Restored steam engine ‘Drumboe’ returns to Donegal after decades

RESTORED … Drumboe before he was transported from Whitehead to Donegal Town.

This weekend, history will be made when a famous steam train triumphantly returns to Donegal after 60 years of absence.

The “Drumboe” locomotive will be transported on a flatbed truck from a restoration yard in Whitehead, Co. Antrim and on through Derry, Strabane and Stranorlar on Saturday (October 9th) before arriving in Donegal Town – where it will be for a short time in the afternoon see his – and her new home at the Donegal Railway Heritage Center.

The museum is run by Niall McCaughan, best known for his role in redesigning the Playhouse in Derry and now turning the Railway Heritage Center into a Donegal success story.

IN HIS WEDDING … 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 a steam engine would one day return. Now, after much effort and support from people and donors, our famous locomotive is returning from Whitehead, where it has been restored. This locomotive has come full circle as it was the very last locomotive to operate passenger services in the county on December 31, 1959 when it left Donegal Town Station (now the Museum) for Strabane. “

Lots of people, Niall says, have wondered if this is just a cosmetic repair or if Drumboe can actually get going again.

“The answer is that most of the engine is completely returned to operating condition. If the funding is available, it could certainly get back on its feet. The only part of Drumboe we’re leaving right now is the cauldron. There is no point in restoring and certifying the boiler until we have land and a route to drive it on. “

The locomotive itself is famous in Donegal as it crossed the south of the county and into Northern Ireland more than a century ago.

The famous engine, supplied between 1907 and 1908, was originally called the Glenties and was renamed Drumboe in 1937.

Both Drumboe and its sister locomotive “Meenglas” were named after the houses of former CEOs of the County Donegal Railway Company. In the 1940s, the CDR was still a busy railroad, and by the end of that decade, the diesel multiple units they introduced had taken over most of the regular passenger service. Steam locomotives were still needed for the freight trains and the special excursion services that ran in the summer months.

Around this time, while other locomotives were being retired, Drumboe received one final major overhaul, which allowed it to remain in service until 1960.

On the last day of service, December 31, 1959, the last train from Stranorlar to Strabane – usually a multiple unit – was replaced by a special five-car “Drumboe” train. When she returned to Stranorlar at 8:30 p.m. later that evening, a large crowd greeted her and the County Donegal Railway went down in history.

In March 1961 there was an auction of CDR rolling stock, and under the orders of a Dr. Cox bought items from the USA were the two locomotives “Drumboe” and “Meenglas” stored in Strabane. Plans have been announced to ship these former CDR locomotives to the US; instead they remained abandoned and undesirable at the former station in Strabane until 1989.

Drumboe was subsequently donated to the North West of Ireland Railway Society (NWIRS) and relocated to the Railway Museum in Donegal Town in 1997. Since 2007 “Drumboe” has been looked after by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland in Whitehead, where it has been restored thanks to donations and grants.

Regardless, the museum itself is getting an upgrade in preparation for Drumboe’s return. A new presentation platform is almost ready, and after carefully lifting the locomotive, a new canopy, railroad cars and wagons will be installed over it. At the rear of the station, a small slide for a children’s slide is to be installed.

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