History of County Donegal Railways
The legendary County Donegal Railways once had a narrow gauge network of over 200 miles stretching out to even the remotest parts of Donegal. Set up in the 1880's-1890's by Light Railway Orders, granted under the auspices of the Congested
Districts Boards, these lines were economic arteries which revolutionised the communities they served.
In 1889 permission was given to construct the light railway between Glenties and Stranorlar, the line was to be 24 miles long. Work began in 1890 with the contracts undertaken by Mc Farlande of Derry. However because of bad work practices, Mc Farlande lost the contract and the station at Cloghan had to be re-built. The Finn Valley Company finished the line and the first steam engine was heralded into Glenties by bell ringer on the 3rd June 1895. (This bell can still be seen in St. Connells Museum in Glenties). The service was in operation four times daily and the journey from Glenties to Stranorlar took one hour. Glenties to Fintown took just twenty minutes. Steam powered locomotives were in operation at that time. The transformation in travelling time was remarkable, what had been a days travel by horse and cart became an hour by train. The railway symbolised the easy movement of commodities inward and outward, leading to a higher standard of living within a small rural community. Wool, turf, cattle, fish, potatoes could be easily imported and exported, luxury items such as sugar, tea, biscuits, not seen before became a part of everyday life. The boom times that followed the opening of the railways also provided much employment both on and off the lines.
In the 1920's the use of diesel engines for both passengers and goods services was pioneered. Diesel power proved a great success with the cutting of costs both in rolling stock and running costs. Purpose built diesel railcars came into operation and this probably extended the life of the County Donegal Railways by twenty five years. Railcar Number One and other County Donegal Rolling stock can be seen today at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra. Two modern day railcars in the custody of the Foyle Valley Railway in Derry. Indeed one of these Railcars, number eighteen is currently on loan to Fintown. The Railways boomed again during World War II with freight having to be quickly and easily moved. Some eighteen wagons of turf left Glenties every day. A workforce of eighty seven men were employed in Shallogans bog (just west of Fintown). Most of this turf was shipped to the Phoenix Park in case of a shortage in the supply of coal. After the war the lines went into decline and Glenties suffered most from the reduction in passenger receipts leading to its closure to passenger traffic on the 13th of June 1947. Closed to passenger traffic the line remained open to freight with approximately two trains per day carrying turf, barrels, shop provisions, wool and other goods but its final closure came in 1952. The beginning of the end for the railways, had been signified by the increasing use of road transport for moving goods in the late 1940's. Facing the stiff competition from road hauliers and the loss of passengers to bus services and even private motor cars, The Co. Donegal Railway Company bowed to the inevitable and finally ceased its operations on the 31st December 1959 bringing to an end the railway adventure in Co. Donegal.
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