Royal carriage back on track in Co Down
A rare royal railway carriage which once carried King Edward VII and later fell into disrepair is set to take pride of place in a new £450,000 gallery in Co Down.
The Irish Royal Saloon carriage will be the rarest exhibit to take up residence in the Carriage Viewing Gallery at the Belfast and County Down Railway in Downpatrick.
The unrestored carriage is one of only two still in existence and carried a host of royals in its glory days, including King Edward VII and King George V.
The Belfast and County Down Railway, a heritage railway museum run by volunteers, has been awarded £450,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to house the vintage carriages that are today tucked away from public view.
Chairman Michael Collins said: “We are absolutely delighted by this award. Our collection contains items of national importance — for example, we have one of only two Irish Royal Saloon carriages still in existence, one item in our unique collection of railway carriages from all parts of Ireland.
“Most of these carriages are either safely locked away in sheds or under tarpaulins to protect them from the weather — meaning we cannot show them to the public, and many people who ask if it possible to see them have to be disappointed. This grant will change all that, and provide all-year round access to our vintage carriage collection.”
Since 1985 volunteers have been working to rebuild the railway line between Downpatrick and Belfast which was shut down in 1950. So far, two miles of track have been rebuilt, allowing tourists to travel by steam train from Downpatrick to Inch Abbey every weekend this summer, along with a section of the old Downpatrick to Newcastle line.
Marketing manager Robert Gardiner revealed how they have gradually acquired many of the engines and carriages that became surplus to requirements after the Government shut down most of Northern Ireland’s railway lines.
He said: “The Royal Saloon had been used as a chicken house for half its life after it was scrapped in the 50s. It’s the jewel in the crown of our collection — it was built in 1897 and it was to be used for Queen Victoria’s jubilee tour of Co Down, but she was ill and the Duke and Duchess of York turned up instead.
“In 1903, King Edward VII travelled on it during his tour of Ireland — he was the last monarch to visit the whole of Ireland. Then in 1924, Prince Albert, later King George V, and Elizabeth, the present Queen’s grandparents, toured in it when they were marking the birth of Northern Ireland.
“We found the carriage in a field in Hillsborough in 1983 and the landowner was about to cut it up for firewood.
“At the minute you can still see traces of its former glory, including the bowed ends and quite a bit of mahogany panelling.”
Head of HLF Northern Ireland Paul Mullan said: “This exciting project will highlight the important link between our transport heritage and the development and advancement of our society.”