Restored steam engine ‘Drumboe’ returns to Donegal after decades

Famous old County Donegal Railways train in triumphant homecoming to heritage centre on the banks of the River Eske

By The Newsroom
Friday, 8th October 2021, 2:51 pm
Updated Friday, 8th October 2021, 2:58 pm
RESTORED... Drumboe before being transported from Whitehead to Donegal Town.

History will be made this weekend when a famous steam train makes a triumphant return to Donegal after an absence of 60 years.

The engine, ‘Drumboe’, will, on Saturday (October 9), be transported on a low-loader from a restoration yard at Whitehead in Co. Antrim and onwards through Derry, Strabane and Stranorlar before arriving in Donegal Town - where she will be on display for a short period mid-afternoon - and her new home at the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre.

The museum is managed by Niall McCaughan, best-known for the role he played in transforming The Playhouse in Derry and now turning the rail heritage centre into a Donegal success story.

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IN ITS HEYDAY... Drumboe pictured in Strabane in the 1920s.

He says: “D day is finally here as the museum prepares for the return of the famous Donegal steam engine, Drumboe. For years, many people across the county had wished that, one day, a steam engine would return. Now, after a lot of effort and support from the people and funders, our famous engine is returning from Whitehead where she was being restored. This engine has come full circle as it was the very last engine to operate a passenger service in the county, on December 31, 1959, when it left Donegal Town Station (now the museum) for Strabane.”

Many people, says Niall, have been asking if this is just a cosmetic repair or can Drumboe actually go back into steam.

“The answer is that most of the engine is being fully restored to operational state. When funding becomes available, she could certainly go back into steam. The only part of Drumboe which we are leaving at the moment is the boiler. There is no use in restoring the boiler and getting it certificated until we have land and a track to run it on.”

The engine itself is famous in Donegal as it criss-crossed the south of the county and into N.Ireland more than a century ago.

Delivered between 1907 and 1908, the famous engine was originally named Glenties and was renamed Drumboe in 1937.

Drumboe, as well as its sister engine, “Meenglas,” were both named after the homes of former chairmen of the County Donegal Railway Company. During the 1940s, the CDR was still a busy railway and, by the end of that decade, the diesel railcars they had introduced had taken over most of the regular passenger services. Steam locomotives were still required for the goods trains and the special excursion services that ran during the summer months.

Around this time, while other locos were withdrawn, Drumboe received a final heavy overhaul which allowed it to continue into service until 1960.

On the final day of services, on December 31, 1959, the last train from Stranorlar to Strabane - normally a railcar - was replaced by a special train of five carriages hauled by “Drumboe”. When it returned to Stranorlar later that evening, at 8.30pm, it was welcomed by a large crowd and the County Donegal Railway passed into history.

In March 1961, an auction of CDR rolling stock was held andamongst the items purchased by a Dr Cox, from the USA, were the two locomotives stored at Strabane: “Drumboe” and “Meenglas”. Plans were announced to ship these ex-CDR locomotives to the USA; instead, they remained abandoned and unwanted at the former station in Strabane until 1989.

Drumboe was subsequently donated to the North West of Ireland Railway Society (NWIRS) and, in 1997, was moved to the railway museum in Donegal Town. Since 2007, “Drumboe” has been looked after by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in Whitehead where, thanks to donations and grant aid, she has been restored.

Separately, the museum itself is receiving an upgrade in preparation for Drumboe’s return. A new presentation platform is nearly complete, and, once the engine is carefully lifted into place, a new canopy will be installed above it, railway carriages and wagons. A small track for a children’s ride-on is to be installed at the back of the station.

For more information, contact: [email protected]