Thursday 12 June 2014

Armagh Rail Disaster, 1889 – sculpture unveiled

A bronze sculpture commemorating the Armagh Railway Disaster, which occurred 125 years ago today, has been unveiled by Transport Minister Danny Kennedy opposite the Gaol on The Mall, Armagh City.

The Armagh Rail Disaster 125 years ago today
The rail disaster was the worst in Europe at that time and resulted in the deaths of 89 people and injuries to 260 people, one-third of them children. The excursion train was crowded with a Methodist Sunday School outing to Warrenpoint, Co Down, when it stalled on a steep incline near Portadown Road.

The train crew divided the train and took forward the front portion. Unfortunately, the rear carriages were inadequately braked and ran back down the hill, colliding with a following train.

Sixty-four people were pronounced dead immediately and over time the death toll grew to nearly 90 (download names and ages here).

Hardly a single household in Armagh escaped death or injury and the effects of the tragedy were felt for decades.

Although there's a memorial listing all those who died in the Abbey Street Methodist Church (every member of its choir either died or was injured), there has never been an official public memorial in the City before. The newly installed figurative sculpture, raised on a limestone plinth, is by artist Rory Breslin from County Mayo. It was commissioned for £25,000 and takes the life-size form of a young girl (aged 10/11 years) in Victorian dress and barefoot, carrying a bucket and spade as she sets off on the excursion.

The commemorative event was a joint project between Armagh City & District Council and Portadown Armagh Railway Partnership (PARS) and supported by the Department for Regional Development. Many sections of the community were also involved in the day’s commemoration, including a schools' poetry competition. Guests of the memorial were treated to a recital of some of the winning schools’ work.

At his morning's ceremony, the Minister said: “The great tragedy of the Armagh railway disaster led directly to various safety measures becoming legal requirements for railways in the United Kingdom, and encouraged a move towards direct state intervention in such matters."