Cos. Tyrone, Donegal, Londonderry & Fermanagh Ireland Genealogy Research

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Henry Forbes (1871-1943) and the County Donegal Railways

Compiled and written by
Graham Henry Forbes, Grandson of Henry Forbes
Member of The County Donegal Railway Heritage Society
Formatted by Jim McKane


Henry Forbes managed the County Donegal Railways (CDR) from 1910 until his death in 1943. The following is an attempt to put into writing a potted history of this extraordinary man. But first a little of the background of the CDR.

The railway line from Stranorlar to Donegal was opened in April 1882. The company had serious financial difficulties and the line stopped short of Donegal Town at Driminin four miles from the town where a temporary railhead was established. Passengers were brought to Donegal town by horse drawn cars at a cost of sixpence each. The rail track extension to the town was not completed until 1889. Even then the Station buildings were not the property of the West Donegal Railway as the company was then known, but were leased to them by an independent company. Donegal lost a golden opportunity for still further development when this company expressed interest in building a hotel and golf course on a site convenient to the Spa Baths. The company failed to get local business people interested in the proposed project.
In June 1892 the West Donegal Railway and the Finn Valley Railway amalgamated to become the Donegal Railway Company. In August 1893, the Donegal/Killybegs extension was opened and twelve years later in September 1905 the Ballyshannon line was opened. There was a week’s trial run over the Ballyshannon section during which time goods traffic only was carried before the directors pronounced it safe for passengers. The Donegal Independent reporting on the opening said, "it ran as steadily as if the line had been opened for years. "The County Donegal Railways Joint Committee (CDRJC) came into existence in 1906 with the amalgamation, by an Act of Parliament, of the (Finn Valley Railway Strabane to Stranorlar), West Donegal Railway (Stranorlar to Donegal), and The Donegal Railway Company (Stranorlar to Glenties, Donegal Town to Killybegs, Strabane to Derry and Donegal Town to Ballyshannon). Strabane to Letterkenny line was built in 1909, bringing the total length of this 3ft wide narrow-gauge railway to 121 miles (195km). The same Act of Parliament authorised the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) and the Midland Railways Northern Counties Committee to purchase the Donegal Railway Company. The company’s mechanical assets comprised of the following locomotives and rolling stock: 21 locomotives; 56 passenger vehicles; 304 goods vehicles, the railway workshops and Headquarters were located in Stranorlar, Co. Donegal. The CDR Restoration Society very succinctly describes the early days of the CDR thus:

The coming of the railway to Donegal opened up a whole new vista of commercial and social activity in the town and surrounding area. Rail transport became an important element in the economic structure of the countryside. Journeys that took several days by horse drawn coach heretofore could now be covered in a fraction of the time, and in what appeared to be luxurious comfort. Cargo deliveries too were unbelievably quick compared with the previous method of getting supplies by horse and cart or by boat to the local port.
The railway appeared to be the answer to many problems


Henry Forbes (1871 – 1943).

Henry Forbes was born in Glaslough, Co. Monaghan on 4 Nov 1871. Henry was the third eldest of 9 children of which only 5 survived to adulthood. Henry Forbes’ father, John James Forbes, was a Land Clerk/Agent for the Castle Leslie Estate, Glaslough Co. Monaghan, first living in Property 6 in Glaslough Village and later in Mullin Village, just off the estate. The family then moved to the Caledon Estate, Co. Tyrone, where John James was again employed as Estate Clerk. Henry had more than just the railway to connect him to Donegal. His father, was born in Raphoe in 1845, where Henry’s grandfather was the teacher at the Robertson School in Ramaghy. John James also died in Henry’s house at Tullybrook, Laghy, Donegal in 1919. Henry’s siblings were also railwaymen, with John Samuel ‘Jack’ Forbes retiring as Stationmaster of Armagh’s Great Northern Railway Station in the early ‘50s. Cecil Forbes, the youngest sibling, was also a railway clerk at Belfast station until he was called up to the Princess Victoria Machine Gun Corp. in 1914 and fought in Gallipoli, Belgium, France and Germany. Sadly, he also contracted Tuberculosis during the war and died in 1920. Another Sibling, Robert, became a successful businessman in Armagh being variously described as Accountant, Auctioneer and Stockbroker.

