Fintown Railway - An Mhuc Dhubh
20th August 2008
© copyright photographs by Colin Duff
|The Fintown Railway is a small heritage railway, and the only remaining operational railway, in County Donegal. It runs for 5km, mostly alongside the north shore of Loch Finn, in the remote and bleak highland terrain in the Gaeltacht area of County Donegal. It is the restored remnant of what was once 200 miles of the narrow gauge railway systems operated by the County Donegal and Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Companies.|
This railway provides a unique opportunity to ride in one of the highly characteristic County Donegal Railways railcars. Railcar 18 is one of six original railcars still in existence and the only operational example. It was introduced by the CDRJC in 1940 but was seriously damaged by fire on 7th November 1949 . It was subsequently rebuilt, but not to its original form. In 1996 it was restored back to its original condition by the North West of Ireland Railway Society.
On the Fintown Railway it is hauled west by a Simplex 102T locomotive but returns east to the station under its own power hauling the Simplex.
The railway is creditably open to the public 7 days a week over the summer and on selected dates at other times in the year. Given the distance from any large accumulation of population for both volunteer workers and (despite this being a holiday area) visitors, this is a remarkable feat. As an occasional volunteer worker on a heritage railway I recognise that this could be a marginal operation.
Operation is relaxed - as is the pace of life in this part of the world. During our visit the train departed 10 minutes late and then part way west was held up for about 15 minutes whilst a flock of sheep, who were in no hurry at all, was shepherded across the line. (Almost an hour later when leaving the railway we encountered this flock of sheep again blocking our way whilst crossing the road. This being at a location only about 100 metres from where we were delayed by them on the train!)
Above, Railcar 18 at Fintown Station waiting to depart.
The fine interior of Railcar 18, above left the cab (the 13 amp power socket is not thought to be original!), above right looking forwards and, left, looking to the rear of the car.
The journey along the line is at a very leisurely pace and there being no station at the other end of the track is only out and back.
Displaying the standards of its age, the seating was far more comfortable than the current generation of British trains!
Other stock on the railway whilst we were there was a former Bord na Mona Ruston locomotive and 2 turn of the 20th Century tramcar carriages from Belgium (up for sale).
Frankly, other than the ride, and if the weather permits - which it did not whilst we were there - photographing the train from the adjacent road (parking in laybys as this is a narrow country road), there is little to do and see here. So the railway is good for about an one hour visit if you are in the area. Given its remote location you are unlikely just to be passing by.
I felt the railway could do more to explain the narrow gauge railway system in this part of the world, however this deficit is more than made up for by a visit to the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre in Donegal Town, about 30 minutes away.
If you intend visiting you will need to dress for several seasons, as is common for this vicinity! In a 90 minute period we went from driving rain, to grey dank mist, but ended up in shirtsleeves in bright sunshine.
Fintown was the fifth station on the 1895 County Donegal Railway branch from Stranorlar to Glenties.
By the way, "An Mhuc Dhubh" is Gaelic for "The Black Pig". This is what the locals called the first steam engine when the railway first arrived. It is easy to imagine a snorting steam loco appearing to be a beast to the sparse population of this vicinity a century ago. Given the opportunity, in this remote location it could pretty much seem to be the same today. Oh, Dhubh is also the origin of my long-since anglicised surname and my branch of the Duff family does have an ancestral connection to County Donegal (although they were long-since living in England by the time the railway arrived)!