On Saturday afternoon last, Ballyhaunis Railway Station came alive in colourful 19th-century style to celebrate and commemorate the historic opening of Mayo’s first railway line on October 1, 1861.
Hundreds of locals, staff, members of Ballyhaunis Chamber of Commerce and public representatives all attended the memorable event. Dozens of attendees marked the occasion by decking out in top hats, evening tail coats and double breasted suits, all trademarks of the classical era.
Ballyhaunis Chamber of Commerce organised the day’s festivities, which centred on a train journey from Castlerea to Ballyhaunis, during which locals laughed, joked and transported themselves back to a great day in the history of Ballyhaunis and the west of Ireland.
The large contingent disembarked on to the Ballyhaunis platform in their period attire just after 3pm, where they received a huge fanfare from enthusiastic onlookers. Traditional style was not just in abundance on the platform – numerous vintage cars were brought to the station too.
Councillor John Cribbin gave a brief summary of the history surrounding the day, while Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony was also in attendance.
Speaking to The Mayo News, the president of Ballyhaunis Chamber, Martin Fitzmaurice, said he was delighted with the turnout: “A general invite was open to anyone who had any interest in celebrating the anniversary with the people of Ballyhaunis. Boy did they come.
“People travelled from all over the west of Ireland. People came who were supplied with machine parts delivered to the station. People came whose forefathers had salt delivered to the station for curing meat. People came who had relations who worked on the railways. Hundreds of people came and heard some very interesting stories from the speakers who were organised for the day.”
Large-scale emigration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries made Ballyhaunis Railway Station a busy and emotional point of departure for thousands of individuals and their families. However, the connection to Castlerea in 1861 provided the area with a vital link to Dublin, which gave a much-needed boost to the local economy. The transportation of goods and services from the station sadly ended in 1975, but in the intervening years the transport of people became big business.
During the Celtic Tiger years tourism in Mayo boomed and developed immensely. Ballyhaunis Railway Station brought tens of thousands of visitors to the region from across Ireland and overseas.
Fitzmaurice said that there was a strong consensus that the 150th anniversary should be marked, and members of the Chamber had taken on the task by recreating the 19th-century atmosphere. Fitmaurice also spoke about all the emotion that was present on the day. He added, “Some people had tragic memories of times when relations left home, some never to return. But it also brought prosperity to the region in the form of markets for livestock, supplies of hardware, salt and other goods and services. It opened up a range of new markets to the west of Ireland.”