Armagh Sunday School Rail Tragedy
A mass-outing of Sunday school pupils from Armagh to the seaside at Warrenpoint 24 miles away had been organised, with a train originally consisting of eight coaches booked to take the expected 800 or so children and accompanying adults. As the party grew so more coaches were arranged until setting out at 10am there were 15. Sadly the engine assigned was not changed, and though the later enquiry found it should have been powerful enough it stalled 200 yards from the top of a steep climb three miles from Armagh’s oriental-styled station.
The driver, Thomas McGrath, had been refused a stronger locomotive. He and the man in charge of the train, James Elliot, decided to split the halted train, taking just five coaches ahead to leave in a siding with limited capacity before returning for the rest. The 10 rear coaches had just the handbrake on the guard’s van to hold them, so stones were deployed behind various wheels as back-up. When McGrath tried to pull the five coaches away he slipped back, nudging the back 10 coaches so they broke through the stones. The handbrake failed. Soon the 10 flimsy wooden coaches with some 600 children locked on board was travelling backwards at 40mph. It smashed into the oncoming 10.35 from Armagh: more than 80 died, nearly all of them children, and 262 were injured.
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