Like every town in Ireland, Donegal was incredibly reliant on rail travel a century or so ago. You can learn all about this proud heritage when you visit Donegal County’s town of the same name, by paying a visit to Donegal Railway Heritage Centre or riding Fintown Railway.
A century ago, the County Donegal Railway was the lifeblood of the county. It carried everyone from fishermen and farmers to children and businessmen to the places they needed to be, as well as acting as an important trade route between the county’s towns and villages.
Farmers transported their livestock to market using the old steam trains, while daily newspapers and mail were carried to the communities onboard these engines. As well as these practical purposes, the people of Donegal also used the railway for more leisurely pursuits, either visiting relations or taking a holiday to destinations like Derry.
However, despite being such an integral part of local life for so many years, with the bright red steam engines that puffed along the lines being a common sight during the early half of the 20th century, by 1959 the railway had closed.
Experience the magic
However, there is a way for you to experience the magic of an old time railway for yourself. Fintown Railway is the only operational narrow gauge railway left in Donegal.
You can board the train and travel for 3 miles through beautiful scenery that includes chugging along the banks of Loch Finn. This mountainous landscape is one of the most unspoilt in the county so you’ll have no problem imagining that you have travelled back in time to the golden age of train travel.
If your ride has piqued your interest in old-fashioned rail travel, you should schedule a trip to Donegal Railway Heritage Centre before you come to the end of your luxury self catering holiday in Ireland.
This colourful museum is bursting with interesting artefacts and things to learn. There are items of rolling stock that were once a staple of the County Donegal Railway and they have been lovingly restored to their former glory for you to explore.
Should you wish to take any souvenirs away with you, there is plenty of choice here. You can pick up DVDs about the railway as well as model trains, both of which could be the perfect keepsake for any rail enthusiast.
Follow the Trail O’ Rail
Now you have developed a firm knowledge of the history of rail travel in Donegal, you can embark on the Trail O’ Rail. This is a list of several points of interest in the area related to rail travel.
Among them are Carndonagh Station, where most of the buildings are original and in great condition, while the main station is undergoing restoration. Meanwhile, Buncrana Station was opened in 1864, but today it is the Drift Inn and is the perfect place to enjoy a pint of Guinness as you admire the photographs on display of vintage rolling stock.
Other sites of interest you can include on your journey include Foye Valley Railway museum in Derry, Cashelnagore Station located near Errigal – which some see as the most isolated in Donegal – and the railway in Barnesmore Gap, which is also a well-known local beauty spot.