you visit Achill Island today, you might hear locals
talking about the death train. The tale begins in the
17th century when Brian Rua O' Cearbhain, a mystic from
Belmullet prophesied that fire carriages on iron wheels
would one day come to the island and that the first
and the last would carry the dead. At the time of the
prophecy, trains hadn't yet been invented.
Neal Boyle brings to life the story of the Achill Islanders,
the period of the rail line and the chilling consequences
of the macabre prophecy in Tairngreacht Acla.
Island circa 1900
Island's past is one of a struggling people; poverty
and the island's remote location have always worked
against the inhabitants. Life on the island in
the nineteenth century was eked out through subsistence
farming. Each spring, men and children, many as
young as thirteen, would migrate to Scotland to
work for the season in the potato fields, leaving
the women to mind farm and family.
the end of the 1800s however, plans were afoot
to develop rail in Mayo county. The people of
Achill quickly organised themselves and successfully
lobbied to have a line opened from Westport to
Achill Sound. Construction on the line began to
the delight of the people of Achill. The rail
line represented hope, the possibility of investment
and a better future.
the 14th June 1894, as the rail line neared completion,
the Islanders gathered in their hundreds to get on hookers
bound for Westport to meet a steamer which would take
them to the potato fields of Scotland. The story of
the disaster that unfolded that day is recounted by
locals; Tomas Mac Shéain, John Sweeney and Peadar Mac
appears that only four hookers turned up that morning
when six had been expected.
'..there were nearly 600 people waiting
to be brought from the quay to Westport quay where the
steamboat 'The Elm' was waiting to bring them to Scotland.
Now, the owners of the hookers had a decision to make;
to fault and take as many people as possible or to refuse
people on safety grounds.'
Victory, heavily overloaded, capsized just outside Westport
Harbour. Thirty-two islanders drowned that day. There
were so many people returning with the bodies to Achill
that it was decided to put on a train even though construction
of the line wasn't fully completed. The first train
to Achill carried the dead.
a brief while after the line officially opened, Achill
Island caught a glimpse of what might have been. Local
archaeologist and historian Theresa McDonald, (Achill
Archaeological Field School), tells of the attempts
of Scottish man Alexander Hector to set up a fish export
business from Achill. John Sweeney explains how the
train did make a big impact with tourism. But for the
majority of islanders, it simply made it easier to migrate
to Scotland and England. Martin McNamara recounts how
at thirteen he travelled on the train with his father
bound for Scotland, leaving his mother to mind their
Island circa 1900
'Thirteen, I was only thirteen year. I should
be above at school be right! But I thought I was doing
a good thing to be leaving school and going to Scotland,
that it was all right. Nobody here only herself, and
she didn't like us going away you know.'
1937, with the island's fortunes not much improved,
the Achill branch line was scheduled for closure. The
passenger service was stopped, leaving only a freight
service. Many mourned the line's end. Older islanders
remarked that at least Brian Rua's prophecy hadn't come
to pass. Then, on the 16th of September 1937 the tragic
news came: ten migrant labourers from Achill had died
in a fire in Kirkintilloch, Scotland, hundred of miles
from their homes and loved ones…
Acla is the second time Director & Cameraman Neal Boyle
has brought stories from the Islands to our screens.
In 2006 he produced and directed Fíniúin Inish Meáin
for TG4. That film chronicled the remarkable story of
James Concannon who left his home on Inish Meáin, the
Aran islands, in 1865 to seek his fortune in America.
His legacy still thrives today at Concannon's Vineyard
- one of California's oldest wineries.
& Camera: Neal Boyle
Producer: Peter Kelly, Jennifer Davidson
Production Manager: Tristan Rosenstock
Editor: Maurice Healy
further information, publicity stills etc., contact:
43 Mount Merrion Avenue,
Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Tel: +353 1 288 1939 Fax: +353 1 283 6253 eMail firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday 2nd November 2008 at 9.30pm, TG4
Repeat TX: Tuesday 4th November 2008 at 8.00pm,
A Cogar documentary for
Duration: 25 mins
Esras Films production for TG4
broadcast on Sunday 2nd November 2008 at 21.30