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Clogher Valley Tram Line

Before the days of the railways

Stage coach travel was introduced into Ireland about the year 1760. “The so-called roads were everywhere in a deplorable condition, and infested with rogues and ruffians in search of plunder”. Under such conditions this mode of travel spread slowly and it was 1803 before the postcoach ran from Dublin to Armagh, then via Killylea and Tynan, on through Caledon to Aughnacloy.  This means of travel would only have been available to the relatively affluent, many local people would never have travelled further than they could walk or ride, either on horseback or in a cart.  The Caledon to Killylea road was not in existence at the beginning of the 1800s – the old road from Killylea commenced at Darton , proceeding through Tynan and Lemnagore on to Caledon and on to Aughnacloy.[1]  Stagecoaches were uncomfortable and at times downright dangerous.  Travellers had to deal with many hazards including cold, very poor road surfaces, and storms.  During the great storm of 6 January 1839 the Dublin – Derry coach en route from Monaghan to Armagh was lifted off the road and cast into a low lying glebe plantation with all its occupants on board.[2] And of course highwaymen had always been a problem.  Way back in the mid 1700s Lady Orrery wrote to Lord Orrery from Caledon House;

 “Plunket the highwayman who was at Glasslough, and in the County of Monaghan all last winter, boasted that he was the person who cut your portmanteau from behind your post chasise, as he drank in one of the Publick houses of Glasslough.  He is now said to be out of the kingdom, and in all probability if returned to England, will be pursuing his trade as he calls it, following his friend Mr. Clane up Tyburn  Road”[3]. 3rd October 1751

The Great Northern Railway

The Ulster Canal would have greatly facilitated the movement of goods across the region The arrival of the railways may have heralded the beginning of the decline of the canals but they had a major impact on the lives of the local people.  Killylea station, opened in 1858 by the Ulster Railway became part of the GNR in 1876.  Tynan station opened in 1868.

The Great Northern greatly facilitated trade in the region.  Sherrard Smith and Co, Caledon Mill dispatched their produce from Tynan station to UK and world markets. Aughnacloy through its importance as a stopping point for the Dublin – Derry stage coach had developed into the commercial centre of the Clogher Valley.  In the 1870s the Imperial Hotel in Aughnacloy had 30 – 40 horses and a number of jaunting cars.  Travellers arriving at Tynan could arrange for a horse and trap to be available to take them on to Aughnacloy or throughout the Clogher Valley.   James Lavery ran a jaunting car twice daily between Aughnacloy and Tynan station.  Caledon would suddenly have become a very busy thoroughfare with all this passenger activity not to mention all the good traffic carried by carters to and from Tynan and throughout the Clogher Valley.[4]

The Clogher Valley Tramway

The Clogher Valley Tramway – it started as a tramway but  was later renamed a railway, ran from Tynan to Maguiresbridge linking two main lines that belonged to the Great Northern Railway.   It was an ambitious project and much preparation work took place before a length of line was laid.  Triggered off by the impending Tramways Act, a committee was formed during the early part of 1883 to build roadside tramways in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.   In December 1883 The Clogher Valley Tramway Company was incorporated and by St Patrick’s Day 1885 the construction of the tramway was put out to tender.   The contract was awarded to Messrs McCrea and McFarland of Belfast and the tramway was built at a cost of £23,000 for the Tynan – Fivemiletown section And £9,000 for the part from Fivemiletown to Maguiresbridge.   The ceremony of turning the first sod was performed at Aughnacloy on Monday 1 June 1885.  Meanwhile the directors gathered in Clogher courthouse and decided that the company’s headquarters should be in Aughnacloy[5].  

By early November 1885, the company engineer James Barton reported in optimism:-

“Messrs. McCrea and McFarland have made considerable progress at the Fermanagh end of the line and some progress at the Caledon end, about one half of the excavations for the line have been executed, about 9000 lineal yards of fencing has been done”.

However the inclement Irish weather made progress difficult, with continuous rain for the whole month of January 1886.  Costs and quantities were very tight which made it very difficult to accommodate losses within the contract with profits elsewhere.  In March 1886 the finance house of Salter & son withdrew their offer to purchase £70,000 of stock not taken up by the public and for some months the position of the company was precarious as the public were not coming forward to invest.  Political unrest and tension over the summer of 1886 linked to the defeat of Gladstones Home Rule Bill, further impacted adversely on investment.  Fortunately the 1886 Public Works Loans Tramways (Ireland) Act, which authorised the Treasury to lend money on the deposit of guaranteed shares saved the day and the Clogher Valley Tramways Co was able to borrow £44,000.  This finance also enabled the company to facilitate an adjustment in respect of McCrea and McFarland’s contract of £10,000 – their tender being wrong ‘by a clerical error’.  Completion went slowly during that final winter of 1886-7 but finally in the early weeks of 1887 the Opening Arrangements Committee was formed, in April the Board of Trade inspections were carried out, requested repairs were completed and finally the tramway was ready to receive traffic.[6]

Official Opening of the Clogher Valley Tramway

Finally on Monday 2nd May 1887 the Tramway was opened by the High Sheriff of Tyrone, Major Mervyn Knox-Browne of Aughentaine Castle, near Clogher.  The Tyrone Constitution described the proceedings;-

“The visitors and guests converged on Aughnacloy in special trains from Maguiresbridge and Tynan, ‘the engines bedecked with flowers and evergreens’ steamed into Aughnacloy station to the sound of exploding fog signals.”