Henry’s career started out with the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) where he was first given clerical duties in 1888 at 17 years old. He served at several stations including Armagh, under Mr. Thomas Shaw, and Portadown, before being posted to the Accounts Department of Belfast Office of the GNR. In 1892 he was promoted to the Goods Manager’s Office where he was tasked with providing a compilation of revised rates under the Athenry and Ennis Act of 1892. That task completed, obviously to the satisfaction of his superiors, he was dispatched to Dublin to act as Goods Managers’ Representative. 1897 saw Henry promoted to the General Manager’s Office working as an assistant to the redoubtable Lieutenant Colonel Henry Plews, General Manager GNR(I), in Dublin.

It was while serving at the General Manager’s Office in Dublin, that Henry was to meet his future wife Mary Elizabeth (Minnie) Wilson who originally lived in Cumber near Caledon, Co. Tyrone, the same village as the Forbes Clan lived, but after Henry had departed to Armagh. Henry met Mary at the house of his half-cousin, Samuel Hadden, in St. Peter’s Terrace, Glasnevin, Dublin, where both Mary and her sister Isabella Wilson were boarding, in 1901.

Having served Lt-Col. Plews for 13 years, Henry was appointed Traffic Superintendent to the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee (CDRJC) on 1 June 1910. The General Manager at that time, being Mr. Robert H. Liversey, who first served as Superintendent on the West Donegal Railway from 1890 to 1892, when he and his title were transferred to the CDRJC.

R. H. Liversey went on to serve as General Manager until 1906, when his son, R. M. Liversey took over. Henry Forbes was Traffic Manager from 1910 and had taken over the position from W. R. Lawson with the ‘Young’ Liversey as Superintendent of Permanent Way and Chief of the Locomotive Department. Henry Forbes also had access to locomotive engineers from the Great Northern Railway Workshops, these gentlemen providing invaluable technical support to Mr. Forbes during his time as Manager, they were: 1922- 33 G. T. Glover, 1933 – 9 G. B. Howden and 1939 – until Henry Forbes’ death in 1943, H. McIntosh.

June 1910 and Henry Forbes was Traffic Manager of the CDRJC and had assumed the title of Secretary also. He had hardly got his ‘feet under the desk’ when it fell upon him to present the half-year annual report to shareholders in September, this must have been quite intimidating, as Henry had, of course, absolutely nothing to do with the running of the CDRJC before June of that year. Directors present were: Capt. J.B. Stoney, Mr. D. T. Hardman, Mr. Edward McFadden with Shareholders, Capt. Bailey J.P., Mr. John Devine J.P., Mr. John Elliot, Mr. James Hill and Mr. R.J. Blair, the meeting being held in the Boardroom of Strabane Station. Henry Forbes addressed this formidable hoard and informed them that net receipts had increased to £279, with earnings per mile of £5.1s.9d, the costs £3.10s.0d giving a profit of £1.11s.9d per mile, this was found to be most satisfactory.

R. H. Liversey had recognised the potential of tapping into the ‘tourist’ market and had run excursions to both Rossnowlagh and the Doon Well at Termon, situated between Letterkenny and Downings, the revenue generated was not lost on the accountant side of Henry Forbes and it was on the 14 Sept 1910 that the first such excursion took place under Henry’s control. The popularity of this excursion must have come as something of a surprise, as The Donegal Independent reported on the 16 September that ‘The trains were not only crowded but stations between Killybegs and Inver hundreds were left standing on the platforms, the train being unable to accommodate them.’ Obviously, Henry Forbes would have provided extra accommodation to the pilgrims had he been aware of the popularity of this excursion.

A similar revenue vein was revealed with rallies by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH were formed around 1641 for the protection of the Catholic peasantry, it also acted as bodyguards for the priests against the Oak Boys, Peep o' Day Boys and the Ribbonmen. They did however, need transport to their rallies and Henry Forbes and the CDRJC were happy to provide the same. A note in The Derry Journal on 26 September 1910 states: a vote of thanks was passed to Mr. Henry Forbes of the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee, “for the efficient manner in which he carried out the train arrangements on 15 August 1910, also to Mr. Hanlon. Stationmaster at Letterkenny, and to Mr. Bell, Stationmaster L & L. Swilly Railway Company for his courtesy to the large number who travelled by the Burtonport and Lough Swilly Railway”’

Soon after taking office, Derry Angling Association was also contacted by Henry Forbes asking for a list of its members, as the CDRJC would favourably consider a discounted fare structure for the Associations membership.

