The Budjin Hoofer - a blast from the past

Jane Gill beside the train mural on the wall of the Drift Inn Restaurant.  (2607JB11)
Jane Gill beside the train mural on the wall of the Drift Inn Restaurant. (2607JB11)

Continuing his occasional look back at youthful days from what’s clearly a hard life Canada, well-known Derry jazz man JOHNNY ANDERSON recalls a North-

The Budjin Hoofer. That’s what we used to call the Buncrana train but in hindsight it was probably the Budjin Hooter as that would make more sense (Budjin being “Derry” for Buncrana).

As a child growing up in Derry it was pretty exciting to go for a trip on that vehicle. The station was down the Strand and sometimes we would head to Pennyburn just to see the train. It was great to watch them stoking up the big boiler and seeing all those big brass levers. Then the wheels would spin as it grabbed for traction with the rails.

At Springtown it was fun to stand on the railway bridge as the train went underneath and be totally enveloped in the cool steam from the engine as the driver hit the whistle.

The train had a reputation for being slow .They say you could plant flowers in the first coach and pick them fully grown in the last carriage at the end your journey, it took that long.

Funny enough when the North changed to daylight saving time the Free State was different so you could leave Derry at six o’clock and arrive in Buncrana at the same time, six o’clock. This was reversed on the way back so it lived up to its reputation for snail speed.

Riding as a passenger was exciting in more ways than one.

The carriage doors had big brass handles and could only be opened from the outside. This must have been a safety feature as you had to let down the window, reach out to turn the handle, then exit when it stopped.

To open the window you had to pull it up first then it would disappear into the door with a tremendous bang. If you let it go...

You could then hang out the window at your peril and chance getting hit by a stray branch or blinded by ash from the engine.

All the compartments were separate as the coaches didn’t have corridors. If you were inclined to mischief total privacy was yours and you could jump on the seats if you wanted...

The first glimpse of water would occur about Inch. The excitement would build as you passed Fahan on the way to the Shore Front at Buncrana then up the town for the ice cream. I can’t remember if it was Florentini’s or Yanerelli’s but it was magic.

On the way back there was the compulsory stop at Bridgend while the customs’ officers would search the train. Sometimes that took a while. Food was in short supply in the North during and after the war so smuggling was a very necessary pastime. Eggs, flour and bacon were popular items and the customs officers were very strict.

If you had a cigarette packet with the cellophane still intact it might be confiscated and manys a small child had two pound of home churned butter melt in his Wellington boots owing to a longer wait at Bridgend as usual.

When the passenger trains became a thing of the past they started to use buses and that wasn’t half as much fun.

The Drift Inn is all that is left of the Buncrana station but while you enjoy a leisurely pint there you can still imagine the comings and goings think how busy it must have been in its heyday.

At seventy-five years of age I marvel at what 1 can remember about the past when I can’t recall what I had for breakfast.

I think the old Lough Swilly Railway is much more fun to reminisce about than an Ulster fry with Tay and a Bap... don’t you think?