John Arnold: All aboard! From Lourdes to match days... my track record

Some day he wants to travel on the Orient Express and maybe the Trans Siberian railway - but for now he is looking forward to the short journey on Cork’s ‘newest’ line from Midleton to Cork. Here John Arnold reflects on his love of trains
John Arnold: All aboard! From Lourdes to match days... my track record

THEY ALL WENT DOWN TO YOUGHAL: The train station in Youghal in 1959, as people prepare to head to the seaside. Picture: Archive

I DON’T know why, but I love trains. Maybe it’s because well over half a century ago we got a beautiful toy train set one year for Christmas from Uncle Dan. It was massive with iron track sections.

You could make one long single train track or a shorter one that went around in an oblong manner. Each individual section fitted into the next in a very secure manner.

Once the track was complete, the railway engine took its place, with a ‘coal’ carriage next, then the various passenger and goods wagons. Round and round the engine went, effortlessly pulling the line of carriages.

I can’t remember if it was battery operated or one of those ‘wind-up’ ones. It was an absolutely brilliant present and I can still recall the awe and wonder we shared putting it together — thanks, Uncle Dan.

There are still a few pieces of that train set above in the old garage. Mouldering away on a shelf in that self same garage are an ancient set of encyclopaedias, printed I think in the 1920’s. Amazingly they too have a link with a train. The one and only time I saw a train pull in to the station in Fermoy was with those books. It closed in 1967 so it must have been a year or two before that. My father had an uncle, James Barry from Oldcourt in Lisgoold. He went to England and married Mary O Curry from Belfast — I never met either of them. After their deaths their only son Seamus kept in regular contact with his Arnold cousins in Bartlemy from his home in Bristol. Maybe cousin Seamus was moving house or something but he decided he no longer had any use for a full, 24 volume, set of the educational books. Maybe he knew that my mother, a widow with five children, would find it hard to make ends meet and as we were all in school the books might be handy.

Seamus packed the books into a timber crate. They came by boat to Rosslare and from there to Fermoy via the train. I remember there being great excitement the day we collected the crate at Fermoy railway station. Then Fermoy station closed. It was a shame really in hindsight.

We give out yards about what ‘ the English did to us’ over centuries but in fairness when they left in the 1920’s we had a massive rail network in Ireland. The next five decades were spent dismantling so much of the lines that criss-crossed the country.

When you look at a present day Railway map of Ireland there is a gaping blank in the South. If one wants to travel from any part of Kerry to Wexford you have to go up to Limerick Junction or Thurles to get there. The Killarney-Mallow- Fermoy- Rosslare line was a direct route across the south. People may argue that a good road infrastructure is better than railways but let’s face it, even from simply a tourism point of view railways are an invaluable asset.

During the lazy, hazy summer holidays of the late 1960’s we spent many a day at my god mother’s house Park na Veena on the outskirts of Midleton town. I don’t know if she had a clock or if she needed one because the train was a good indicator of the hour of the day. It was like a film set on her farm outside the town ‘cause the railway line divided her fields in two. The trains to Youghal came around in a semi circular fashion, less than a hundred yards away from the door.

On Sundays the crowds going to Youghal on the ‘excursions’ would be literally packed like sardines. No one minded. For city folk going down from Cork to Youghal on the train must have been a magical adventure. We pent many a Sunday on Claycastle in Youghal too as children. The crowds spilling out from the trains were massive. Buying boiling water from women in local houses to make the tea was a special ritual — ‘Oh to think of it, oh to dream of it fills my heart with joy’. At least when the passenger trains to Youghal ceased the ‘permanent way’ was left intact unlike the situation in Fermoy. Within a few years of the Fermoy closure the tracks were taken up and in many cases the land sold back to local farmers thus ensuring that the line could never again open, such folly.

When the Cork to Carrigtwohill and Midleton line was reopened a few years back many sceptics shook their heads and said ‘twould never work. How wrong they were and the fact that the line from Midleton to Mogeely, Killeagh and Youghal is still intact at least keeps alive the possibility that trains might once again run to East Cork’s seaside capital.

Back in the 1940’s my mother in law Kitty O’Connor travelled from her hometown of Bantry by train to Cork and from there to Midleton by train again. There she met her future employer Son McCarthy of Templebodan near Ballincurrig. She came all the way from Bantry for a job interview — she got the job and the rest as they say is history. She married in Bartlemy so the Bantry girl became a Bartlemy farmer. That rail link between Cork city and West Cork closed in 1961. The West Cork area is now a tourist Mecca, imagine if that narrow-gauge railway line was still open?

I think my first train journey was in 1971 when I went from Mallow to Knock Shrine in Mayo. We travelled by bus from the parish to Mallow train station and from there the train took us to either Ballyhaunis or Claremorris. Another bus then took us the final part of the journey. The following year, in September of 1972, I was on my first ‘match special’ from Kent Station to Dublin for the Hurling All Ireland. The train to Knock was quiet and prayerful whereas the Hurling Train was raucous and noisy, even though we lost to Kilkenny the return journey on that September Sunday night was filled with singing.

I just love the whole atmosphere of train travel, maybe there’s history in it and then of course from the train one sees a hidden Ireland not visible from the road. Since 1972 I must have been on maybe 50 ‘match specials’, many when Cork were playing but I’ve been to so many finals and semi finals over the decades that the trip to Dublin was as much part of the occasion as the match itself. Yes I’ve stood all the way back to Mallow or Cork after we losing a game too — not much craic in that!

In 2011 I went to Lourdes in November by bus, plane and train. I took the bus to Dublin and then flew to London. The following morning I got a flight to Carcassonne in France. I got a taxi from the airport to the Train station and got a train to Toulouse. I waited there for a few hours and got an afternoon train to Lourdes, arriving close to midnight. I remember that last train journey so well as we sped down across France. The journey started in daylight and ended in black dark. We had many stops en route so much so that when we got to Lourdes I was ‘the last man standing’. After I got off the train continued on to Pau.

Some day I want to travel on the Orient Express and maybe the Trans Siberian railway but most of all I’d love to journey on one of those long, long vastly overcrowded trains in India crammed with chickens and passengers on the roof! Meanwhile I have yet to make the short journey on Cork’s ‘newest’ line from Midleton to Cork.

In the late 1890s plans were drawn up to run a railway line from Midleton to Fermoy, mainly to facilitate the movement of soldiers from all over East Cork to the Barracks in Fermoy. Some of the initial engineering work was done. In the townland of Ballyogoha, Bartlemy cuttings were made along a hillside in order to lay the new tracks. The Railway plan was abandoned early in the 1900s — much anger and disappointment was expressed locally.

The area where the Midleton to Fermoy railway was to pass through this parish can still be seen today.

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