IF you were travelling between Enniskillen and Belfast on the M1 recently you may have seen a very unusual sight – a signal cabin perched on top of a low-loader lorry on its way to its new home at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway (DCDR).
The cabin used to control the north end of Bundoran Junction in Kilskeery, County Tyrone, formerly a major junction for the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), where trains diverged to travel to places like Omagh, Enniskillen, Fintona Junction, and Bundoran itself, before the entire line was closed on 1st October 1957.
DCDR Chairman Michael Collins said, “While Bundoran Junction Station survives as a private dwelling, we didn’t think any of the small signal cabins still survived – until a chance discussion with a Fermanagh local on a boat in the middle of Lough Erne! “He told us that the former Bundoran Junction North cabin had been saved to be used as a garden shed in a Ballinamallard home.
“He added that we were going to have to build something like this for our eventual extension of the railway to the St. Patrick’s Centre, so the chance to preserve an original signal box was too good to miss”.
The Downpatrick & County Down Railway then worked with Selwyn Johnston of Headhunter’s Railway Museum in Enniskillen, identified the location and approached the owners, Ken and Ernie Fisher, who were very keen to see the cabin preserved. Initial inspection revealed that although the base had considerable rot, the vast majority of the structure was sound.
Selywn said, “Local railway enthusiasts have always known the location of the cabin, although in the interests of protecting it against vandalism, its existence and location has remained almost secret outside Fermanagh. In 2002, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the closure of railways in Fermanagh, a nostalgic bus trip was organised to retrace the route of the GNRI from Enniskillen to Bundoran and in particular to allow former railway employees the unique opportunity to see the North Cabin, which resided under a sprawling apple tree in a Ballinamallard garden.
“At that time former railway employees and local enthusiasts expressed a wish to protect the cabin for future generations, however, no suitable location was ever identified, until DCDR made an approach in 2011. Former railway employees, such as Billy Hawthorne (GNRI Fireman) who worked on the Bundoran branch and now resides in Bolton, were absolutely delighted when he heard that the signal box was going to be moved to Downpatrick and once again become part of a working railway.
“Indeed several former GNRI employees who worked on the Bundoran Branch line are looking forward to visiting Downpatrick whenever the signal box is in position. Headhunters Railway Museum are delighted that the DCDR are committed to protecting the signal box and that a unique part of the GNRI Bundoran Branch is now in Downpatrick. ”
David Crone, one of the DCDR signalling team who helped supervise the move, added, “This cabin is still 90% sound and we are confident that we can restore it. A key feature of this cabin will be that it will be at platform height with an entrance directly off the platform. Having a small cabin with its low level windows and easy access will enable visitors to see how the signal levers, wires, and controls work.
“They will be able to have this explained by a porter-signalman who will operate the run around and accompanying signals which will be an important part of the museums interpretative display of artefacts which can be seen working as intended by their original Victorian designers.
“Once the cabin is fully restored and we would like to include one or two photographs of the cabin in its original context at Bundoran Junction. The restoration team would be particularly keen to locate an old family photograph of one or more of the original signalmen, preferably either at the Junction or in the cabin for future display as part of the Cabin’s story.”