The volunteers of the Downpatrick & County Down Railway are celebrating after a little piece of local railway heritage comes home nearly 70 years after the original line closed. But what is that metal disc that our Chief Civil Engineer David Crone is holding?

DCDR curator Neil Hamilton explained “We managed to win this original BCDR single line tablet from the recent auction in Birr of the late John O’Meara’s huge collection of Irish railway artefacts. This tablet covered the section of the old Belfast and County Down Railway from Downpatrick South Junction, near our Loop Platform, to the next major station at Dundrum.”

Downpatrick was a rare example in Ireland’s railways with a triangular layout that required three signal cabins to control it.

Mr Hamilton explained the purpose of this tablet, “Train drivers needed to be in possession of this tablet in order so that their trains could enter the single line of railway track.”

He adds that this Victorian piece of safety engineering had a long shelf life, “Travellers on the Coleraine-Londonderry rail line may have seen signalmen handing ‘hoop’ type carriers to drivers up until last year – well, a tablet similar to this would have been inside the hoop pouch.

The Downpatrick-Dundrum tablet alongside our Downpatrick-Crossgar tablet.

The Downpatrick-Dundrum tablet alongside our Downpatrick-Crossgar tablet.

“Tablets were issued by the signalmen at either end of the section. Only one tablet could be withdrawn at a time, which provided protection against a head on collision as no two trains could be on the same section of track.”

Mr Hamilton adds, “This tablet will take pride of place in our display alongside another tablet in our collection that controlled the north end of the Downpatrick Triangle from the North Junction to Crossgar”.

He continues, “We’re delighted that we were able to save this for people to see in our museum for years to come. It would be a real shame to lose such gems as this from the museum sector into private collections.”

If you have an item of railway memorabilia that you would like to donate to the DCDR, or help with any project at the DCDR and you are thinking about joining as a volunteer, then please get in touch today!