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The Pride of Place judges pictured with railway volunteers, local support groups and Councillors outside Downpatrick Railway Station. Photo (c) Down News

The Pride of Place judges pictured with railway volunteers, local support groups and Councillors outside Downpatrick Railway Station. Photo (c) Down News

It was all full steam ahead as judges from the prestigious all-Ireland Pride of Place competition recently visited Downpatrick and County Down Railway (DCDR) to hear first hand about the inspiring voluntary work it does to preserve our railway heritage and promote cultural tourism in Down district.

On Thursday 9 August the local voluntary railway charity group was given the opportunity to show judges why they should win a Pride of Place Award in this year’s all-Ireland competition. Down District Council nominated the group for the annual competition.

Pride of Place is an all-Ireland competition aimed at recognising and celebrating the vital contributions that voluntary organisations make to the life of their area. The competition focus is on people coming together to shape, enhance and enjoy all that is good about where they live. Pride of Place also enables entrants to look at other voluntary organisations’ undertakings and to learn from their experiences.

Michael Collins, DCDR Chairman said: “We have around 200 members and 50 of those are very active members from all walks of life pooling their expertise and enthusiasm to help develop Ireland’s biggest voluntary railway project.

Alison McGrenaghan, Magnus Vikings Association, Una Savage, Down Tourist Officer, and Lesley Simpson, Keeper of Collections at Down County Museum get set to board a train for Inch. Photo (c) Down News

Alison McGrenaghan, Magnus Vikings Association, Una Savage, Down Tourist Officer, and Lesley Simpson, Keeper of Collections at Down County Museum get set to board a train for Inch. Photo (c) Down News

“The volunteers come from a range of backgrounds in management, engineering, public services and general trades have literally driven the railway body to be a major player in local tourism and heritage in Down District.”

The Pride of Place judges, Mr Declan Nelson and Mr John Quinlivan, were welcomed to Downpatrick by the Chairman of Down District Council, Councillor Michael Coogan, and Mr Michael Collins, Chairman of Downpatrick and County Down Railway, and received a presentation in the St Patrick Centre prior to a tour of the railway centre.

The judges were fully briefed on the extent of the voluntary effort by the BCDR and their tremendous contribution to cultural tourism and environmental improvement was not hidden under a bushel.

As part of the tour, the judges were introduced to the Railway’s management committee, its volunteers and representatives of organisations the Railway works with, and with whom the judges were keen to discuss the valuable contribution the Railway makes.

In assessing entrants, the judges award marks for: Impact on Community; Innovation; Sustainability; Local Leadership; Management; and Overall Impression.

Railway volunteer Herbie Bodel with Anne Rowney and Marisa Murphy of Fashion Forum arrive at Downpatrick Railway Station in their Singer Vogue 1964 and Singer Super 1947. Photo (c) Down News Looking over the new £700,000 visitors' centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

Railway volunteer Herbie Bodel with Anne Rowney and Marisa Murphy of Fashion Forum arrive at Downpatrick Railway Station in their Singer Vogue 1964 and Singer Super 1947. Photo (c) Down News
Looking over the new £700,000 visitors’ centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

Now in its tenth year, the Pride of Place competition is growing in terms of its prestige and popularity. The competition is run by Co-operation Ireland in partnership with the All-Island Local Authority Steering Forum, a forum which encourages strategic and sustainable approaches to cross-border co-operation by local authorities.

Mr Collins added: “The DCDR is Northern Ireland’s only standard gauge heritage railway and a popular visitor attraction based in Downpatrick. It was founded in 1985 to preserve our railway heritage for future generations to enjoy. The Railway is a not-for-profit society, a registered charity and museum which has rebuilt part of the former BCDR Belfast to Newcastle main line.

“The society has a membership of around 300 people some from across the world and earns its revenue from the fares it charges visitors, donations and membership subscriptions.

“It has been successful in obtaining substantial funding for its major restoration projects – mostly recently towards its new £700,000 Carriage Display Gallery which the judges visited today. We also run special culturally themed days are a regular feature of the visitor experience at the Railway such as the Magnus Barelegs Viking weekend, Halloween, Christmas and St Patrick’s Day trips and they are very popular.

Looking over the new £700,000 visitors' centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

Looking over the new £700,000 visitors’ centre at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway are Patricia McGrath, secretary of the Downpatrick and County Down railway, Philip Campbell, Magnus Vikings Association, Sally Shields and Down District Councillor Patsy Toman. Photo (c) Down News

“The DCDR Iis staffed entirely by volunteers, with the railway being painstakingly rebuilt from nothing by people giving their time, knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for railway heritage and culture. Volunteers are at the heart of our organisation.,” said Mr Collins.

The winning entrants will be announced at a gala awards ceremony which will be hosted later in the year by Co-operation Ireland. (Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurances Ltd is the major sponsor of the 2012 Pride of Place Competition in association with Co-operation Ireland.

This article originally appeared on Down News