The Irish National Foresters, also became customers of the CDRJC for their annual excursion to Donegal with the INF Brass and Reed band. A typical excursion carried over 500 people.

The INF began in 1877 as a breakaway from the Ancient Order of Foresters after political disagreements. The INF grew rapidly and soon became the largest friendly society in Ireland. It supported Irish nationalism and its constitution called for "government for Ireland by the Irish people in accordance with Irish ideas and Irish aspirations".

Henry possessed a remarkable ability for cost cutting and implementing economies. It did not take him long, following his appointment, to start stamping his mark on the CDRJC and the railway operations. 10 Oct 1910 Henry Forbes placed an advertisement in the Derry Journal calling for tenders for the demolition of the Signal Cabin at Strabane Station, apparently the Signal Cabin was redundant and costing valuable revenue to maintain.

Upon his death, it was said that Henry Forbes had few interest outside of his railway and the Church in Stranorlar. But clearly this was not the case when he was working in Dublin. Gladstone's decision to pursue a policy of Home Rule for Ireland in 1886 divided the Liberal Party to the core and prompted the departure of the Liberal Unionists, who subsequently formed a separate political party, under the leadership of the Marquis of Hartington.

The Dublin Liberal Unionist Association was a grouping founded in Dublin in the early years of the twentieth century. The group was founded by Liberal supporters who supported the Union between Britain and Ireland. They supported Chamberlain’s Trade and Tariff policies. It also supported Liberal Unionist figures in city politics and candidates in the 1906 General Election. People involved in the Association and founding members included Major George Bernard O'Connor, Henry Forbes, the socialist John Lincoln Mahon[1] and the barrister James Alexander Porterfield Rynd, who acted as its Chairman. Upon Henry Forbes’s appointment as Traffic Manager and Secretary to the CDRJC, he was compelled to resign from the steering committee of the Liberal Unionists, the party duly honoured him as was reported by The Daily Express on the 31 October 1910. The paper reported that a presentation to their departing Hon. Secretary, Henry Forbes, was held at the Royal Hibernian Hotel, Dawson Street, Dublin. Mr. J. A. Rynd, Barrister-at-law made many remarks as to Henry Forbes untiring efforts for the party and his efforts in getting Major O’Connor J.P. selected as the Unionist candidate for the College Green Division. (Major O’Connor was heavily defeated in the election by the nationalist J.P.Nannetti. Major O’Connor was to be executed by the IRA 13 July 1921 for spying, even as his political views had shifted and he identified with Sir Horace Plunkett’s Dominion Home Rule League.) Compliments and much testimony were forthcoming from Major Willoughby Forth, then jeweller Brinsley Gerty and finally by solicitor Mark Sydney Orr. Clearly, the CDRJC took up much more of his time than working for Lieutenant Colonel Henry Plews, which remains surprising.

Nov 1910

Court visits to give evidence seems to be a regular occurrence for Henry Forbes on a very wide variety of subjects. One such subject was to attend the Coroner’s hearing on the death of one Mr. Patrick Crumlish of Ballybofey on 8 Nov 1910. Mr. Crumlish’s body was found by Mr. Robert Flanagan, also of Ballybofey, about six miles from Ballybofey Station late in the evening, laying between the tracks. The doctor attending stated Mr. Crumlish had a fractured skull, the probable cause being struck by a railway engine. The driver of the last train on the line, stated he saw nothing, but found flesh on the engine when he arrived in Killybegs. Livestock wandering on the permanent way were constant casualties of the locomotives, so flesh on the engine was not a rare occurrence. The court and Henry Forbes passed their condolences to Mr. Crumlish’s family, as a verdict of death caused by being struck by a train at Casheloravean, Co. Donegal.

May 1911

A Tourist’s booklet was produced by the CDRJC listing the summer train excursions. A pleasant booklet that had full particulars for all classes of traveller, replete with train times, general and excursion fares and a map of the railway network. A remarkable marketing tool for that period. There must have been some co-operation between the CDRJC and the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway (L&LSR), as the booklet states ‘Direct transit is arranged between the Great Northern and Midland Railway (N.C.C.) systems to Letterkenny and Burtonport.’ While the L&LSR and CDRJC both operated out of Letterkenny, only the ‘Swilly’ ran to Burtonport under the auspices of the Letterkenny & Burtonport Extension Railway (L&BER). A cooperation between the two companies, that would be strained at best.

