THE trains and the buildings themselves may be long gone, but the former railway station at Ballynahinch Junction has been resurrected by one avid railway enthusiast after years of painstaking work… in miniature.
Well known traditional-music expert Patrick Davey has spent the last seven years reconstructing the former Belfast and County Down Railway station, which has now gone on permanent display in the recently completed Carriage Gallery at the Downpatrick and County Down Railway.
Patrick said: “My fascination with this station started in 1988, whilst I was still at school, a friend in my class told me about a remote field in County Down which contained two rusting steam locomotives, somewhere between Saintfield and Crossgar.
“I managed to find the field and indeed there were the two locomotives exactly as had been described, but of more interest to me were the substantial remains of a railway station, including a long and very narrow island platform and a main platform on which were the decaying remains of a station building and signal box, sadly all now demolished.
“Soon I would learn that I had found the site of the former Ballynahinch Junction station, on what was once the main line of the Belfast and County Down Railway, which ran from Queen’s Quay station in Belfast to Newcastle, with a branch line to Ballynahinch, leaving the main line between Saintfield and Crossgar.
“Between my first two visits to Ballynahinch Junction, I paid a visit to my grandmother, Bridget Davey, whom I knew had grown up in the Doran’s Rock area, close to the station. She knew the station well and I discovered her sister had married the son of one of the stationmasters at Ballynahinch Junction, the highly respected David Rice, and astouned me by revealing that two of my older cousins, Davy and Jackie Rice, were the grandsons of Mr. Rice!
“Their memories of the station and the people who worked there brought the place to life for me in a unique way and both have continued to relate these memories to me to the present day and have supplied me with many photographs taken during their time at Ballynahinch Junction, which helped immensely with the model.”
Patrick explained how he got the project off the ground. He said: “I started seriously thinking about building the model in late 2005 and I made an appeal for information and photographs relating to Ballynahinch Junction and although some excellent photographs were received as a result of this, the most significant response came from Mr. Bill Gillespie, one of the founders of the DCDR, and also as the son of the late Joe Gillespie, a train driver on the Ballynahinch branch.
“As our communications developed into a firm friendship, it became clear that Bill and I shared the same passion for the BCDR and for Ballynahinch Junction in particular. Bill’s vivid memories of Ballynahinch Junction and the Ballynahinch branch have been an invaluable source of information and inspiration to me, and the generosity with which these have been given has been deeply appreciated.”
Patrick revealed that he received strong support from his family on this project. “Once I told my cousin Jackie I was planning to build a model of Ballynahinch Junction, he invited me to his home and began to further relate his many memories of the station. He was very keen to show me a scrapbook he had compiled, based on his family tree, and which contained many fascinating photographs and written memories relating to Ballynahinch Junction and the time his brother Davy and himself spent there as evacuee children during the war; this included photographs of their grandfather Mr. Rice, one of which shows him wearing his BCDR uniform.”
He also explained the intricacies of building the model and added: “This is actually my second attempt, the first I had to abandon when I found I’d made some big mistakes. The experience to date taught me that when building a model railway of a prototype, the more time given over to research and planning the better. So I made use of the extra time when building wasn’t actually happening, and carefully planned the construction of the model in as much detail as possible.
“All the station buildings and other structures were all built from scratch, the dimensions of the buildings were largely decided through estimation following close examination of photographs and contemporary Ordnance Survey maps, and although not perfect, I am very happy with the results, and the reaction from everyone in Downpatrick and especially the visitors has been incredible.”
“When I started it I never thought it would become such a labour of love, and I have to thank my wife Bronagh for her patience and not divorcing me!”
Patrick’s model railway has been put on display, appropriately, in the Belfast & County Down Railway’s Royal Saloon, in the Carriage Gallery, which is open every weekend and Wednesdays. If you have any photos, memorabilia or memories from Ballynahinch Junction, or indeed any part of the old BCDR, contact the Downpatrick and County Down Railway at firstname.lastname@example.org