The society was formed within the past year and held their first excursion on Wednesday June 20th last week
Highlight of the excursion was a visit to the spot where, on June 12, 1889, what was to become known as the Great Armagh Railway Disaster took place. This was a railway accident at a place called Mullinure, just a couple miles outside Armagh City, along the Armagh-Goraghwood railway line, where two trains were in collision at a steep embankment and, as a result, 89 people eventually died and over 400 were injured. It was particularly tragic because many of the victims were children, some of them infants.
This was a railway accident that had the highest fatality rate ever in Ireland and the worst anywhere in the world up to that time and for many years afterwards. It had, however, one good outcome because new safety legislation for railway operation was enacted by the Westminster Parliament, which was copied by other railway systems throughout the world. This ensured that countless more lives of those travelling on railway systems were saved in the 133 years since then.
The accident had a great impact on Dundalk because four railway men from the town were prosecuted for manslaughter as a result. This was felt by many in the area to be very unjust because the senior management of the railway company and others involved in the organisation of a Sunday School Outing, seemed to escape censure, even thought it was from the excursion train that most of the casualties occurred. There was particular sympathy in Dundalk for the Guard on the excursion train, Thomas Henry, who had himself been seriously injured in the accident.
A special meeting was held in the Town Hall Dundalk on June 29, 1889, to raise funds for the legal costs of the four local railway men expected to be charged. The meeting was chaired by Michael Hagarty, a local businessman who was Chairman of the Town Commissioners Board. A sum of £60 was raised at the meeting, which may not seem a lot today but was a substantial amount in those days, and this was greatly enhanced by further subscriptions afterwards. The first trial was that of James Elliott, of Dublin Road, who was the Excursion Manager for the Sunday School outing which resulted in the disaster. It was held in Green Street Courthouse in Dublin where the jury disagreed on their verdict. A subsequent trial of Elliott was transferred to Wexford where he was acquitted. The other Dundalk men charged were also acquitted and welcomed home at Dundalk Railway Station by cheering crowds.
Talks about the circumstances of the accident and its afermath and about Richhill Station nearby, were given by Charles P. Friel, an eminent railway historian who is well known to railway enthusiasts in Dundalk. Jim Donaghy and Leslie Cooper also gave interesting accounts later. Both of these guides have extensive knowledge of what was affectionately known as The Derry Road, the line from Portadown to Derry, well known by many Dundalk railway folk.
The group also visited the site of the old Armagh Railway Station before having lunch at the Ryandale Restaurant in Moy. The tour concluded with an enjoyable visit to the site of the old Trew and Moy Railway Station on the Derry Road from which much livestock from Mid-Ulster was transported to England, via Dundalk and Greenore Port. The site is presently owned by Kieran Hughes who operates Hughes Mushrooms, a large mushroom growing clearance centre. Mr. Hughes, whose mother was a Miss Matthews from the Flagstaff district of South Armagh, has done much to preserve the railway heritage of the site. He and his family and staff gave the Dundalk Society members a welcome that they will not easily forget!