DD Motoring: Time travel in Fintown by train

first_imgFintown has always had memories of travel and time for me, half way between Ballybofey and Glenties, and the same half way halt between Letterkenny and Dungloe.There was a time when a lot of the shopping for our house came from Mc Geehan’s shop in Fintown when my father was working in Dungloe with the ESB. There he would call in for cigarettes, petrol and some shopping and maybe a “half and a bottle” before he would head on his journey over Meenaroy in his Ford Anglia Estate.On Friday last I was invited to Fintown to cover a special function for the former Minister of State and T.D. Dinny McGinley who was presented with a picture by photographer Brendan Alexander from Killygordan. The picture was of the milky way of a star shower and the surrounding mountains and lake pictured looking up the way from the tracks of the train. Advertisement After the speeches, some of which were longer than the length of railway track laid along the old railway, the same founder members said he could have done a lot better if he had have known he had to make a speech! No bother to you Joseph!. After the presentation of the photograph it was followed by a complimentary trip on the train for the guests attending.All aboard Train drivers and staff member at Fintown Railway Station including Frankie Keeney, Caroline O’ DonnellBack to the past.The train that we were travelling, or railcar to give it its right title, was sitting on the platform facing towards Stranorlar Station but for the first part of our journey today we were heading in the direction of Glenties. So a small shunting engine is coupled up at the rear. We headed out of Fintown Railway Station in reverse.Years of engine wear on the old shunting engine produced a plume of smoke as it took the strain of the weight of the carriage.Smoke of any sorts at an old station just makes the place feel so real. I don’t know why I like old train and engines and narrow gauge railways because they were all long gone before I was born. Advertisement As I leave the station I see a sign saying maximum speed 5mph, which feels about right.I can hear the carriage wheels build up a rhythm as they click slowly on to each new length of rail. As I listen to the passengers trying to talk above the sounds of the workings of the train. My mind is travelling back the way as well at a speed a lot faster than this train is travelling in real time.Fintown has one lasting memory for me and that’s where my music career started when my father got a fiddle for me when I was 7 years of age. It wasn’t something that I wanted but it was something that he landed home with one night and as I was the oldest in the house, what better idea than to get Brian to play the fiddle.A fiddle not unlike the one I broke that once belonged to John Doherty one of Donegal’s best musician.The fiddle landed with no rosin, no bow, no case no nothing. My grandfather, Pop Coyle had a fiddle that he no longer played so he gave me the missing pieces to get me started.Miss Mc Menamin from Mount Southwell at the Market Square was teaching piano and violin in the front room of her house and she was tasked to learn me to play the fiddle. New decimal currency was in for a couple of years but my music teacher was still in old money and a price of I Guinea. per quarter which was £1 and 1 Shilling. I don’t know which was the hardest part of learning the fiddle in them days, the lessons or running the gauntlet getting out of Wolfe Tone Place every evening and across the green as my so called friends would take target practice with a football at my fiddle case.The train has now come to a stop and nothing is happening. Then a recording of a soft Donegal voice tells us the story of the railway through Fintown. The rail car that we were sitting in was built brand new for this very line. It was going to be the answer to keeping the railways running at the time as steam was getting too expensive to run and not enough passengers were using the services.Train drivers and staff at Fintown Railway Station including Frankie Keeney, Caroline O’ Donnell and George KellyThis very railcar went on a journey of its own after the Donegal Railway closed down in 1959 until a few people in Fintown believed they could recreate this beautiful thing of the past and lay a railway on the old Stranorlar to Glenties line and get a train back running on it.If I said that I thought the speeches were long. I now think they were justified. This is a great achievement as we listen to the short history of Fintown’s fight for the railway. Brian Friel was one of the committees first patrons and he once described the run past Fintown lake as far nicer than any. “What is on offer is a unique journey along the shores of a lake as grand as any in Switzerland or Minnesota”The engine proper on the railcar is now fired up and the talk is over. The big Gardener diesel engine picks up the revs and fights with the sticking brakes of the railcar and the weight of the shunting engine. Now we are moving the driver changed up into second and the gear stick nearly takes a bite out of his hand as the whine of the gearbox tries to get the train moving again and the din of ones chatting is back in the train.I was the oldest in my family when I was asked to take up