On this day in history : 12th June 1889 – 89 people are killed and over 170 are injured in the Armagh rail disaster, in Northern Ireland – nearly a third are children…. It remains Ireland’s worse ever rail disaster….

Public domain – photographer unknown

Each year the Armagh Abbey Street Methodist Church would hold a Sunday School excursion to Warrenpoint, a resort town on the northern shore of Carlingford Lough, about an hours train journey away…. The traditional day trip was extremely popular and open to all; lots of different religions:- Catholics, Church of England, Presbyterian and Methodists – of all classes joined in….

This particular year the demand for places was especially high and a special train with extra carriages was laid on…. Accompanied by the band of the Royal Irish Fusiliers around 940 passengers boarded the train – the doors were locked behind them to prevent non-ticket holders from boarding….and the train departed at 10.15am….

Three miles out of the city they ran into problems; the train tried to pull up the Armagh Bank, a gradient of 1.75…. The weight of the train, some 186 tons not including the engine, was too much – and on reaching Derry’s Crossing, almost at the top, the train stalled…. Realising it would be impossible to restart with that much weight it was decided to decouple the front four carriages and take them on to Hamiltons Bawn – and then return for the remaining eight….

Map of the Railway between Armagh and Hamiltons Bawn – Image credit: Afterbrunel (talk) (uploads) – Public domain

The handbrake was applied in the guard’s carriage at the rear – but as an added precaution large stones were placed behind the wheels of the waiting carriages…. However, the stones could not hold the weight and were crushed as the carriages began to roll back…. The runaway train gathered speed and finally crashed into the 10.35 – a powerful engine with a light load – at about 40mph…. There was little damage to the 10.35 but the last three carriages of the Sunday School special and their occupants were obliterated…. 64 were declared dead at the scene and over the following days this number rose…. The names of those who died are recorded in Abbey Street Methodist Church….

Illustrated London News, June 22, 1889 – Public domain
Recently installed memorial in The Mall, Armagh – commemorating the Armagh railway disaster

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