“By three o’clock the entertainments of the Aughnacloy yard were at their height.  The visitors were everywhere and the newsman saw them as ‘a fair representation of the wealth, beauty, and the mercantile community in South Tyrone.”

The working Tramway

Goods, livestock and passengers were transported throughout the Clogher Valley on the new tramway.  The line ran from Tynan to Maguiresbridge.  The whole Clogher Valley was opened up to rural and village dwellers along its route.  People had the means to travel further to find work.  Third class fares were 1 penny per mile, first class initially cost 2 pennies but was subsequently reduced to 1 ½ penny to fill seats.

Initially there were six steam engines – small tramway engines fitted with a huge headlamp and a cow-catcher.  The line ran alongside the public road for much of the way and to ensure better safety the engines ran backwards as there was a better view from the cabs.  The engines were named after three local rivers – the Blackwater, Fury and Colebrook and after three places of local importance, Caledon Estate, the ancient parish of Errigle Keerogue and Lough Erne where the western terminus at Maguiresbridge, stood.  A seventh engine, named Blessingbourne, was added in 1907 while in 1934 one of the engines from the Castlederg and Victoria Bridge line was purchased to replace the Caledon.[7]

Excursions were very much a feature of the Clogher Valley Tramway 26th March 1894 trip to Clogher Valley Races cost 1/8 from Caledon.  A cheap excursion to Belfast on Whit Monday 1892 cost 4 shillings.[8]  Trains ran in connection with Great Northern seaside excursions.  These could run to either Coast, via Tynan to Newcastle or changing at Maguires Bridge for Bundoran. [9]

Special trains were put on for particular events – the 12th of July Demonstration was so busy that cattle trucks were washed out and limewashed to facilitate the high demand on the day.  The following report of the Twelfth in Caledon 1938 appeared in the Tyrone Courier

The Twelfth passed over in a peaceable and orderly manner as was to be expected.  The Orangemen went in such numbers to the meeting in Caledon that they had to be conveyed on the Clogher Valley Railway in open wagons.  They were well cautioned not to put their heads above the roofs.  Some trains had two engines, one in front pulling and one behind pushing.[10]

Additional trains were timetabled on Ballygawley, Aughnacloy and Fivemiletown Fair Days.  The monthly fairs which were so much an integral part of the local communities necessitated additional capacity to accommodate extra traffic  both in passengers and transport of animals which prior to the railways had to be herded along the roads. More distant fairs also generated business, including Enniskillen and Clones with the departure of special trains from Clogher Valley Stations very early in the morning.[11]

There were certainly teething troubles to be worked out – one of the most serious was the burning of cottages adjacent to the track.  When proceeding up a steep gradient the torrent of sparks flying out of the funnel was sufficient to ignite a thatched roof and the company were faced with having to pay compensation for ruined cottages and effects.  Various modifications were made which eventually solved the problem.  The Company was also concerned by the consumption of coal which by 1890s was £1000 per year for a total mileage of 85,000.

Clogher Valley Railway Company Limited

The Clogher Valley had been incorporated as a tramway company.  This status was useful under the 1883 Act and the line included tramway features, not least where it ran along the public road.  However the Company found the title a disadvantage when dealing with other railways especially the Railway Clearing House.  It felt it wasn’t being taken seriously enough so in 1894 it obtained Board of Trade sanction for a change of name to the The Clogher Valley Railway Company Limited.[12]

The once struggling tramway, now an impoverished railway began to investigate expansion plans as a means out of its woes.  Attempts were made to link up the Clogher valley Railway with other narrow gauge routes and although parliament granted permission for 25 miles of line connecting the Newry to Bessbrook at Bessbrook with the Clogher Valley at  Tynan the plans did not come to fruition.

