Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree by Train- Echoes of Ballaghaderreen 1989

Ballaghaderreen in the year 1862 was a comparatively important trading centre, according to a report supplied by Charles Strickland to the Sligo Corporation. There was an increase in population between of 43% between 1851 and 1861. The recorded population was 2,000. The new market place later known as ‘The Shambles’’ was constructed at a cost of £2,000 and was sponsored by Lord Dillon. The weekly market traded 1,000 barrels of oats, 1,000 firkins of butter and eggs to the value of £500. The bulk of the commodities sold for export was carried by road to Sligo and then by boat to Liverpool.

In 1862 the Boyle to Sligo section of the new Railway line was constructed, thus completing a transport system between the North West and Dublin.

Chas. Strickland (Lord Dillon’s Agent) and his brother Thomas, living at Castlemore, started an agition to have a branch line constructed between Ballaghaderreen and Kilfree. The agitation was supported by the Sligo Corporation, then anxious to handle trade between Ballaghaderreen and England. On Saturday, 6th December, 1862 the prospectus of the Sligo and Ballaghaderreen Junction Railway was published. The provisional committee listed 20 names composed of half from the Sligo Corporation. The other members included the Strickland Brothers and Viscount Dillon.

The capital was to be £4,000 in £10 shares and £13,300 debentures.

In 1863 the prospectus and plans for the proposed branch line were presented to the Parliament at Westminster. The bill passed through all stages without opposition and became law when Queen Victoria affixed her signature to the relevant documents on the 13th July, 1863.

The scheme was delayed for a period of three years due to insufficient share capital being invested in the project. The death of the 14th Viscount Dillon, who had subscribed £10,000 in share capital, held up progress for a further period.

In 1865 the Branch Line Company applied to Parliament for an extension of time for the construction, in order to raise further capital. The request received the Royal assent on the 8th August, 1865. However, due to a series of problems it was 1867 before the route and plans were approved by the Board of Works. A special report from the Commissioners engineer, the value of the line to the district which it would eventually serve, is of special interest. The report stated that the district was one of the few parts of Ireland which progressed and did not deteriorate after the Famine of 1847.

The scheme was again hampered due to insufficient capital and other problems. At a special meeting on the 26th February, 1869, the shareholders were informed that the construction of the Branch Line was signed by a London contractor- Mr. Fredrick Powell at a cost not exceeding £5,000 per mile. The construction of the line was again delayed by many problems. However, on 31st October, 1874 and advertisement was issued by the Midland Great Western Railway announcing the opening of the Sligo and Ballaghaderreen Junction Railway on November 2nd. The company offered a daily 3-train service-each way on the new line.

The only Junketing on record in connection with the official opening at Ballaghaderreen is a cash book under the date 14th April, 1875 ‘’T Queenan refreshments etc. opening of line £9-8-11’

Edward Kelly got the contract for the building of the Goods Store and received £241-8-6. The Iron Store was erected by E.T. Bellhouse and Co., for £203. The crane and fittings from Horseley Co. cost £37-11-5; the telegraph poles cost £67-10-0.

The Sligo and Ballaghaderreen Company after trading at a loss for two years, decided to sell its interest in the line to the Midland Great Western Railway for £24,000. The offer was accepted and the Sligo/Ballaghaderreen Junction Railway lost its identity and was absorbed into the Midland system.

According to the records the Branch Line offered an excellent transport system for over 75 and the town became an important centre for the import and export of goods. The passenger service also flourished until the advent of the motor car and omnibus.

There were two intermediate halts on the branch line- Edmonstown and Island Rd. Both halts were under the supervision of the Station Master at Ballaghaderreen.

The first train from Kilfree to Ballaghaderreen was driven by Ben Partridge, an English man from Kent, who married and settled down in Ballaghaderreen. His family were later employed by the Monica Duff Company.

The blizzard of 1947 was one of the most memorable episodes of the chequered history of the 10 mile Branch Line. The Railway system north and west of the Longford was snowbound. The Ballaghaderreen town and district was isolated, with snow piled up to 10ft. high on the roads. After several days a food shortage was showing signs of becoming acute. A snow clearance committee was organised in the town. A group of 150 men boarded the train at Ballaghaderreen and working in relays proceeded to clear the snow from the line. A group of railway employees operated from Kilfree Junction. The two groups eventually meeting in the Edmondstown area. A relief train was sent immediately to Ballaghaderreen with groceries, etc. and a wagon load of flour.

After the last world war, the improved conditions of the main roads and the increase in road transport for the carriage of goods created an economic problem for the Railway system. The bus was rapidly replacing the railway carriage for passengers. Eventually the Railway Company was obliged to reduce expenditure and resorted to a reduction of its service on uneconomic routes. Several branch lines were closed. The tragic news of the impending closure of the Ballaghaderreen/Kilfree line was conveyed to the people of Ballaghaderreen. Organised protest to the Railway Company was of no avail and on Saturday, 2nd February, 1963, the last train travelled from Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Junction.

In due course the system known as the Ballaghaderreen Terminus or Railway Station was dismantled. The Station Master’s House was demolished in order to provide a new entrance to the town centre. The Goods Store converted to a dance hall in the late sixties, eventually became Parish property and is now known as St. Nathy’s Parish Hall.

While restoration was in progress at the Cathedral, the converted former Goods Store was used for Church Services.