Nine-nine years ago today an article appeared in the Irish Times, about the annual general meeting of the Great Western and Midlands Railways. The members were doubting the viability of the railways, particularly in the west, where tourism outweighed industry. The Railway hotels in Mallaranny and Recess were doing quite well.
Anita has her Say
Anita McMahon, who was the Hon. Secretary of the Lower Achill Co-operative Society, made a good case for the extension of a light railway to Lower Achill. She put the case as follows;
The powers that be took her idea on board, but it never materialised. The fishing and tourist industry continued the railway lasted just about two more decades. If the light rail had been built who knows what would have come out of it.
Undeterred, Anita would put forward equally ambitious ideas on behalf of the people of Achill, with successful outcomes. Because of her endeavours she was known in Achill as Auntie Anita.
It is more than eighty years since the closure of the Achill Railway. It was in it’s time a great asset to the island, greatly improving, the flow of goods and people to and from the Island. But ironically the improvement made to roads in the early twentieth century, lessened the demand for rail travel to the area.
Officially open for business on May 13th of 1895, although the first train to make the forty mile journey from Westport, traveled the previous year. Its maiden journey was not celebrated. It carried the bodies of the victims of the Clew Bay Disaster, the first of the two tragedies that book-ended the route. The second 43 years later, carried the victims of the Kirkintilloch Disaster. Again the track was opened specially for the tragic occasion, another coffin train. The prophecy by Brian Rua O’Cearbhain, the 17th century seer, complete.
In spite of the tragedies that overshadowed its short existance, the Achill railway, contained all the elements of romance that rail travel carries. The scenery from Westport to Achill rivals any in the world. The vista from the forty or so miles of track, displayed mountains, valleys, lakes, seascapes and beaches, not to mention the quaint little villages with their human and animal inhabitants, scattered along the route.
When it first opened for business in 1895, the Sligo Champion 08 June 1895, reported that; “Already the Achill railway line is being largely patronised. There is a large amount of strangers present on the island.” Island life had changed for good, and was on the brink of changing even further, with the build up of tourists and day trippers that, began to make the 1 hour 40 minute journey.
The Achill line carried in and out people that would help “put Achill on the map”. Many public figures, the good and the great of those times, traveled the line that terminated at the end of the main land adjacent to the Michael Davitt bridge that joined it and the island at Achill Sound.