Memories of an 'island' railway station in Dundalk

Dundalk History

Peter Kavanagh


Peter Kavanagh


Memories of an 'island' railway station in Dundalk

Just last week I was on my way to Dublin by train when I was speaking to one of the ever- helpful staff at Dundalk's Clark Railway Station.

He told me that a very interesting and poignant event had occurred at the Station that morning when a lady from Dublin had laid a wreath of flowers at a spot where a man had been killed in an accident about fifty years ago.

Unfortunately, I did not get to speak to the lady but the railway official pointed out a bunch of yellow daffodils that had been laid on the rails near the buffers at the end of Platform 3 where local trains often depart for Dublin. This platform was also the departure point for trains to Greenore until that line closed at the end of 1951.

The incident brought back memories of the Dundalk Railway Station, which up to 1966, had been known as the Junction Railway Station. The Station is unusual in that it has 'island' platforms which was the only station along the main line of this design where Up and Down lines run on either side. The old name probably came from the fact that first railway company to build tracks from Dublin to Dundalk had been called the Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway Company.

My own memories of what is now known as Clarke Station, in honour of the 1916 Proclamation first signatory, go back to a time when I can scarce remember anything else about Dundalk of my youth. I can recall a time just before World War 11 when I used to stand at the side of the ramp leading up to the cross-rail bridge leading to the ticket office at the front of the station. Incidentally, in those days you were supposed to purchase a Platform Ticket before going down to platforms when you were not travelling on the train. Those tickets were dispensed from a machine at the entrance to the bridge and I think cost 2d, which was a fair amount eighty years ago and I don't think this sort of ticket was often purchased for me and I was allowed on to the platforms out of the kindness of the ticket collectors.

The big attraction of the ramp for me was that I could stand up on the wooden beam under the handrail (which is still there) to watch the 'Big Bluebirds', the large locomotives that pulled the express trains between Belfast and Dublin, filling up with water from the twin water tanks at the side of the Up line leading to Dublin. There would often be a 'double-header' (two locomotives) pulling a large number of coaches because in those days there was no limit to the number of coaches in well-filled train, nowadays the number is limited to eight coaches.

The most exciting event for a child to watch, however, was when the locomotives would build up a great head of stream and sound their whistles to indicate that the train was leaving the platform. There would also be a shower of sparks coming from under the big traction wheels as they strove to get a grip on the rails. This grip, I found out later, was aided by a small stream of sand that was directed down the side of the wheels in a pipe and I suppose the sparks were caused by impurities in the sand or, maybe, hot iron being torn from the wheels and the rails. When the wheels lost their curvature, as a result, it was called a 'flat tyre' which had to be replaced.

Those memories, and others, of the old station came flooding back when I was shown where the wreath of daffodils had been laid, as it was just under the lone 'balloon' water tower that remains. At one time there were three of those water towers at the Dundalk platforms, two at the place I have mentioned and another on the north side of the Station, along the 'Down' line leading to Belfast. At one time there were black bands on the columns of the towers which bore the written warning 'as little water as possible is to be taken and only when absolutely necessary'. That was because, in those days, water was as important as coal in the running of the steam engines.

My images of the past at the Station were brought about when thinking about the lady who had made this mournful journey to Dundalk in remembrance of a man who was probably her father. I do not recall anything about the circumstance of this tragic accident so long ago but the railway man was able to tell me that it had happened a time when Tony Ryan, who lived along the Point Road, was Station Master. This would put the time before 1967 when Stephen McGivern from Ardee took over as Station Master from Ryan. Quite a few people were killed or seriously injured in accidents at Dundalk Station from the time it was first opened in 1894, right up to just over a decade ago when a young local man named McCrave was killed in a shunting accident.

My friend at the Railway Station was able to inform me that the man was killed on January 23 of the year in question was named Patrick Flood but did not know anything more about him, other than that the woman said that she had been very young when he died. I wonder do any of my readers remember this tragic event or if there are any relatives around Dundalk?