“Left arm, right leg, isn’t it?”
My uncle Hughie is joking with me as we get in step to make our way out of Pluck station.
“Give that man a wave there,” I call as the camera records us heading out the gate.
“BURTONPORT!” my uncle declares. He points to the road ahead as we chat and laugh our way down the road.
“You’re not going to walk the whole way into the town,” he whispers as we get out of reach of the recording camera.
“I’ll drop you in as far as the Port Bridge and you can walk the rest.”
The recording is up on an old Facebook account I made a decade ago. It’s called ‘Walk the line’. I can still hear his voice as he enjoys the craic.
Pluck was where he was reared and this was his local train station when he was a boy growing up in Rossbracken.
That morning before we started the walk he took me on a tour of where he grew up. We looked at the old homestead where his granny Hannah O’Donnell lived and where after her husband Hughie died she reared her three children, thanks to the work she got as a cleaner at Pluck and Manorcunningham Station.
Her grandson Pat got a job in Letterkenny Station doing the same work – cleaning and getting the buses ready for the road.
Sadly my uncle Hughie passed away in recent years. He was the last of that generation of the McDaids. Thankfully the ‘Walk the line’ idea meant we got to do something together that week which we might never have done.
If you look at the opening of any doorway and add a half dozen inches you have the distance between the narrow gauge railway lines that carried the old Lough Swilly Railway line over the 99 miles of railway track throughout Donegal.
There’s been a lot of talk recently on the possibility of the railway making its way back to Donegal.
Some of the more remote parts of Donegal that once had railways will be up for discussion in the coming weeks as Donegal County Council invites the public to have their say on the greenways that run in parts on the old Letterkenny to Burtonport railway line. (I have included the details of the council’s consultation event at the bottom of this write up).
A decade ago I went in search of the old railway line and walked the line from Derry through Letterkenny and right on to the end of the line in Burtonport. It’s hard to believe that ten years since I embarked on this journey. It was something I had always wanted to do for years.
I’ve been the roads by car, always watching out for old gate houses, cuttings through hill sides and embankments, and all those amazing bridges that the railway built with beautiful hand cut stone. There are the remains of famous viaducts, right down to the old gate posts and iron gates that still sit along the road way long after the train has departed.
It was fifty miles from Letterkenny to Burtonport by train and the journey included sixteen stations and 24 gate houses.
Sadly a good few of the people that lived as children in railway houses or worked on the trains that I was very privileged to have met on my journey have over the last ten years sadly passed on. People like Eileen Sweeney, Burtonport, Eddie Carr, Cresslough, Hugh Conaghan, Newtowncunningham to name but a few.
They all told us great stories of the train in its heyday heading from Burtonport to Letterkenny right through to Derry.
It’s 120 years ago on March 7th since the extension line opened between Letterkenny and Burtonport in 1903. The last train ran on it in 1947.
People like John Buchanan and Victor Fisher gave me great wee nuggets of knowledge on the workings of the trains.
John had a wealth on information on the railway and all the landmarks near his home in Newtowncunningham.
Victor lived in the very first gate house on the line along what now is known as the Pearse Road in Letterkenny. He told stories of himself and his brothers and sisters following the train up the line to gather coal for the fire in their home. The coal had fallen off the train from the bunker which was loaded for the long journey to Burtonport.
In more recent times local groups along the route have cleared parts of the old track which ran through some of the most beautiful parts of Donegal, and developed it into a greenway.
Groups in Burtonport, Falcarragh Cresslough and Termon have carried out some great work to clear the line for new greenways which allow members of the public to take healthy walks and also learn a bit about the railway that was a big part of people’s lives in west Donegal.
The older part of this railway is the line that ran from Derry to Letterkenny arriving in town in 1883. That part of the track is a bit harder to find now but you still will see the odd gatehouse and Station House is still standing.
Happy motoring folks.
A chance to have your say Have your say on the Letterkenny to Burtonport Greenway
Residents living along the proposed Letterkenny to Burtonport Greenway route, as well as other interested parties, have been invited to take part in a consultation event that will help to shape the future of the project.
Donegal County Council with the support of Transport Infrastructure Ireland is behind the project and wants input from everyone as this is the first non-statutory public consultation event of its kind for this particular venture.
The project is currently at Phase 1 (Concept – Feasibility), which includes the identification of a project study area and the key constraints and opportunities located within.
The purpose of this public consultation is to inform the public of the project and to invite feedback on the project study area, the constraints and opportunities located within and any other features that the design team should consider.
To facilitate this, two in-person public consultation events will take place next week in Letterkenny and Dungloe as follows:
Tuesday, March 28th: 2pm-8pm at the Letterkenny Public Service Centre,
Wednesday, March 29th: 2pm-8pm at the Dungloe Public Service Centre,
After the conclusion of the in-person consultation events above, public displays will be made available for a period of two weeks until Friday, April 14th at the foyer of the same venues between 9am and 4.30pm as well as at An Craoibhin Community Enterprise Centre, Termon between 8am and 6pm.
This will last for a week, Monday–Friday inclusive, at all three venues.
Main photo: Two old gates in Glenswilly, along the old railway line heading to Burtonport