One of the Downpatrick &Co. Down Railway’s own has been chosen as Down District’s Tourism Hero for 2008.
Ian Davis, 82, has been a stalwart of the volunteer-run tourist attraction for over 20 years, and received the accolade from Down District Chairman Eddie Rea and the BBC’s Noel Thompson at this year’s award ceremony, held at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle last Thursday night.
The society was formed in 1985, and it wasn’t long before Ian’s good friend and railway enthusiast, the late John McCutcheon, convinced him that he should spend his retirement from the Civil Service rebuilding old carriages at the fledgling society.
The lack of facilities at Downpatrick yard back in the late 1980s didn’t put Ian off, and he would often be found with other members of the team working on vintage carriages out in the open with no cover against the elements or electricity for power tools – only hand tools to get the job done.
Railway Chairman John Wilson described Ian as an absolute credit to the Railway.
“Few of us have been volunteering as long as Ian, certainly not myself, nor the rest of the management team!” he says.
“He’s had a hand in nearly all our carriage restoration projects, and has served on the committee on several occasions as well as recently editing our newsletter.”
Ian’s nomination came from his fellow society members who felt that his determination to return to the railway after a serious car accident two years ago deserved to be recognised.
“Ian had to wear a neck brace for nearly a year, and everyone would have understood at his age if he chose to take it a bit easier,” Mr. Wilson says, “But Ian was having none of it, and as soon as it was off he was straight back down to help on the restoration work of a carriage that he used to travel in as a schoolboy.”
“That shows you the sort of character Ian is, and the dedication of the man.”
The carriage in question is a former Belfast &County Down Railway carriage that used to run between Belfast and Holywood, and that Ian would always choose when boarding at Sydenham because of its distinctive shape, allowing the person who was picking him up in Belfast to know exactly where to find him.
Mr. Wilson says, “We are all delighted for Ian, he thoroughly deserves this award, and it shows you that you’re never too old to volunteer or to make a contribution to the community.”
Ian always thanks his wife for allowing him to come down on Wednesday and Saturdays to work on his projects.