Although traditionally there are ghostly goings-on at this time of year at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway when the local heritage railway hosts its popular Halloween Ghost Trains, what many people do not know is that the old line does in fact have its very own bona fide ghost train.
The story was recounted by the daughter of a railwayman who worked on the old Belfast & County Down Railway, which ran from Belfast to Newcastle via Downpatrick.
Comber resident Anne Hagan says her father, Willie Cooke, was a member of staff at Ballygowan Station, an intermediate halt between Belfast and Downpatrick, and worked under the watchful eye of William Kirk, the village’s last Station Master.
Anne said, “One dark night in the late 1940s my father was cycling from their home in Magherascouse just outside Ballygowan to start his shift. One of his jobs was to open and close the level crossing gates at the station, near Victoria Square in the village.”
“The road from his house ran right beside the line, and he knew that the next trains from Comber or Downpatrick weren’t due for sometime, so he was in no hurry.” Anne continues, “But suddenly he heard the noise of a train coming up beside him. He could clearly see the lights in the windows and peddled like a maniac to get ahead of it and to open the gates in time before it hit them, but when he got there – there was nothing on the line.”
“He told everyone, but no-one in the station would believe him, except one old lady in the town who said to him, “Oh Willie, did you not know that was the Ghost Train?” and asserted that it had been seen before by other townsfolk.” Anne says her father was not prone to tall tales, “He was the sort of person who would have handed in a thruppence to the police station if he found it, he didn’t go into this sort of thing, and this story stayed with him for the rest of his life.”
Michael Collins, Chairman of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway says they’re equally stumped. “We’ve never heard of a ghost train on the old BCDR before, and we don’t believe there was an accident in this section of line in the old railway’s history which are traditionally associated with such appearances.”
He continues, “However it’s not the first in Northern Ireland, staff gossip within the more modern railway service claims that during a security alert line closure on the Belfast-Dublin line one was reported by an army observation post in the area.”
This was at Aghyallogue, in South Armagh, and there have been other more historical accounts of it – a similar story of a level-crossing gatekeeper sitting in his cottage when he heard a train approaching from the north. He took it to be a “special” as all the scheduled trains had already gone for the night. He went out and saw the train, a “passenger”, well lighted, coming out of “the Wellington Cutting” in Killeen, but when it came to Barney’s Bridge it disappeared. He went up the line to the bridge, but saw nothing.
But to mark these stories, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway will be having its very own Halloween Ghost Trains, returning to haunt the DCDR over the weekend, with ghosts and ghouls on the platforms this Halloween weekend, Friday 30th & Saturday 31st October from 6pm till 9pm, and on Sunday 1st November from 2pm till 5pm.
Do you remember any tales about the Ballygowan Ghost Train? Or had a member of your family see it? If so the Downpatrick & County Down Railway would be keen to hear from you – find out how to contact us.