Killyleagh Castle is gone – no more – as it was dismantled last Wednesday in a surprisingly fast operation, leaving no trace of this once-proud remnant of history.
But before questioning if this is April Fool’s day, fear not, for the turrets and ramparts of the actual Killyleagh Castle still stand.
The “Killyleagh Castle” which met its maker was one of Translink’s old trains, No. 459, which was withdrawn from service last year following the introduction of the last of the new “C4K Trains”, and has finally been cut up for scrap.
The train was one of three units scrapped in recent weeks by Ahoghill firm Thomas Hamill and Sons at Ballymena and Adelaide, using a mammoth demolition crane to lift the engine out and then cut the body in half, before loading it on to the back of a lorry for its final journey to the scrapyard.
Volunteers from the Downpatrick & County Down Railway were also on hand to recover a number of compatible spare parts for other engines.
No. 459 was the last of the 450s, or “Castle Class”, trains delivered to Northern Ireland Railways between 1985 and 1987.
At a time when investment in the railway system was virtually nil, the 450s epitomed the “make-do-and-mend” attitude needed to keep NIR running. Cannabilising 20-year old engines and wheels, the only new part of the trains was their new bodies and interiors.
Denis Grimshaw, a former Managing Director of NIR, explains how one of these nine “new” trains came to be associated with the local landmark.
“The 450-class sets were originally intended for sole use on the Belfast to Larne railway line, where historically some former Northern Counties Railway steam locomotives were called after County Antrim castles – hence the historical connection.”
He continues, “We eventually got nine sets rather than the six anticipated, so we allocated three sets for use on the old Belfast & County Down Railway line to Bangor, and so we decided to choose two castles in County Down, Bangor Castle and Killyleagh Castle, to celebrate that connection.”
The vehicles carried these names in cast nameplates either side of the driver’s cab right up to their withdrawal, when they were removed prior to scrapping.
Suggestions over what should happen to Killyleagh Castle’s nameplates and those of the other 450 Class trains has ranged to displaying them in NIR stations, gifting one to each of the Castles the trains were named after where possible, or display them in a railway museum such as the local Downpatrick & County Down Railway or Ulster Folk & Transport Museum.
A Translink spokesperson said: “Name plates have been recovered and discussions are on-going regarding their future utilisation.”
Currently two Class 450s, No. 458 and 455 “Galgorm Castle” and “Antrim Castle”, are being retained by Translink in reserve, although there are currently no plans to preserve a unit of this class by any of Northern Ireland’s preservation groups.