Tickets from the Antrim Line from the Ulster Transport Authority and GNR
LEAVING Lisburn behind this week travel out to Knockmore and no-one better to have on board than my old friend, Lisburn man. Harry Mulholland.
It is often said that in all of us there is a book, but in Harry's case there are volumes. He has been no stranger to newspapers, radio and railway enthusiasts over the years due to his knowledge of the railway in the district.
Harry began his railway career in 1936. At that time his father, also a railwayman. with a family of nine to support, had got the job of putting two sidings into the factory being built at Burnhouse on the Moira Road. His father had to start four extra men, so Harry got the job.
Harry recalled that in those days you had to travel to Dublin to sit an examination, no matter what the nature of your work was to be with the Great Northern Railway. A medical exam also had to be passed and there was a visit to Dr Coates on Belfast's Ormeau Road. Harry's paternal grandfather was at the building of the Antrim in 1871. His maternal grandfather, Peter Conlon, had retired as a signalman in Crumlin in 1900 at the age of 65, having previously been at Goraghwood and Tynan.
Harry's future was almost a certainty. His father came to Knockmore in 1910 and he retired on a ten shilling pension, which had to be collected from the local stationmaster's office.
At the Knockmore junction the line veers north-west towards Antrim and it was at this junction Harry spent the last 20 years or so of his 41 years of railway service. He never had a day sick. His only time off was on his two weeks annual leave.
Harry suffered a back injury in Knockmore signal cabin as a result of a wire breaking when he pulled a lever to activate a distance signal. The stationmaster, Mr. Henry was informed and a replacement signalman dispatched. But there was no signing off then and going home to rest up. Signalmen in those days had to be "passed" for each cabin and the signalman who had arrived wasn't passed for Knockmore, resulting in Harry remaining for three days and giving instruction until he himself was fit enough to resume his duties. Shortly after this the distant signals were motorised.
It was during periods of annual leave that other men had to cover the work. Harry recalls checking every railway sleeper between Knockmore and Antrim in his role as a relief track walker. A track-walker was responsible for examining the keys, which were originally wooden and were wedged between the rail chair and the sleeper. In drier weather the wooden keys dropped out and had to be put back in place. In those early days he was in Glenavy three or four times a week.
Travelling on your journey by rail to Glenavy you would pass through Brookmount, Brookhill, Meeting House halt, Ballinderry and Legatarriff.
Harry had been based at Brookmount with Bob Beckett and Freddie Marsden during the second world war. He recalls the troop trains using the Antrim line at that time. The railway was a convenient mode of transportation for the military. It was imperative for Harry and other railwaymen to carry their railway passes at that time. They were often checked by military guards who were protecting American Military Special trains that had lain up in a goods yard overnight. At this time coal brick weighing 14 or 15lbs was being used in the firebox of the steam trains. Harry recalls making good use of the pieces that had fallen off. The cabin men broke them up and put them in their stoves. It was not long before the heat of the coal brick burned the bars out of the grates.
Harry told me the only things in those days the G.N.R. didn't mark with their logo were the men. Clocks, tools, fenders and even the mirrors provided on board the trains for the passengers all bore the G.N.R. logo. The company was very disciplined. Written reports were sought from drivers who were running late. There could be no discrepancies in the accounts at each of the stations. The auditors checked the local ticket sales thoroughly each month and a discrepancy could lead to someone being fired.
The name Marsden was synonymous with this section of the railway. The first signalman at Ballinderry was Samuel Marsden. His son Alex, grandsons and great grandsons were all to be employed by the railway over the years. Alex was the best man at Harry's parents' wedding, Henry Mulholland and Sarah Bridget Conlon, on October 5 1903, such was the bonding between railway workers. Men who worked on the G.N.R. are scarce now but Harry would still meet a few of them from time to time.
Harry's 90th birthday cake portrays the cabin at Knockmore station. Harry refused to let it be cut. " I told them they destroyed enough railways without doing another one."
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Next: The Digger reaches his destination and arrives at Glenavy Railway Station.
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