An historic railway signal cabin that lay in an orchard for nearly 60 years is to be restored to its former glory by the Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR) after securing a grant of nearly £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The grant has been awarded as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s new small grants programme “Sharing Heritage”. The project will restore the former Bundoran Junction North signal cabin and create a mechanical signalling demonstration to add to the existing attractions at the Downpatrick heritage railway. Visitors will be able to see the signals in operation when the trains are running and during museum open days.
In its working life, the cabin used to control the north end of Bundoran Junction in Kilskeery, County Tyrone, formerly a major junction for the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), where trains diverged to travel to places like Omagh, Enniskillen, Fintona Junction (where the famous horse tram operated), and Bundoran itself, before the entire line was closed on 1st October 1957.
Railway Chief Civil Engineer, David Crone, said, “Very little of the railway infrastructure from the west of the province survives so we are delighted to have secured this significant piece of railway heritage.”
Paul Mullan, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund NI added their support “We were pleased to support this modest but important heritage project. Over our 20 years we have supported a range of projects with the DCDR to enable them to protect our railway heritage and share it with everyone. This project will help them demonstrate and explain another aspect of our railways’ heritage.”
David Crone continued the story of the cabin, “While Bundoran Junction Station survives as a private dwelling, we didn’t think any of the small signal cabins still survived until a chance discussion with one of our members and a Fermanagh local on boat in the middle of Lough Erne!
“He told us that the former Bundoran Junction North cabin had been saved to be used as a garden shed in a Ballinamallard home.”
Mr Crone explains the scene that they found, “The top half of the signal cabin had lain for over 50 years in an orchard in Ballinamallard Co Fermanagh where it had been put to use as a very superior summerhouse but had suffered somewhat in later years due to age and the orchard becoming a bit overgrown.
“The location was known to a few ex-Great Northern Railway veterans in the area who kept the cabin’s survival and details of the exact location a well-guarded secret. When the site came due for re-development the owners were very keen to see the cabin saved, and our friends from the Headhunters Railway Museum in Enniskillen helped us recover it in 2011.
Whilst initial inspection revealed that although the base was rotten, the vast majority of the structure was sound and would be suitable for restoration and a new use.
To add to the restoration project and working signal exhibition, the project team are keen to obtain any information relating to its former use. They are seeking photographs of signalmen who would have operated it in GNRI days or anyone who worked at Bundoran Junction so they can include this in an interpretative display in the restored cabin.
Mr Crone adds, “We are also interested in contacting anyone who has recollections of life at the Junction as these memories are as much part of the cabin as the wood that makes up its fabric. If anyone has anything they could share we would be grateful if they contact either ourselves or Headhunters Museum in Enniskillen.”