Travel to exotic far-flung parts of the earth nowadays is taken very much for granted. But to the children of Newry in the nineteen fifties and sixties, life was a lot simpler.
For us the mere promise of a day excursion trip to some exotic place like Warrenpoint was something to look forward to for weeks. And Warrenpoint was mysterious and exotic to us then: our trips there were infrequent enough to ensure it remain so.
I remember my Mother used to say to my brothers and me that if the weather was to stay good, and we behaved ourselves for the rest of the week, then maybe she would take us all on the train to Warrenpoint.
Now that was a treat not to be missed so all that week we would stay as good as gold; well at least we tried not to get caught being up to our usual, mischievous selves.
Sunday, the chosen day for our trip would eventually come around, and boy, were we excited? We couldn’t wait for that afternoon and our promised trip by train to the seaside.
Our Mum would have a packed lunch for us all, a few sandwiches to eat, wrapped up in a McCann’s bread wrapper and a big bottle of orange juice to quench our thirst.
In those days Newry had two railway stations: to the south of the town we had Dublin Bridge Station, and to the north there was Edward Street Station. As we lived in Murphy Crescent at that time, Edward Street would be the nearest railway station to us for our departure.
That afternoon my mum walked us all to the station, down through the Barracks, and up over Catherine Street. There were a lot of other families travelling like ourselves to the railway station for a day trip to the Point. All the children were jostling and pushing each other, recounting stories of the last time we went on such an exciting train journey to Warrenpoint.
Soon we came to the Edward Street Station, a typical GNR station, with a small low building that contained a ticket office, a waiting room and the Station Master’s office.
In front of us as we approached the entrance was the engine shed, a large red brick building with two arched entrances to the front. Peeping out from one of the entrances was the hugely-impressive big black front of a steam locomotive. It looked quite frightening, like a huge dragon peering out from its lair.
Soon we passed through the ticket office and were at last standing on the station platform awaiting the arrival of the Warrenpoint train.
My mum and the other parents sat down to wait while us children just stood about chattering to each other. We were all warned to stay away from the edge of the platform, as it was dangerous.
‘Warrenpoint is down that way,’ said my brother pointing to the left. He was older so he knew things like that!
‘The train should be coming from this other direction,’ he said pointing to his right. Big brothers are very clever; they knew lots of things that I did not.
After a short wait someone shouted,
‘Here it comes! The train, here it comes!’
Our hearts collectively skipped a beat! How thrilling! We had to be restrained from rushing forward to the very edge of the platform.
Sure enough the train could be seen and heard rumbling down the track towards us in the station, smoke puffing from out of its stack and steam hissing and blowing from the cylinders at its wheels. The locomotive was sky blue in colour; it was still in the livery of the old GNR, not in the lined black of the newly formed UTA. All us children agreed that the blue engines looked so much better than the black ones.
The train came to a stop just beyond us at the platform, the steam still hissing and blowing from its wheels. To this day I can still remember that distinctive smell you get from a steam train – that smell of hot oil, smoke, and the tang of steam that invades the back of your throat.
All the mothers held their children back until the train came to a halt, and then ushered them all through the open door of the nearest carriage. Of course the children all wanted a window seat; failing that, as close to the window as they could get.
The parents sat in the middle of the carriage while the children bunched around the windows. There were all the usual warnings.
‘Keep away from the door! Don’t be letting that window down and for heaven
sake don’t you dare stick your head out of that window!’
We children listened to all the warnings, but between Newry and the Point some of those rules were going to be broken. There was a ‘dare’ among us boys to reach our hands and arms as far out as possible: maybe, brush against the leaves of passing trees and bushes! Fortunately, none were within reach!
The whistle sounded and with a huge hissing roar of steam the train began to move forward on its six-mile journey to the Point. To me the best side of the carriage on the first part of the outward journey from Edward Street was the east or town side. I always thought there was more to be seen from that direction, but after we crossed the river beyond Dublin Bridge Station, I always tried to change over to the other side of the carriage.
Over the level crossing at Edward Street we went, along Railway Avenue and over another crossing at Monahan Street. The traffic was all stopped behind the level crossing gates and we waved cheerily at the people on the street, and, to the last man they all waved back.
