Although its early history is unclear, it is believed that 1097 was originally constructed in the 1910s and rebuilt after being damaged during the Irish Civil War. In its current form, it was among the last vehicles built by the Great Southern and Western Railway, and probably entered service under the ownership of its successor, Great Southern Railways, in 1925. This historic carriage demonstrates the ultimate design of traditional wooden-bodies which had been constructed in Ireland since the 1830s. Its seating layout consisted of a mixture of modern ‘saloon’ seats for third-class passengers as well as old-fashioned compartments for first and second class accommodation. 1097’s 52-seat capacity and inter-connecting gangways allowed it to be used on the GSWR’s key routes behind express passenger locomotives, such as the GSR’s famous No. 800 ‘Maedhbh’ which is currently preserved at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. In 1959, the carriage underwent a conversion to an ambulance coach, becoming known as AM12, for disabled pilgrims heading to the Knock Shrine – this included the addition of double doors, which later proved to be an uncommon but invaluable attribute in preservation days for providing wheelchair access.
Like many of our other carriages, 1097 entered departmental service with CIÉ as staff accommodation 605a following withdrawal from passenger use. It was later preserved by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in the 1980s and was restored for use on their mainline steam trains. 1097 operated on these continuously before it was transported to DCDR in 2005 following the banning of wooden-bodied carriages on the mainline network in Northern Ireland in 2004. After a decade in service at Downpatrick, the carriage has been temporarily withdrawn from passenger traffic until we can get round to carrying out some minor restoration work.