New Painting Captures Essence Of Old Bundoran Express Train

There was a great headline in a recent article that featured David Briggs’ artistic work, entitled “A Brush with the Past”.

It certainly captures the spirit and dedication of the Antrim based Ulster painter, who specialises, but is not exclusively based, on railway themes. Since his retirement after 30 years in the textile industry back in 2006, he has dedicated his life to something that he says he simply loves to do.

His latest commission sees a ‘Down’ Bundoran express of the Great Northern Railway of Ireland which ran daily from Dublin to the Donegal seaside resort of Bundoran during the summer months, “drifting past the castellated gate lodge of the long abandoned Castle Caldwell estate on the northern shores of lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland,” as David describes it himself.

The painting is set in the mid 1950’s.

The Bundoran Express by David Briggs will soon be on display at Headhunters Barbershop & Railway Museum in Enniskillen

According to David, the ‘Bundoran’ was one of the few named expresses in Ireland but the express designation may seem a little surprising when one considers it took over 5 hours to cover about 160 miles, averaging a little over 30 mph!

The ‘express’ designation was more to do with the fact that the trains meandering route meant it had to cross and recross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland 4 times in each direction, which would have necessitated unacceptable delays for customs clearance each time.

The solution was to classify the train as an express which did not stop within Northern Ireland and therefore could avoid customs checks. Sounds simple but it often meant some deft work by engine crews and signalmen to regulate the trains speed to take account of congestion ahead of it on a single track line.

Busy stations like Enniskillen had trains arriving from three directions and the Bundoran had to ease through at little more than walking pace.

Often a signalman when exchanging the single line staff with the engine crew at the previous block post would shout something like , ‘ease off, Enniskillen isn’t ready for you’ and the driver took the appropriate action. If all else failed and the train was halted at signals set to danger, all the trains carriage doors were locked from the outside anyway whilst it passed through Northern Ireland , – smuggling was seen as a very serious issue, not that it ever happened of course!.

A keen eye may spot the rearmost carriage of the train doesn’t carry a name board on the roof, this is the ‘through’ coach from Belfast.

It was coupled onto the rear of the train in Clones having arrived there on an earlier train from the northern capital. The dining car was removed from the consist to make room for it and it (the dining car) remained in Clones until the next ‘Up’ express passed and the procedure was reversed!

Too bad if the passengers fancied a snack between Clones and the destination, but remember customer service hadn’t yet been invented, he opines.

He explains that Castle Caldwell is just visible on the distant forested promontory roughly above the second last carriage of train, dates from the early 1600’s and was last inhabited by John Caldwell Bloomfield, better known as the founder of the world famous Belleek Pottery, which is just about 5 miles away in the direction the train is headed.

David told the paper that the painting will shortly be on view in Headhunters Barbershop & Railway Museum-Enniskillen, which has a wonderful eclectic mix of all things connected to the old railways which include the Great Northern Railway line that ran to Lough Derg, Belleek and Ballyshannon, before terminating in Bundoran. A great visit at any time of the year and highly recommended by the way!

That line closed in the Autumn of 1957 and was followed a couple of years later by the closure of the County Donegal Railway, with Ballyshannon boasting two different train stations at the time.

Another of David’s excellent paintings shows a Seaplane ( Short Sunderland flying boat ML778 of 201 Squadron Castle Archdale) flying over the secret ‘Donegal Corridor’ in WW2 off Tullan Strand and the Erne Estuary

The Last patrol

Another of David’s recent paintings with a Donegal theme is called ‘The last patrol’, which depicts a Short Sunderland flying boat ML778 of 201 Squadron Castle Archdale in WW2.

The date is June 3, 1945 with the seaplane having taken off from its Lough Erne base in the evening light and exiting the Donegal Corridor with Ballyshannon and the estuary near Bundoran in the background

The plane was flying in southern airspace by virtue of a secret agreement between Winston Churchill and Eamon De Valera, to allow the flying boats a much faster route to the North Atlantic .

Its primary role was to offer protection to the vulnerable merchant vessels from U boat attack and as part of the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, the longest running battle of the second world war.

David is a member of Guild of Motoring Artists and Guild of Railway Artists and paints solely in Acrylics.

(Source – Donegal Democrat / Donegal Live – Local News – Michael Mc Hugh – 27/02/2023)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rural Enterprise Skillnet
Rural Enterprise Skillnet

The Rural Enterprise Skillnet is funded by member companies and the Training Networks Programme, an initiative of Skillnets Ltd. funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.

Read More