Much in the way that Henry Forbes saw business in very clear black and white terms, so attempting to maximising revenue receipts and cutting costs, he immersed himself in all manner of projects to increase revenues, a few that have been detailed above. But he excelled himself in August 1911, when he approached the Donegal Committee of Agriculture in Letterkenny. According to the Derry Journal a letter had been received from Henry Forbes with reference to his communications ‘relative to the fattening of live geese and the development of the fruit industry in Donegal’. It appears that Henry Forbes was disappointed that the matter had not been considered by the Committee and he had received no feedback. By way of criticism and veiled threat, he informed the Committee that he had taken matters into his own hands and contacted a ‘firm in Belfast interested in the development of the fruit business in Ireland and they had very kindly sent a representative over to Donegal district with a view to seeing what steps could be taken to increase the out-put of fruit from the district.’ Clearly the Committee continued to be unimpressed, as the paper succinctly reports ‘No action was taken’. Presumably the Committee thought that a Railway Manager should keep to managing railways and not interfere with less mobile matters.

Court appearances as witness were a regular event in the Railway Manager’s diary. This time on 29 Sept 1911, when the Mountcharles Stationmaster Mr. John Coulter accused two Castlefin men of assault, after he attempted to evict them from the Ladies Waiting Room on the station. During the fracas Mr. Coulter received a black eye and a pain of glass broken. Both men admitted that they had drink taken. Both were fined after Mr Forbes addressed the court, asking for a sentence that would protect both Railway employees and Railway property.

Accidents on railways were fairly common occurrences and usually involved livestock straying onto the permanent way. However, there were a few unfortunate cases of people or passengers also being injured, just such a case happened on the CDR on 6 Oct 1911. It was reported to the inquest, that a lady, Miss. Bridget Nellis of Glenties, aged 52, having bought a ticket from Inver to Ballyshannon, she broke her journey in Donegal. Arriving at the platform at the due departure time to continue her journey she observed a carriage being shunted in the station. Mistakenly believing that this was her train departing, Miss. Nellis ran and attempted to board the moving train, unfortunately falling between the carriage and platform. She suffered extensive injuries to her head, arm and foot, she had been killed instantly. The Coroner placed no blame on the train driver or guard.


The CDRJC was, of course, a company owned by the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) and the Midland Counties Northern Committee and as shareholders, the Directors required regular and comprehensive inspections. One such inspection took place in mid-June 1912, when Directors from the two owning companies descended, on-mass, at Strabane. One of the new, more powerful locomotives was used to pull the carriage containing the entourage on the inspection. After inspection of Letterkenny Railway Station the party departed to Killybegs and Ballyshannon, calling and inspecting every station on-route. Henry Forbes called for a stop at Derg Bridge and outlined his plans to open a new station to cater for local farm traffic. The Board unanimously approved the plan and the journey progressed. The party again stopped at the fruit farm of Mr. Alex Morton at Bruckless, where he farmed more than 60 acres, perhaps as a snub to the Donegal Committee of Agriculture. A later Inspection in 1915 took exactly the same route but stated that Mr. Morton had planted 80,000 apple, gooseberry and current trees. A pleasant night was spent in The Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran and the inspection continued the following morning, from Ballyshannon to Glenties. The group of Directors were most interested in Rossnowlagh and the proposed development there to attract tourists and excursions. Eager to impress, the inspection train raced from Glenties to Strabane, a distance of 38 miles, in under an hour, delivering the visitors to the Great Northern Mail Train on time, for their trip back to Dublin.

The Directors report made great compliments on the condition of the railway, the stations and the CDRJC staff.

Even before the advent of the CDRJC Railcars, the CDR was of great interest to railway engineers round the world, as it was the longest narrow-gauge railway in the UK and 7 miles longer than the entire UK narrow gauge network. So much so that in their August 1912 edition, the enormously read Railway Magazine of UK, commissioned a feature on this ‘wee’ railway. Starting by outlining the history of the system, from the turning of the first sod by the Marquis of Abercorn (who’s grandfather was also acquainted and sponsored Henry Forbes’s grandfather John, who taught in Leckpatrick and Raphoe for both the Robertson Schools and Educating the Poor of Ireland). His Lordship we read ‘divested himself of his coat and wheeled away the turf on a highly ornamental barrow specially prepared for the occasion’. The report goes on to say that at the Stranorlar Headquarters of the CDR, 200 men were employed in the ‘fine modern running shed capable of accommodating 16 engines and the locomotive, carriage and wagon shops are well equipped with up-to-date machinery, the whole of the repair and rebuilding of the stock being executed there. The works, station and offices are lighted with acetylene’.