the fiddle that night my father Fred landed back with it from Fintown.The man that owned my fiddle before me was the youngest member of his family when he took up the fiddle. He was born in 1900 and was just 3 years old when the train first travelled this line in 1903 from Stranorlar to Glenties. Others claim he was born in 1895 and if he was he would have been celebrating his 100th birthday, had he lived, the year Fintown Railway was reopened in 1995.Anne Marie Wright chairperson of the Finntown Railway makes a presentation of a picture by Brendan Alexander to the former Minister and T.D. Dinny McGinley of behalf of the committee in recognition of Dinny’s support in the development of this great Tourist attraction. Photo Brian McDaidI can feel his sprit beside me on the train as we make our way back to the station.The fiddle that my father landed back from Fintown with that night was given to him by none other than the great John Doherty who was from a clan of Irish Travellers who worked as tin smiths and were famous for their music.The haunting image of the great John Doherty playing his fiddle onboard a trainSitting on this railcar the thought crosses my mind could John have flagged this very railcar down. I can picture him with the tools of his trade in a small bag and his fiddle under his arm heading from town to town.If his spirit was close to me on my journey through time last Friday on the train it wasn’t that close nearly 50 years ago when I first took ownership of his fiddle.Bad StartIf I wasn’t having enough bother trying to learn to play this fiddle in the clinical surrounding of Mount Southwell with a brass music stand placed in front of me with sheet music and Miss McMenamin, god rest her, cutting both her fingers and mine as well pressing them down onto the strings but to no avail.Meanwhile my father who would enjoy his half and a bottle in Nellie Mc Govern’s on Lr Main St. would be chatting to Nellie, She always would ask him with her strong Cavan voice ‘ Hows the boys, Fred?That was the signal for him to go off on one telling her about his eldest son “Brian” up at music lessons in the big house at the Market Square with John Doherty’s fiddle!In them days Nellie’s Brother Hughie an undertaker by trade stored his coffins in a room underneath the lounge at Lr Main St. and also a keen fiddle player and a great lover of ceile music and listening to the conversation was homing in on John Doherty’s fiddle.I wasn’t having much success learning to play this famous fiddle. And at one stage Hughie offered to buy me a new fiddle and pay for my lessons for a full year for my fiddle.My father was never going to sell it and it just made him the more success learning to play this famous fiddle. And at one stage Hughie offered to buy me a new fiddle and pay for my lessons for a full year for my fiddle. My father was never going to sell it and it just made him the more determined to make me learn it.I walked the roads like John Doherty did before me with my fiddle under my arm from my home in Glencar to the Market Square in wind, hail, rain and snow and cheers from my so called friends along the way. But unlike the great musician John Doherty all I had to show at the end of six months of fiddle lessons was one of the worst renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.Our train journey has now ended and we are back at the station platform in Fintown near where it all began for me and my trip down memory lane. I have to say the more The Fintown Railway committee feel they could get more support to preserve the heritage of the area, they have done a great job over the last 28 years. They did a far better job of preserving their heritage than I did with John Doherty’s fiddle.The great John Doherty telling a story with his fiddle ready to goBad End.There was many the day I wanted to tell my teacher Miss McMenamin about the famous man that once owned this fiddle but I was too shy to say.This fiddle produced music learned by ear not by notes on a page.It was my father that finally called the tune and spoke up after listening to far too many of my versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the lesson were brought to a close. Shortly after that a music teacher landed out from Derry and apparently was able to teach anyone any musical instrument.The first week we all signed up and paid up the second week He was bringing notes out of my fiddle that I never brought out before.The third week he didn’t turn up for the lessons all the Letterkenny wains ended up playing football outside the Literary Institute on Lr Main St. When the football was over we headed back to collect our instruments in the hall. When I arrived in the wake had already started. It was quiet as children look on in silence as I went in to identify my fiddle complete with the track of a shoe where someone stepped on it and smashed it into pieces.That’s was the night the music died for me and John Doherty’s fiddle, but years after that my father needed no fiddle to play his sorrowful tune anytime we passed through Fintown as he would start by saying , that’s where John Doherty gave me his fiddle, Brian!DD Motoring: Time travel in Fintown by train was last modified: July 26th, 2017 by Brian McDaidShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)last_img