Hamill’s Beat - Railway was built in the famine years

Derry link stopped in its tracks.....
Derry link stopped in its tracks.....

We can’t afford to lose the battle to save our last railway. All around the world the age of the train is coming back. The slow death of railways by a thousand cuts is being reversed, so why should we be out of step?

Saving the line is only a matter of making it a priority. If we can’t rescue something that was built during the hungry years of the famine then there’s something desperately wrong.

It was one of the great engineering triumphs of the mid-19th century. The original plan was to build an embankment all the way along Lough Foyle from Campsie to Magilligan. It was to stretch for 15 miles. At least 20,000 acres of new farmland was to have been created.

As it turned out the plan proved too ambitious but a dyke was built from the mouth of the Faughan to Greysteel. At Longfield Point we can still see the remains of the original effort to go further out into the lough and all the way to Magilligan. At low tide a huge stone causeway, the “black road” as it’s known locally, extends out from the shore and sweeps around to the north east. It’s much longer than the other causeway that was built by a giant! But scarcity of funds, legal wrangles and the deepening water led to that part of the plan being abandoned.

But the dyke that was finished did create a massive area of new land including that which is now City of Derry Airport. Near the mouth of the Roe a second sea bank encloses another swathe of re-claimed land.

Work began in August 1845 and it gave vital work to hundreds of men during the potato famine. Stone was quarried at Moville and ferried across the Foyle on 80 barges drawn by steam tugs. More stone was quarried near Star of the Sea Parish Hall at Greysteel and taken on a small railway down to Longfield.

Seven years after work started, the first trains ran between Derry and Limavady in December 1852 and seven months later they were able to run through the Downhill tunnels to Castlerock and on along the Bann to Coleraine.

The scene is more like Holland than Ireland as the line crosses the low fields, protected by the dyke and in places by the railway embankment itself. The big difference with Holland is that here the view is framed by Binevenagh, Magilligan and the hills of Donegal. Well, that and the absence of windmills!

It’s just astounding that we haven’t treasured this engineering triumph and made it a priority many years ago. Our railway lobby group, Into the West deserve enormous credit for their efforts over the years. They’ve kept the line open so far but it’s outrageous that services are now being cut and the line is under threat again. Closure would be calamitous.