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Twilight of the GNR

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jhb171achill
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Back in the dim, cobweb-strewn, Guinness-soaked recesses of what passes as a functioning organ between my ears, the GNR lies in twlight zone. Late flurries of excitement with brown carriages whisked by huge 4.4.0s between Dublin and points north; gleaming navy and cream railcars, with view out front from first class, sunny days in Howth, and old stations in places where sentences end with "hi" being slowly demolished, as new UTA buses await long suffering trade outside.

 

Probably the earliest journey I remember involved boarding the "Enterprise" at Great Victoria Street en route to Conno...AMIENS Street. I sat back in the plushly upholstered seat, admiring the armrests, and sensing that if I wanted to I could fall asleep there. I must declare an interest here: due to the occupation of jhb171 Senior, we travelled first class everywhere. Senior, when divested of us children, generally travelled on the footplate when on business, and first class when not.

 

But here we were. I thought the carriage was very dark inside, and I asked when we could switch on the lights. I was told we would not need to - this was bizarre. In the house, if it's dark, you switch on the lights. But not in a train? As those in the west about to lose their railways might have put it, "that's bad oul craic, hi"! (As quoted from a friend of mine who is from the City of LondonCulchie).

 

Senior disappeared for a moment, having seated myself ans Sister-The-Eldest in our compartment. There were bits of paper above our heads. Who was I to know that all this grown-up writing said "G N R Reserved Seat". Before too much consternation set in, he reappeared with a chocolate bar and a comic. Both were split between us. And so began my affiliation with eating good things on trains. Now, it's sweaty indigestible scones, then it was proper, pure, purple-wrapped Chocolate. On RPSI trains, the world's only superior experience is possible: Guinness.

 

And as we left Great Victoria Street, it suddenly became light. We had moved out from the gloom of a soot-encrusted overall roof. All was light, airy and sunny, as coal smoke drifted through the window. Up front was a "Vs", but I didn't know that. All I knew was that the train smelled like the coal stove in our kitchen.

 

Portadown. I remember it - the old station. Huge, busy, trains coming and going from weird and distant exotic places like Dungannon or Omagh. Were there rabbits in Warrenpoint? How can a Warren be Pointy? The inventive imagination of a child is the same one that fuels most of our interest in model railways.

 

I remember looking down from Bessbrook viaduct and being shown a path below. This is still in situ, but so overgrown it cannot be readily seen from atop the viaduct. It is, and was, the route of the Bessbrook tramway.

 

I must have slept. But at least I can say that I remember the Enterprise in the days of blue and brown and steam.

 

Not all in Amiens Street was thus. A day out in Howth - sunny again, wasn't it always? Apart from playing on my great-aunt's lawn, I could see out of the front of one of these navy and cream things. The next time I would travel on one, I would be impressed by brand new black and tan paintwork. The driver seemed to move a little handle. This was not the same as what Senior did: he propelled the family car with his feet, not his hands. Interesting, that. Howth came into view and seagulls arrived to welcome us. Maybe they wanted a last look at an AEC before it became part of the CIE family. We were the only people in the first class part. I think the rest of the train was bunged, as it was a perfect day for the seaside. Maybe I slept again as I don't remember the journey back.

 

It was not always to be. The Indian Summer of the GNR had run its course. Not long afterwards, I stood on the platform of Hillsborough Station in Co Down; the black and white image of me frozen in time in a frame on a window ledge above where I am typing this. I am in a winter coat, well wrapped up for the chill of winter, the chill of 1960's political and economic thinking: railways are old, outdated and redundant. The track has been lifted, but the station still has the standard GNR "STATION MASTER" cast iron sign on the door behind me. I have a vague and dim memory of my mother holding me up at the same spot a short time earlier, to tell me that Senior is aboard a black smoky train slowly drawing through.

 

It was the lifting train.

 

The chill stalked the sixties, as one by one, weed grown closed stations lost their track and rumours abounded of more closures. The words on the lips of enthusiasts at gatherings were not so much "Have ye seen the latest ICR at the Hatch?", as "I hear that Ballygobackwards is next for closure".

 

A visit to Dungannon and Strabane about 1966 confirmed this. I have memories of seeing this twilight, surreal image of both places with signal equipment lying on the ground, well-maintained station buildings, platform canopies and (at Dungannon) even a full signal, signal cabins, goods stores, vehicles on goods platforms and footbridges, all awaiting the next train - only there were no people and no track.

 

The busy GNR, of blue, brown and steam, had been shot by poachers and was slowly dying on its feet.

 

Recently, at Whitehead, one of the RPSI's youngest volunteers obtained a highly prized award for his exemplary work on the restoration of the GN's No. 85.

 

The past is the past: The King is Dead. Long live the King!

 

The GNR's spirit survives and flourishes.

Edited by jhb171achill
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  • 3 years later...
Senior had fascinating stories of travelling by narrow gauge to Bessbrook, Burtonport, Schull and Castlegregory....

 

Mmm..bit of a soft spot for the narrow gauge..and one for the GNR..the thought of the VS snorting and puffing by gets the modelling mojo running again!:trains:

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Yes..... the GNR being virtually all steam and wooden carriages right up to its demise in 1958 always draws my interest.....

 

indeed...but its history is very interesting too.

As much as i love CIE steam, its not as attractive as the GNR with its graceful, yet powerful 4-4-0s with their blue livery..

although CIE green looks excellent, espiecally on the 800s

I've never seen a colour photo of the 400s or 500s in green though..

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I was listening to my uncle last week , describe how as a boy he would rush to Waterford station to see the double headed boat trains from mallow. We have missed a lot unfortunately, it can be depressing at times modelling railways

 

I would have loved to see that myself..

The other thing I'd like to have seen is the double, or even triple heading out of at kilbarry, along with an 800 defieing Irish train logic..

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