Summer is coming to a close, and you can still enjoy a trip on a train at Downpatrick Railway and get away from it all for a couple of hours.
Step back to the Edwardian era at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway this European Heritage Open Day weekend as the last summer train pulls out of the station.
Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner, said: “The railway is running its last trips to Inch Abbey this weekend, Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th September, as part of the European Heritage Open Days, and in the spirit of Province-wide scheme there will be guided tours on request of the lesser seen parts of the railway site not normally accessible to the public, as well as the chance to sample the atmosphere of rail travel at its most traditional.
“This year passengers are in for a real Edwardian treat, as Edwardian re-enactors mingle with passengers onboard three beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages normally kept on display in our Carriage Gallery.
“Passenger will be stepping back in time and sharing their compartments with Edwardian ladies and gentlemen, whilst on the platform a typical ‘Flower lady’ as well as a storyteller will be milling about the station.”
The three railway carriages operating all have a special history, as well as a connection to the ill-fated liner… the Titanic. Two come from the Belfast & County Down Railway, which used to operate between Belfast and Newcastle via Downpatrick, and the Great Southern & Western Railway – and all three have been restored from wrecks – two of which were found in fields being used as hen houses.
Mr Gardiner added: “The Belfast & County Down Railway were neighbours and had a very close working relationship.
“Not only was Thomas Andrews’ father chairman of the Belfast & County Down Railway, but the busy commuter trains of the BCDR brought in thousands of shipyard workers every day to work on Olympic and Titanic, as well as all the other ships.
“We have preserved some of those carriages and people will be able to get up close to see how shipyard workers would have travelled to Harland & Wolff, and sit in their seats.
“The Titanic connection doesn’t end there, visitors will be able to board a 1902-vintage third-class carriage from the Great Southern & Western Railway, and see one of their engines, which served the port of Queenstown.
“So not only do you get the experience of the shipyard worker, you will also be able to experience how an emigrant travelled to meet the doomed liner.
“As part of the spirit of the European Heritage Open Days, where you get access to lesser known parts of our heritage, a trip to the station is also much more than boarding the train, with our museum and Carriage Gallery visitor centre we bring the golden age of the railway vividly to life and you can find out what impact the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.”
For the younger train fans and enthusiasts, children can enjoy their own ‘Kids’ Station’ in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard, or can get to control a model railway layout.
The steam train will run to Inch Abbey between 1pm and 4pm, and visitors can disembark and take a short walk up to Inch Abbey.
These extensive remains are of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, who led the 1177 Anglo-Norman invasion of East Ulster, and are the reputed site for where the story of St Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland was first recorded by the monks.
And on Saturday 14th September, living history monks will meet visitors. The brothers of the abbey daily walk in silence, but they will tell you about their peaceful lives and long history on these islands on a guided walk of the ruins with Cistercian Brother Robert as he marks the Hours in the tranquil beauty of this serene medieval abbey.
Mr Gardiner concluded: “You can also visit the museum in the station building which looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from tickets to signals, and a gift shop you can visit before you leave.”
Also open to the public is the lovingly restored Bundoran Junction signal cabin, now taking pride of place at Downpatrick Station rechristened ‘Downpatrick East’, where you can imagine yourself as the signalman controlling the trains and learning about the vital role signalling had on our railways – and is the only genuine vintage signal cabin that has wheelchair access.
“Refreshments are also served in the ‘Cafe Carriage’ parked at Inch Abbey Station, which is also accessible for wheelchair users, where you can also wait to make the return journey to Downpatrick.
Train fares, which are separate to free access to the station and museum, cost £7.50 adults, children £5.50, and £6.50 senior citizens, whilst a family ticket costs £22 and children aged three years old or below go free. Tickets can be purchased on the day, or online at: