Local History by Seán Beattie


Lough Swilly Railway Workers 1899-1914: Derry-Carndonagh.

In 1901 the Lough Swilly Railway Company finally opened the Carndonagh extension which linked the town to Buncrana and Derry. Landowners, businessmen, clergymen and Board of Guardian members had campaigned for the extension for over 20 years. The Congested Districts Board gave it the final push towards completion. For residents of the peninsula, the new railway opened up a whole new world – it was a Ryanair moment. Social life changed as travellers enjoyed pilgrimages to Doon Well; workhouse children from Derry bathed in the sea; thousands thronged to Ballyliffin for the summer horse racing; Derry bakeries flooded the peninsula with shop bread and delicious biscuits. Over 700 were employed on the Clonmany cutting. Opposite the station in Carndonagh, a pub was christened THE NEW CENTURY BAR, with the words clearly visible to all incoming passengers. Employment was plentiful during construction as a late Victorian version of the Celtic Tiger jumped into action; skilled workers came here and some of them settled for good. Look at their craftsmanship in the superior yellow brick work on the surrounds of the doors and windows of the stations and the gate cottages, still glorious after a century of rain. The bricks came from Wales where the company which manufactured them is still in operation. Post-construction, such workers were given priority as new positions arose along the line as station masters, linesmen, milesmen, gate-keepers, platelayer, apprentices, boy porter, ganger, carpenter, brakesman, signalmen, guards, drivers, clerks, carters, checkers, typists, audit superintendents, porters, shunters, parcel clerks, messengers, ticket collectors, agents and labourers. The discovery of an old ledger from the period provides information about the employees, pay, occupations, dismissals and retirements. A few points are worth noting about the entries:

  1. Wages were high and workers had cash to spend
  2. The Swilly Railway was no place for work dodgers; orders had to be obeyed and a code of dress was imposed
  3. Dismissals were very frequent as were unexplained transfers
  4. Drink was a problem for staff; (some say staff sabotaged porter kegs)
  5. The truth is that many were far from home and had money to spend. (At this time, Carndonagh had almost 30 pubs for a population of 1,000)
  6. Many of those who left went to South Africa where the rail construction company had major contracts following the ending of the Boer War.

Nelson Mandela would have been happy with the progress made in the country.

  1. The Quigley family had a monopoly on the post of platelayer as no fewer than five are listed at Inch Rd. and Fahan. Most had worked on the construction of the line and may have been involved on the old Swilly ferry. (See earlier post). They may have belonged to the one family. In fact, the name Quigley is mentioned in the OS survey of the 1830s as the family in charge of the ferry from Fahan across the Swilly (Thanks to Paul Quigley, Buncrana, for this information).
  2. Business was brisk at Buncrana judging by the number of porters employed.
  3. Most of the first stationmasters can be identified; they would have occupied the new station houses built by the company for the staff. For such workers, the position was indeed prestigious and eagerly sought after. The station houses are still in use today.
  4. The job of the milesman was to inspect the line daily; he frequently lived in the gate house. 

The ledger runs to 60 pages but only Inishowen data is given here as follows and it is possible to re-construct almost the entire staff of each station:

Name, occupation, station, wage, other (dismissals etc)

R. Carter, Bthg. Box (?), Fahan, 2/4 (two shillings and four pence)

Wm. Davis, porter, Fahan, 1/10

George Doherty, porter, Buncrana, 2/- (two shillings)

John Duffy, agent, Clonmany, 3/9

John Doherty, agent, Ballyliffin, 2/4

P. Fay, agent, Carrowen, 2/-

J.S.Forster, agent, Buncrana, 30/10 per week, dismissed 1902.

John Friel, clerk, Buncrana, 8/-

H.Glenn, agent, Buncrana, £75 per annum

D.Grant, porter, Buncrana, 1/6

J. Greaney, agent, Bridgend, 15/- per week, dismissed embezzlement 1902

James Gill, porter, Clonmany, 1/3, left

P.Gibbons, porter, Carn, 2/2

Joseph Kelly, carter, Buncrana, 4/- , dismissed failed to obey orders.

R. Kinnear, agent, Bridgend, 2/-, dismissed, unsuitable

John Logue, agent, Rasheeny, transferred to Ballymagan.

B.Logue, transferred to Ballymagan, agent

James Ludford, agent, Inch, 1/8, dismissed 1902

John Logan, Head Porter, Buncrana, 3/-

S. Mooney, clerk, Buncrana, 1/8

William Moore, porter, Carndonagh, 2/- , dismissed

J.McGonigle, porter, Ballyliffin, 10/-

H.Mclaughlin, head porter, Fahan, 2/-

P.Mclaughlin, head porter, Carndonagh, 2/11, dismissed

Jas. McGilway, clerk, Clonmany, 1/-

Denis McGonigle, carter, Buncrana, 4/-

Bob McColgan, porter, Ballyliffin, 10/-

J. McEleney, porter, Carndonagh, 10/-

George Nixon, agent, Fahan, 3/6, transferred to Carn 1901

James O’Donnell, agent, Ballyliffin, ¾, resigned for position of steamboat manager in 1902. (company operated a steamboat – see earlier post)

E. O’Donnell, clerk, Carn, 1/3

J.Quigley, porter, Clonmany, 1/6

J.Rabbittt, agent, Inch, 1/8, dismissed 1902

A. Ramsey, agent, Drumfries, 3/-

H.Reburn, agent, Carn, 30/- per week

B.Rudden, porter, Carn, 2/-

Alex. Roberts, goods clerk, Buncrana, 14/- per week

J.Rogan, clerk, Buncrana, ¼

Francis Rogan, Clonmany, clerk, 10/-, transferred

W. Rutherford, clerk, Buncrana, 1/8


Alex Sweeney, agent, Buncrana, £75 per annum

S.Smith, signalman, Buncrana, 2/-

Chas Sweeney, agent, Ballyliffin, 15/- per week

RA Wilson, clerk, Buncrana, 1/8, transferred

Thomas Toale, agent, Drumfries, 2/-

H. Jackson, clerk, Carndonagh

Jos. Hegarty, stationmaster, Gallagh Rd.

James Connor, stationmaster, Bridgend, until 1911

J.Brady, stationmaster, Burnfoot

J.Hannigan, signalman, Tooban Junction

J.Doherty, signalman, Tooban

J.McCready, Inch Road, stationmaster

J.J. Rogan, stationmaster, Fahan

H.Mclaughlin, clerk, Fahan

F.McGuinness, head porter, Fahan

D.Best, stationmaster, Buncrana

Th.Wright, clerk, Buncrana

F.Rogan. stationmaster, Buncrana

Th.Gillespie, learner, Buncrana

Jas. Sharkey, head porter, Buncrana

J. Hegarty, guard, Buncrana

Jas. Hegarty, porter, Buncrana

Jas. Doherty, porter, Buncrana, dismissed

P.McGowan, porter, Buncrana

D.McGonigle, carter, Buncrana

J.Haire, stationmaster, Ballymagan

T.McDonough, stationmaster, Drumfries

J.Friel, stationmaster, Clonmany, until January 1913

J.J.Doherty, clerk, Clonmany

E.O’Donnell, porter, Clonmany

J.Quigley, carter, Clonmany

John Doherty, stationmaster, Ballyliffin

J.McLaughlin, stationmaster, Rasheeny, until January 1911

J.Duffy, stationmaster, Carndonagh, until July 1903

J.A.Duffy, clerk, Carndonagh, until 1903

D.Bradley, clerk, Carndonagh

J.McIntyre, brakesman, Carndonagh

P.Doherty, checker, Carn

J.McCool, porter, Carn

J.A.Doherty, carter, Carn

R.Hamilton, stationmaster, Carrowen

J.Graham, stationmaster, Newton

R.Algoe, stationmaster, Manor

R.Algoe, boy porter, Manor

A.Beatty, platelayer, Fahan, 2/-

I.Carmichael, ganger, Bridgend, 2/6

George McNeil, carpenter, Buncrana. 4/4

Jas. Quigley, platelayer, Fahan, 2/-, joined 1907

John Quigley, platelayer, Inch Road, 2/-, joined March 1899 (on construction)

Patrick Quigley, platelayer, Inch Road, 2/-, joined 1896

William Quigley, platelayer, Dy Extra, 2/-, joined 1872

Hugh Quigley, platelayer, Dy Extra, 2/-

John Walker, ganger, Fahan, 3/6

William Breen, ganger, Carn, 2/6, dismissed

Pat Callaghan, ganger, Ballyliffin, 2/6

Thomas Coyle, ganger, Carn.2/-

William Cavanagh, milesman, Drumfies, 2/6, dismissed

Neal Doherty, ganger, Clonamany, 2/6

Dan Doherty, ganger, Drumfries, 2/-

Philip Doherty, milesman, Clonmany, 2/-

Dan Doherty, milesman, Ballyliffin, 2/-

B. Doherty, milesman, Carn, 2/-

Phil Donaghy, milesman, Drumfries

B.Hamilton, milesman, Drumfries, 2/-

W.Fullerton, milesman, Buncrana, 2/-

John Hamilton, milesman, Carn, 2/-

George Harkin, milesman, Carn, 2/-

John McMullan, PW inspector, Buncrana, 5/10 per day

Eugene McAlaney, milesman, clonmany, 2/-

Mick McCarron, milesman, Clonmany, 2/-

Pat McCallion, ganger, Carn, 2/-

Mick McLaughlin, ganger, Carn, 2/-

Chas McLaughlin, milesman, Drumfries, 2/-

John McLaughlin, milesman, Buncrana, 2/-, dismissed, 1903

M.McCarron, milesman, Drumfries, 2/-, dismissed 1903

Pat Gill, milesman, Drumfries, 2/- per day, dismissed 1903

Researchers may be able to follow up this information in the 1901 and 1903 census online. See Rosemary Doherty’s new book on Ballyliffin, where I have written a chapter on the Carndonagh extension.

Please update this site if you know any of the people above by using the comment facility. Thanks to J. Ferguson, Fahan and Dessie McCallion who loaned me the ledger.

The ATLAS OF DONEGAL will be launched in Letterkenny on Saturday 7 September 2013. Please come along. Details later.








  1. Great post – thanks! Love anything to do with railways and especially the Swilly railway The information there is super for people doing family research .

  2. patrick lafferty

    great piece of information. Would love a photograph of train at drumfries station on Buncrana/Carndonagh line

  3. brian mc cafferty

    would it be possible to confirm that a neil or neal mc cafferty was station mater at fahan at approx 1869

  4. Trish Brady

    James Brady Station,aster at Burnfoot was my grandfather. My family knew the Quigleys.

  5. david

    November 23 1869 
    Nov. 13, in the Roman Catholic Chapel of Upper Fahan, by the Rev. B. McEldowney, P.P., MR NEAL McCAFFERTY, station master, Fahan Point, to MISS M. DOHERTY, Ridgeway, Fahan


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