By Sean Ó Domhnaill
Given the restrictions over the past 20 months, there has been a surge in the demand for “staycations” or holidays within Ireland. For that reason it’s good that investment is going into facilities in this area, for example such as the Greenways that have proved so popular. At the moment it’s planned to put a new crossing of the Shannon in Athlone as part of a Greenway that will travel across the country from Dublin to Galway.
Some work has also been done on the possibility of a Greenway from Galway to Clifden on the Western coast. Meanwhile, a smaller project, undertaken by a determined group, not un-related to this Greenway, is one to put back in place the railway station at Maam Cross in the middle of Connemara, known as the “Connemara Railway Project”.
According to their leaflet, after over 80 years of disuse “the derelict station standing on 8.5 acres has been acquired by a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, called MGWR (2017) DAC, with a view to its restoration in the Connemara wilderness.
“The Promoters’ vision is to recreate a snapshot of the west of Ireland country railway, complete with track and heritage trains, drawing on early to mid-20th century themes of emigration, conflict, rural life and of course ‘The Quiet Man’ which was filmed in the surrounding savage beauty of Connemara.
Jim Deegan, an affable, rugged and committed (Laois) man who is director of the volunteer group, told Ireland’s Eye that “there are piles of full-size track on site now that will all be put in place. We can easily go two miles in one direction and three miles in the other with the track.
“We hope that this will be an all-weather family visitor attraction. It’s our aspiration to run full-size trains at times such as Christmas and Easter. We will have dining trains running through this magnificent scenery.
“We all share one passion and that is to restore a bit of the Irish country railway and what a magnificent location we have here to do that…I just want to thank our volunteers and, secondly, Irish Rail, because the help and assistance we’ve had from all levels of that company has been absolutely fantastic, and indeed quite a few of our volunteers are Irish Rail employees.
“I also want to thank Éamon Ó Cuív, our patron, who has been hugely helpful in what we have done so far. We have a 25 year lease on the old buildings here at the station and full planning permission for a restoration of the station.
“I want to thank Fáilte Ireland who have just announced that they are funding work on one of the iconic buildings here, a signal cabin. We hope work will start on that building in a few weeks time. I’d also like to thank the Connemara/Clifden Chamber of Commerce,” he added.
Éamon Ó Cuív commented: “About 2009/10 we had a meeting in Peacocks Hotel in Maam Cross about developing the old railway between Galway and Clifden as a Greenway. It would preserve the railway line and allow people to see what was there. But it has to look at parallel developments that could take place, such as this Maam Cross station project, and that would really enhance the experience: it would give you somewhere specific to walk to. We need multi-purpose development here in Connemara.”
There’s a great deal of romanticism about railways, whether it’s the old steam trains or newer versions, and the life that surrounded the old railways such as the stations, and the group add in their leaflet: “When these works are complete it’s hoped that this recreated Connemara railway station will once again echo to the sights, sounds, and aromas of a working Irish country railway, allowing families, tourists, all comers, and enthusiasts to once again experience an aspect of Irish rural social history that has all but disappeared in this State – this can be an all-weather family attraction with widespread appeal!”
More information about this group, including how to support them through their gofundme out-reach, can be accessed via their website which is www.connemararailway.ie