LOCAL Brendan ‘Sherlock’ Holmes recalls the trains on the Great Western Greenway.Pics: Neill O’Neill
Brendan Holmes from Tiernaur is a landowner along the Great Western Greenway. He has a lifetime of memories to recount
AS a landowner along the Great Western Greenway all of his life, Brendan Holmes from Tiernaur has seen most of the changing faces of the railway. Brendan will turn 85 on May 15, yet he remains independent and active in the local community and on his holdings, which flank the Greenway.
For him, the transformation of the disused Old Midland Railway Line to the Great Western Greenway has been a ‘marvellous event’. After some sad memories of his mother departing for work in the UK every year when he was very young, he feels that the Greenway has brought many positives to the county and his native Mulranny.
He arrives to meet The Mayo News on the Greenway in a very distinct vehicle, and explains that it is an RTV Kubota that he bought in Mulchrone’s in Westport.
“I think this is the first one that was insured and taxed to drive on public roads in Mayo. People always pull me and they ask me what is that yoke? Two litres of diesel will keep her going for the week, I love her, she’s a baby,” he says with a smile.
Brendan never strayed too far from his native place, but his sharp wit and independence beguiles his years. He is known as Sherlock Holmes, because he jokes, he is the best detective in the west of Ireland. However, the truth he reveals is that it is a name that was put on his father in the dole office.
Living alongside the railway from his earliest years, Brendan recalls it well.
“I was here when the train was working, you would see the lights coming on it, I was five years-old and my mother was working in every hotel in Wales, Scotland, England. I would see her once a year and when I was nine she came home and I didn’t know who she was. I was brought up standing all day in a tea chest, back in the 1930’s, I was in the tea box that was my trolley, but I wasn’t pushed around. My father was gone to Achill bringing cows up and I was there all day with nothing in my belly. But I made a good man after that. I was taken from school at 12 years, and went cutting turf with a slayen to make a pound. I am 42 years on my own, but I look after myself, I don’t neglect myself.
Brendan remembers that when the train would pass his home at 8am in the morning, ‘she would start to blow and put up a head of steam’.
He points out a section where the train crashed once, but luckily did not derail. He spent days in his youth alongside the train line, and after many decades of dereliction, he is now enthusiastic about the railway’s new use.
“The people that pass here, I have a laugh with them, it’s better than going for a pint I say, having a good laugh.
“I never travelled on the train I was too young, but my mother did. When she would be going working she would have to walk back to Mulranny to the hotel to board the train and she would come past here on the train at 8am. Our land is looking down on the railway and she said to my father Michael, there was three of us children, I was the youngest, to bring out the children with three white hankies and give me a wave when I’m going over the line past the house. He brought us out and we waved to her. I don’t know if she ever saw us or not. I still think of her all the time, I love her, I pray for her every night,” he said, emotion welling up with the tears in his eyes.
“My father wasn’t much good, I’m always honest about that.
“We had a horse that died of old age, he was a great horse, and my father wrote to my mother in Wales and a fortnight later £16 landed to buy a fillie foal. The following year she went to Bournemouth, she was feeding us, only for her we would have died of hunger. We only saw her once a year for a fortnight, I minded her until the day she died after she came home.
I never forgot that memory of the train, to see her going by here in the mountains, in the early morning, all lit up and her puffing away - it is a golden memory.
Brendan recalled that it took a lot of work to take up the rails and the sleepers after the trains finished. He spoke of the engineers that laid the track and the good job they did through difficult terrain.
“There were engineers 100 years ago and look at the work they did with this flat track, it is a sight better than the road that twists and winds all the way to Westport, and they would do the maintenance by hand back then, with wheel barrows and shovels and drawing stone from the quarries in the hills there.
“When Padraig Philbin (Engineer with Mayo County Council) came to lay out the Greenway you couldn’t get through a lot of it without wellingtons. Padraig landed here with his cap in his hand to meet the people, he opened the drains and dried out the land and look at it now.”
When pressed on the support of locals for the Greenway, Brendan acknowledges that it was not all completely plain sailing.
“Of all the people here there was only one or two that didn’t want the line. It is lovely to see the people able to come out and enjoy the scenery and the line and talk to an ould man for half an hour that they meet along the way. The young people are marvellous. Aren’t they better cycling here than in the pub drinking porter. This Greenway is alive with people, it is lovely and it keeps everyone out of mischief. We want this and we do what we can to keep it. I would hate to see anything happening to the Greenway. We haven’t that much here in Mayo, but we have our lovely Greenway. Padraig Philbin deserves a leather medal, he doesn’t want any praise but he should get it, and Anna Connor too. Thanks be to God its there, I love it.”
While he has sad memories of the train line from his youth, and his mother leaving to work ever year, Brendan now feels that the use of the trail is wholly positive.
I had sad memories of the train taking my mother away, it hurts me thinking that she wanted to see her children when she was leaving for a year, but I took over minding here and am happy I got to do that, so it is nice to have happy memories now about the line.
The Greenway has been a great story for this area, I would like to see some more tourists going to the Mulranny Hotel. I have golden memories of that place. The Greenway is also creating employment, there is a local man John O’Donnell who minds this section of The Greenway, it is great to see that too,
Brendan is one of the few people in the area that remembers the train and can talk about it. He was seven years-old when the line was closed in 1937. A neighbour, Pat Cannon, passes by, and Brendan engages him in conversation. Pat is in full agreement about the difficulty of trying to get land off people for nothing or next to it, and says that the last five years have been a wonderful success story for the Greenway and that it has really put the area on the map.
“However Padraig did it I don’t know, but he did.”
The legend of the prophecy is well-known locally. Pat Cannon recounts it and explains that is called Brian Rua O’ Cearbhain’s Prophecy.
“O’ Cearbhain said originally that there would be an iron horse bringing people along rails and people did not know what he was speaking of, but of course he meant the train. He also said that the first and last train between Westport and Achill would be carrying bodies. The first train that came had the bodies of people that were on a hooker to board a steamer in Westport and when they saw the steamer they all went to one side of their boat to look at it and it toppled over and a lot of them got drowned.
“Then the last train, I think the track was closed but they opened it again as there was a lot of young people that got killed in a fire in Kirkintilloch in Scotland, they were tatie hokers.”
Brendan interjects to reveal he witnessed that train pass by.
“I was watching that,” he said. “We waited all evening to see her, the Lord have mercy on them people.”
Brendan Holmes remembers the train travelling on the route to Westport, when it sunk, when it crashed, when the track was lifted. Now, as the Greenway, he has seen the life and times of Mayo’s most talked about amenity come full circle, and is glad to be able to tell his tale.