The Armagh Rail Disaster of June 12th, 1889, remains the worst train wreck to have taken place on Irish soil. Eighty people were killed and 260 were injured, about a third of them children, writes PAULA REDMOND.
On June 12th, 1889, a rail disaster in Co. Armagh resulted in the deaths of almost ninety men, women and children. Official casualties were recorded as one hundred and seventy, but it is believed that the number could have been as high as four hundred. The disaster led to changes in rail regulations in an attempt to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
The train involved was carrying passengers on a Sunday school excursion from the Armagh Methodist Church to the seaside at Warrenpoint, Co. Down. The Sunday School Committee planned to sell eight hundred tickets for the trip and informed the Great National Railway (GNR) authorities in Dundalk, Co. Louth who provided an engine, carriages and staff.
On the morning of the outing the station master in Armagh was informed that the numbers travelling would be closer to 940, so he added a further two carriages.
The passengers gathered at the Sunday school and were led to the station by a Royal Irish Fusiliers band with all in high spirits. In the end, the number of people who decided to travel was closer to 1200 and they crammed into the fifteen carriages provided.
The driver Thomas McGrath was not aware of the local line conditions, nor were the staff in Dundalk. The engine assigned – Engine No. 86 – was a light engine and not suitable for pulling this load over the hilly terrain enroute to Warrenpoint.