A Twist of Fate

Michael O'Connor (Oughterard Newsletter April 2011)

There are many stories told, to this day of some appalling acts of cruelty involving the Black & Tans during their time in Ireland. I write of just one at this time.

From 1895 to 1935 a Railway Line extended from Galway City to the town of Clifden on the west coast, a distance of 50 miles. A wonderful amenity for the people of Connemara and one of the most scenic drives in Europe. The train was powered by a steam engine, using coal which meant that the train just travelled at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. Con D’Arcy was one of the guards on this train. His job was to issue and check all tickets. He also carried parcels from various stations to different destinations all along the route. He had a smaller compartment to serve as his office, with table and chair. This special compartment was known as The Guard’s Van.

Four Black & Tans arrived

On the morning I write about, the Clifden Train was preparing to leave Galway Station. People were making the last “dash” to get their favourite seats, things were beginning to buzz. Con D’Arcy was checking them in with his usual Irish wit and humour having everybody smiling. Suddenly four Black & Tans arrived. They asked to be admitted on the train, Con D’Arcy replied, “no”. He said to them, “you are not allowed on this train.” They were really taken aback; they never expected to be refused entry. They began to complain and got quite angry and insisted that they travel, but guard Con was adamant he was not to be budged. He told them in a stern voice, “no, they were not allowed on the train”. After a moment or two they departed.

Shortly the train was on its way, to everybody’s delight. As it continued westwards it rattled quite a bit as the tracks were going through boggy terrain. As the train approached the level crossing at Bunakill, a parcel fell off one of the shelves; Con the guard stooped and left his seat to pick up the fallen parcel. While on the floor of the van, all hell broke loose! The train was ambushed, yes the sound of gunfire rang out. Bullets tore through the van, the guard’s seat was riddled with bullets. In a matter of seconds the place was in a shambles. Everybody was shaking in fear. Con knew what had happened. He said he had expected that something was going to happen as he didn’t trust the tans. Once he had refused to allow them on the train he expected them to retaliate, they did! A frightening experience for everybody on board! Thank God they survived the ambush. What would have happened if the parcel had not fallen off the shelf?



This page was added on 05/05/2011.

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