Creeslough tragedy revives memories of Owencarrow disaster


Hugh Dougherty

THE tragic explosion at a petrol station in Cresslough, County Donegal, which saw ten local people lose their lives last month, has revived memories of the Owencarrow Viaduct disaster of Friday, January 30, 1925, which claimed four lives and injured several train passengers.

Local people and councillors were already working to decide how best to commemorate the centenary of the viaduct accident in 2025, when the current tragedy took place.

The viaduct disaster saw a 3 foot gauge, Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway train, hauled by steam locomotive number 14, blown off the viaduct by gales, just two miles outside Creeslough on the Letterkenny to Burtonport line. The dead and injured were thrown towards the valley floor from one of the carriages whose roof was torn off, and which turned upside down on the viaduct.

As with today’s tragedy, the railway accident made national and international headlines at the time, and put Creeslough on the map for all the wrong reasons.

The railway accident was marked by the unveiling, in July 2021, of a memorial to all of those who died as a result of the Owencarrow disaster.

Cresslough station became the focal point of the L&LSR rescue operation in 1925, after the stricken train’s fireman, John Hannigan, staggered, shocked, into stationmaster’s Jimmy Gallagher’s office to raise the alarm, following a two-mile trudge along the track, buffeted by gales and rain.

The stationmaster wired the company’s head office in Derry, and a rescue train, carrying general manager, Henry Hunt, officials, doctors, nurses and track workers was dispatched to the scene. The bodies of the dead were taken to Creeslough to allow a coroner’s inquest to take place, almost immediately.

The current tragedy has devastated the 400-strong Creeslough community, with messages of condolence sent by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Pope Francis and King Charles III, as the village tries to regain some sort of normality.

The railway through the village closed in 1947, and the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company, which ran the replacement buses through Creeslough, finally went into administration in 2014.

The Owencarrow disaster continues to be remembered, but it is now overshadowed by the sad events of last month.