From Monahan Street the train trundled slowly along by the back of Haldane and Shiels timber yard to emerge at the level crossing on Francis Street. After the crossing at Francis Street and still travelling slowly we journeyed along that mysterious section of the track that curves round through what was in effect Fishers timber yard, nowadays called Buttercrane Shopping Centre, once more to emerge at yet another level crossing, this time on Buttercrane Quay. This was a magical mystery tour indeed!
All the children loved the next part of the journey: we had to cross the canal by way of the old swivel-bridge and this was exciting to us because we travelled very slowly along this section of track and we had more time to wave out at the people behind the level crossing gates at Buttercrane Quay. After a right hand curve we moved along between the canal and the river, over one more level crossing and with a mighty hiss of steam we would grind to a stop at Dublin Bridge station.
Dublin Bridge station was somewhat unique, because like Newry Town Hall it was built on a bridge over the Clanrye River. It was only the passenger platform that was raised above the river’s mudflats below, but the huge timbers, like the sleepers on which the rail rested, had spaces through which we could observe what was below and it seemed to us like a miracle of modern engineering!
Lots more passengers would embark at Dublin Bridge station, and the train by this time was getting really crowded. These new children were anxious too to get window seats or at least window views, and we sprang at once back to our places to defend our window-seats or perches! It was to no avail where there were adults without a seat. Any of us children who happened to have a seat up to this point, were ejected from it to make way for another adult to sit down.
As children we didn’t mind this, because with all the extra kids milling around the window, we had the chance now to lower the window, unseen by our parents. After leaving the station at Dublin Bridge the next exciting part of our journey was just yards ahead, at the crossing of the river by way of the railway swing bridge at Kilmorey Street.
Now that we were beginning to leave the centre of the town our train was starting to pick up some speed. This was our chance to poke our heads out of the window; we did so with great gusto. The wind made our eyes water, the bits of soot from the locomotives chimney stack speckled our faces with dirt. It was great fun: we laughed and waved to other children in carriages further along the train; they were all doing the same as ourselves. More than one boy cried out in pain as a burning ember of soot lodged in their eyes. This called for immediate action from a scolding adult. ‘You were warned NOT to open that window!’
Some adult would get up out of their seat and promptly close the window -temporarily spoiling our fun.
Our train was moving fast by this time, or so we thought anyhow. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack went the wheels. As the rhythm became established, it seemed like a chanting mantra to us:
CLICKETY-CLACK, CLICKETY-CLACK. Then the rhythm seemed to change
– CLICKETY – CLICKETY-CLACK, CLICKETY – CLICKETY-CLACK.
The telegraph poles zoomed past in harmony.
‘Off to the Point! Off to the Point!’ We were truly enjoying our outing.
The railway track at this point ran parallel to the main Warrenpoint Road. In fact at one time in and about Newry there were two main roads, two separate railway systems and two waterways all running parallel with one another for about five miles. And this is not counting the Bessbrook tram system!
This quite possibly was the only place in Ireland that this occurred, indeed, maybe even in the whole of these islands.
Even today this is one of the most scenic and beautiful journeys in Ireland. Though nowadays you have to travel by road as the railway has unfortunately long gone.
The children on our railway journey were always fascinated by how close the train ran to the water’s edge. It always frightened us all a little bit. With the noise, the thrills, the rhythm, the smells, the optical illusions as the landscape – not us in the train – seemed to zoom by, it was easy to believe that we were speeding ON the water, not parallel with it!
I used to wonder what made the little marks on the mud flats. My brother – the all-knowing – told me that they were made by the sea birds. He also informed me that it was not called mud but glar; that it was a million feet deep; and if the train by chance ran off the tracks, we all would disappear into it forever. Big Brothers know about things like that. Of course I believed him.
The remainder of our journey took us past Narrow Water Castle; then on down into Warrenpoint station. As we approached the Point we could all detect that distinctive smell that one used always to associate with Warrenpoint and the seaside. It was that wonderful aroma of salt water and seaweed.
Our train journey of adventure was over. But we could look forward to the return trip to Newry!
I often wonder where that oh-so-distinctive smell went to.
Like the railways of old it has disappeared into the mists of time, only to be conjured up in the timeless memory of those of us who thrilled to it all those years ago.
… Curfew in Linenhall Square …