The article also highlights the main traffic flow noting that it is from the important port of Derry – from where coal, breadstuffs and general goods are imported. Backloads consist of fish, cattle, and celebrated Donegal homespun.

Summing up the Railway Magazine rather romantically declares – ‘Donegal offers an ideal field for capitalists either large or small and its vast mineral wealth is almost wholly untapped. County Donegal is, moreover, a tourist paradise. Its rivers and lakes team with fish and its boundless moors carry all kinds of game. To the antiquary the whole district is full of historical associations. Within its borders was written the celebrated “Annals of the Irish Race”. To the Land of Tyrconeil then, the Donegal Railways bid your readers “cead mile failthe”.

A fitting tribute to the CDR and Donegal.


John Barton, one of Irelands most eminent engineers died in the first month of 1913. Mr. Barton was first and foremost a railway engineer during the age of enthusiasm for railways and was involved in many of the North-West’s pioneering railroads. He was consulted on the original Strabane to Stranorlar section. He also campaigned for the channel tunnel to link Ireland to Scotland and even went so far as to carry out test borings in Larne.

While unfortunate accidents can always occur and the heavier the machinery the greater the damage is likely to be. The Donemana Accident is a blot on the Irish railways excellent safety record and was widely reported. Much of the details were revealed at the inquest into the accident and the death of a railway worker. Although the accident occurred, on the 7th Nov 1913 on a stretch of line owned and operated by the Midlands Railway (NCC) between Derry and Strabane, the excursion had a connection to Stranorlar and thus Stranorlar people figured heavily in the casualty list. The deceased was named as Mr. Michael McPhilemy, an employee of the GNR in Strabane, but travelling on the train as a passenger. Others injured were named as Miss Callaghan daughter of Mr. F. Callaghan J.P. of Stranorlar, who had her arm amputated. Mrs. Callaghan, her mother, head injuries. D. Kane of Stranorlar with head injuries, Daniel McMenamin, Killygordon, injuries to arm and body. John Ballentine, Strabane, injuries to thigh. James Kirk, Ballymagorry, injuries to head and body.

The train was an excursion special, the first of the season, to Portrush, with a connection onto the CDRJC line to Stranorlar. The train travelling from Portrush via Derry to Strabane had stopped at Callion the station before Donemana and there had been a delay in starting up again. However, when the train did get underway, at approximately 9pm, it travelled at a very fast speed and left the rails as it entered the curve approaching Donemana Station.

The locomotive laying on its side just outside Donemana.

The engine driver Neal Fullerton, and the fireman, William Doherty were charged with driving a locomotive dangerously and granted bail.

Witnesses stated the train had been travelling very fast and then derailed. The casualties were all from the front carriage that had concertinaed into the engine, that had fallen on its side.


Another accident occurred a mile outside Stranorlar in Capprey in 4 May 1914 when a farm hand misjudged the speed of an approaching Donegal to Derry train. The train struck Mr. Thomas Allison, his horse and cart. The horse was killed instantly and the cart smashed, Mr. Allison receive severe head injuries. Henry Forbes happened to be travelling on the train at the time of the accident and assisted in removing Mr. Allison from the track and placing him in the Guards Van, from where he was taken to Stranorlar station. Subsequently Mr. Allison was removed to Lifford Infirmary in a serious condition.

The finances of the CDRJC must have been improving in November 1914, for Henry Forbes placed an advertisement in the local Derry papers calling for ‘Tenders for Dwelling-House’, it is assumed this was referring to The Manager’s House located directly opposite Stranorlar Station. Prior to that Henry Forbes was located, by the 1911 Census, at 4 Navenny Road, Knock, Ballybofey.

