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The Great Western Greenway – A Train Route Bookended by Tragedy

16/04/2012

They say it is now ‘the largest off-road walking and cycling trail in Ireland’. The 42km Great Western Greenway stretching from Westport through Newport and Mulranny to Achill Island is proving to be a wonderful draw for walkers and cyclists alike.

The trail follows the path of the disused line of the Midland Great Western Railway, a line that was extended to Achill in 1894/1895 and from where the last train departed in 1937. Strangely, these dates marked poignant island tragedies, when trains carried home the bodies of the island dead. In June 1894, thirty young people were drowned in Clew Bay when a boat capsized as they made their way to Westport to catch a steamer for Scotland where they would work as migrant harvesters.In 1937, one of the last trains to Achill before the railway was closed, carried home the bodies of ten young boys – again migrant harvesters – who died in a fire  at Kirkintillloch, southwest Scotland.

If the railway line carried migrant and emigrant away from Achill, it also opened up the island to artists, writers, and visitors, such as Paul and Grace Henry who came in 1910 and stayed on and off for almost a decade, while the summer school Scoil Acla attracted artists, writers and intellectuals keen to immerse themselves in the Irish language and culture at the start of the twentieth century.

The Great Western Greenway is a place to immerse oneself not only in its dramatic scenery but also in the history of those bygone travellers who took the train to and from Achill Island.

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