up with the girls later in Anascaul, but I got caught up gricing thee North Kerry and missed my chance. It was another year before I got to Anascaul and the girl and her friend had gone:(.


The nearest to JHBs experience with the Gaeltori was in an elderly Southern Region EMU on the North Kent from Chatham to London Bridge a group of girls singing their hearts out in a very tunefull way.

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Ahh, Mayner, a missed opportunity in Annascaul! You could have developed a Kerry accent............



Nearly did one of my best mates was from Sneem had to interprate for him and a Meath man in a Dunlaoire chipper.


Reminds me of years later I was on official business investigating safety complaints in the Kingdom which took me to Kenmare .


I went into the post office to ask for directions the post master in typical Kerry fashion answered my question with another question "Arruu from Tralee?" He broke down on hearing I was from Dublin and started volunteering information about accidents left right and centre.


This was in mid-winter I had taken "herself" along the we did the Ring of Kerry and could not see a thing between the fog and the dark, griced the remains remains of the Valentia line the following morning, the Reeks had a dusting of snow before doing something vaguely related to work in Killorglin.


Happy days;)

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Indeed.... first time I was in that neck of the woods by road, we also did the Ring of K; and in the same fashion it was dusted with snow - and it was October!


Talking of Annascaul, I was on a runabout ticket (as usual) some years earlier. The bus stopped in Annascaul, and it was raining hard. The driver went into the pub which was also the local agent for CIE, to collect whatever parcels there were. No sign of him after a while, and I was bursting for the loo. I decided to risk getting off the bus (which had only one or two other people in it), and as I passed the bar, there was the driver sitting up on a bar stool with a mug of tea!


On my return, as I passed the bar, a large American had just approached the bar and was telling the bus driver and the girl behind the bar that he was American (surprise!) and his ancestors came from Kerry, so he had come home to check out his roots! The girl asked him if his people were from the immediate area. "I'm not sure", he said, "but they must be, it's so beautiful and they always said how beautiful it was".




The girl asked him what name his relatives had.



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