During the first years that Henry Forbes was Traffic Manager and Secretary of the CDRJC, minor irritations and a few accidents were the highlights of his running of the railway. That was, however, about to change. The Great War (WW1) would have an impact upon Ireland and the CDRJC, the popularity of the motor vehicle, the rise of the IRA, the Easter Rising, railway workers strike and then World War 2, all of which would shape the CDRJC beyond recognition. Henry Forbes presented an obvious target for reprisals not just as a prominent establishment figure, but he was also a Protestant, a founder of an Irish Unionist political party and an outspoken critic of Home Rule. The path from here would never be as easy as he had experienced in the first 5 years. But he devoted his life to the CDRJC and he was well respected by the general populace of all denominations and creeds. Now in 1916, the Easter Rising had come and gone and Westminster had set the scenes for civil insurrection and de facto war, by their disgraceful reaction. This would present Henry Forbes with situations and pressure a lesser man would have succumb to and resigned.


1916 saw a Rising of militias in the South of Ireland, at that point still governed by Westminster. 1600 rebels seized strategic buildings in Dublin including the General Post Office in O’Connell Street. It was from the steps of the General Post Office that Patrick Pearse read The Proclamation that announced Ireland as an independent nation and renouncing Westminster’s rule. Westminster declared martial law and suppressed the rebels leaving 450 dead and 2000 injured, the British also managed to destroy the centre of Dublin with their 4” guns. 15 of the leaders of the rebellion including 7 of The Proclamation signatories, were court martialled and executed, thus ensuring that martyrdom and revolution would be foremost in Ireland’s immediate history. Eamon de Valera (American father and Irish mother) escaped execution by denouncing his Irish nationality and claiming to be an American citizen, a fact despised and denounced by many Irishmen. The leaders of the rebellion were: Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Sean McDiarmada, Tomas McDonagh, Eamonn Ceant, Joseph Plunket (all signatories to The Proclamation) also executed were: Edward Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan, John McBride, Micheal Malin, Sean Heuston, Con Colbert. One act that turned public opinion against the British was the shooting of James Connolly. He had been wounded and had to be carried to the firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol and the strapped to a chair, an absolute own goal.

Michael Collins and hundreds of other rebel fighters were transported to British gaol without trial and interred.

Between 1916 and 1921 the Anglo-Irish War of Independence raged. Mick Collins had been released from prison and became the de facto leader of the resistance. There was a general embargo imposed on the transportation of government (British and Black and Tan) forces and munitions imposed by the Irish Railway Workers between May and December 1920. Secondly the threat by Westminster to conscript Irishmen to fight the British war served as grist to the mill. Despite Redman persuading the Irish people that the war against Germany was a fight for good. Conscription was not viewed with the same enthusiasm.

A one-day General Strike against conscription paralysed all of Ireland except the Unionist Belfast. Such was the effect that Westminster realised it would take more troops to enforce conscription than would be gained from the draft.

1920 saw a slightly more effective General Strike, supporting republicans held in Mountjoy Gaol, who had gone on hunger strike. The General Strike lasted just two days (12th and 13th April) when Westminster capitulated, and released the Republican prisoners.

Militant trade unionism had truly been born in Ireland and the trade unions went on to ban exports of food to Britain (North Wall Dockers, Dublin) and further embargos on moving of troops by the Irish Railway Union.

Ireland was fast becoming ungovernable and the Royal Irish Constabulary were totally outmanned. Winston Churchill then set in place the keystone that would bring about the establishment of an independent Irish state. Churchill enlisted unemployed ex-soldiers, mainly British, from the Great War, as auxiliary police to maintain order in Ireland, they were called the Black and Tans (because of their mixed colour uniforms) in 1920. The Black and Tans terrorised and attacked the civilian population and thus did more to bolster the nationalist groups than any other single act. All of these issues came to bear on the CDRCJ operations.

The first test came when, following the Rising and railways became targets of the nationalists. The Great Southern suffered more than most, but the CDRJC lines were left relatively in peace during this period, probably because they offered the locals a cheap and efficient form of transport that, if ceased, would have crippled isolated communities and local businesses.

One personal issue that befell Henry Forbes was the death of his father, (John James Forbes) who was staying with the family in Tullybrook, Laghy in November 1919. Henry’s father was actually a Donegal man, born in Raphoe in 1845, his father, John Forbes, was the teacher at the Robertson School in Ramaghy, Raphoe (Griffiths Valuation). John James had spent much of his working life as an Estate Clerk working first at the Castle Leslie Estate, Glaslough, Co.