The Clogher Valley Railway in Caledon

As the trams proceeded from Tynan towards Caledon they had to cope with a steep gradient, not helped on a few occasions when some of the village lads got black soap from the mill, smeared the rails with it at the steepest part, and retired behind the estate wall to witness the ensuing struggle.[13]  In Caledon the trains ran along Main Street, then turned onto the Derrycourtney Road en route to Aughnacloy.   This turn represented the sharpest curve on the whole line, occasionally the engine left the rails on the curve.   There was no station in the village.  Caledon’s only brick building built in 1890 and now the Masonic Hall, was in use as a parcels office and waiting room.[14]

The End of the Line

The Clogher Valley became increasingly unpopular amongst the ratepayers who every year had to stand the full guarantee on the dividend to shareholders.[15]  Major General Montgomery, Chairman of the Board of Directors interviewed in January 1928 stated:-

 “There seemed to be no appreciation among the people living in that part of the Clogher Valley …. of the advantage they had gained over the last 40 years owing to the presence of the railway … there seemed to be an idea in people’s minds that if the magic word “reorganise” were shouted loud enough a railway could be run for nothing”. [16]

 Following an enquiry, the Killin Report was published in January 1928 – one of the proposals was the withdrawal of  railway passenger services.  Wrote Killen ‘the railway has very little chance of competing successfully with the motor bus at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour’.  At a meeting of Clogher Rural Council in January 1928, the Chairman stated:-

 ‘The Report of the Committee of Enquiry was not workable …. they should have some sort of passenger service, and if they lost it now they would never get the chance of having it again.’  It was suggested ‘if an improved service could be established with a rate of 10d or 1s in the £ – not a sensible ratepayer would object’.

This comment gives an indication of the burden on the rates which the ratepayers were objecting to.[17]

People in Caledon and Maguiresbridge had for sometime been luke warm about the Clogher Valley – they had a broad gauge railway at their doors and were anxious to be relieved of the rate for the Clogher Valley Railway.

The passenger service continued and improvements were made to some of the carriages to facilitate passenger comfort.  The plain longitudinal wooden seating of carriage 17 was upholstered in 1928 and numbers 15 and 17 were wired for electric light.[18]

By 1932 traffic on the CVR had fallen to only a third of its pre 1914 level.  The appointment to the Management Committee of Henry Forbes, Secretary and Manager of the Co Donegal was to help reverse a decline in traffic with the commissioning of  an articulated 28 seater car powered by a Gardner diesel engine.  The railcar took over most passenger work allowing an increase in the service with six trains a day between Tynan and Fivemiletown.[19]

A serious labour dispute paralysed practically all rail services in Ireland from 31 January to 7 April 1933.  Although the CVR men were not involved, most of the Great Northern men did strike, a lot of freight was lost permanently whilst passengers came back very slowly.  The economic depression of the 1930s impacted adversely on the fortunes of the Irish Railways.[20]

A further enquiry resulted in the Pole Report of July 1934 which recommended closure of the Clogher Valley Railway.  The Government took no direct action for some years, meanwhile the loyal staff worked hard to maintain the aging rolling stock.  Finally the McLintock report in 1938 concluded;

 “The transport needs of the area can be adequately met at less expense by public road transport services, and the payment of Government and rate subsidies to maintain uneconomic competition by the railway is indefensible.”


Finaly, The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order – the railway was to cease operations on the last day of 1941.[21]

The Tyrone Courier reported in the Aughnacloy notes;

 “With the close of the old year came the passing of the Clogher Valley Railway which had served the district for over 55 years ……. there was keen competition as to who should have the honour of securing the last ticket and this distinction is credited to Dr Gillespie of Tynan”[22]

All around the Clogher Valley emotional farewells were held.  Recorded in the Ballygawley notes;

“Exciting scenes such as never seen before were witnessed as the old year was dying on Wednesday and the Clogher Valley Railway steamed proudly out of the station puffing a long farewell to the station staff and onlookers gathered to get a last glimpse of the old tram as it sped along on its final journey heedless of the fate awaiting it ere the year passed out.”

The same publication reported how the old railway had made one final illicit trip in 1942

To celebrate the occasion a number of officials from Head office and Locomotive works with a few outside friends took a joy ride on the last train from Aughnacloy to Fivemiletown and back on Wednesday

[1] J J Marshall History of the Parish of Tynan (Dungannon 1932) p73

[2] T Hughes  History of Tynan Parish (Dublin 1910) p90

[3] J. J. Marshall History of the Territory of Mintervurn and the town of Caledon(Dungannon 1923) p29

[4] John J Marshall Annals of Aughnacloy

[5] Patterson pp 21 – 33

[6] Patterson pp 34 – 56

[7] Jack Johnston In the Days of the Clogher Valley (Belfast 1987)

[8] Armagh Museum

[9] Martin Bairstow Railways in Ireland Part One: Great Nporthern, SL&NC, Lough Swilly, County Donegal, Cavan and Leitrim, Clogher Valley, C&VB (Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire 2006)p 105

[10] Patterson P193

[11] Bairstow p105

[12] Bairstow p105

[13] Patterson –

[14] Patterson p64

[15]Bairstow p106

[16] Dungannon News and Tyrone Courier 5 January 1928

[17] Dungannon News and Tyrone Courier 19 Jan 1928

[18] Alan McCutcheon Railway History in Pictures Ireland Volume 2 (Devon 1970) p68

[19] Bairstow

[20] Patterson pp171 – 175

[21] Pattersons pp201 – 202

[22] Tyrone Courier 8 Jan 1942