Monaghan (now more famous due to Paul McCarty marrying Heather Mills in 2002, at the Castle that is now converted to a 5-star hotel and the list of celebrities that attended). Henry was born in the house next to the estate office – Property 6. John James then lived briefly in Mullin Village, Co. Monaghan before moving on to the Caledon Estate, Caledon, Co. Tyrone. He is buried in the family plot in St. John Church of Ireland, Caledon.


The Forbes family were living at Tullybrook, Laghy, Donegal on the 10 June 1920, a house owned by Mr. Charles Irving Johnston. Henry Forbes was away that night and in the early hours of the next morning a fire was discovered in the house. It was assumed that the local brigade militia had started the fire. Henry Forbes’s wife, Mary, their two children Henry (3) and Hazel (2) with two servant girls managed to escape the blaze. Neighbours rushed to quell the blaze but not before extensive damage had been caused to both furniture and woodwork of the house. Later at a compensation hearing Mr Johnston was awarded £60 compensation for damage to the property and Henry Forbes £110 for damage to furniture. Henry Forbes also stated at the hearing that due to threats and being unable to find safe accommodation in Donegal, he had moved the family to Castlerock, Coleraine, Co. Derry.

One incident in the run up to the April 1920 General Strike was to occur near Ballyshannon. While the Stranorlar to Ballyshannon engine was being readied for it journey, it was reported that all telegraph communication between the two stations had been severed. A breakdown crew travelled the line and under the directions of Henry Forbes, found that the cable and blocks had been cut one and half mile outside of Ballyshannon at an overhead bridge. Also, a telegraph pole had been knocked down and placed on the tracks and 25 yards of coping had been removed from the bridge and placed on the rails. The breakdown crew soon cleared the line and the train, that had returned to the station at 08.30 am, got underway at 12.30, 4 hours late.

Later that day, at about 15.00, Henry Forbes received a message that the Ballyshannon Station had been besieged by about 200 men, who threatened that no train would leave that night. Henry Forbes travelled to Ballyshannon station and picked up the District Inspector and 4 policemen. They found, at the station, a group of men holding captive the train crew, guards and station porters and were about to take them away. While the police held the group at bay, Henry Forbes and the ‘Young’ Liversey cleared the siding of sleepers, placed to prevent the train leaving. The key to the signal box had been taken, so the door was broken down and the points moved to allow progress onto the main line. The breakdown crew Foreman, Henry Forbes and Liversey then proceeded to drive the train to Stranorlar with its cargo of cattle, bound for Derry. The train left at 16.20, just 15 minutes late.

Next day a notice was pinned to the notice board on Ballyshannon Station by person or persons unknown, that read “Beware! The railway line is blocked. Cowards! You would not strike while 100 Irish patriots are done to death in Mountjoy Prison”. Very few of the CDRCJ staff actually did strike during these troubled times and Henry Forbes made the implication of so doing, very clear, but more of that later.

Some two months later a Compensation Court hearing was held to determine compensation payable by the Government for the Ballyshannon incident. The same night as the Ballyshannon incident, the Police Barracks was burnt down with a subsequent compensation claim of £13,440 and various compensation claims relating to buildings being burnt out in and around Donegal. The CDRJC also claimed for damage to the bridge (£160) on the 15th April. The CDRJC representative told the court, with obvious pride, that very few if any trains ran in Ireland on the 15th, except in Donegal. Henry Forbes was asked, by the judge, if he realised that there was some danger in running a train that day from Ballyshannon to Donegal Town? He answered ‘I did not. I had no reason to suspect it’. The judge, the Hon. Judge Cooke K.C. then asked, ‘Were you aware that there was a General Strike that day?’ To which Henry Forbes replied ‘Yes, but it did not affect our staff at all. On the Donegal system, everyone was working as usual’. Judge Cooke awarded the CDRJC £70.00 compensation, as the damage was caused by the public and not railwaymen.

A further story of the ‘The Troubles’ and the irrepressible Henry Forbes came about on the 8th September 1920. The story has an air of the Wild West (USA) rather than rural Donegal and had all the components for a great story. A story that has gone down as folklore in Donegal and was reported in many countries worldwide.

Henry Forbes had been to Bridgetown, South of Donegal Town to investigate a robbery of one of the CDRJC trains by armed robbers and was travelling on the 5 ‘o’ clock train from Ballyshannon to Donegal. The train pulled into a rural halt at Drumbar and as it did so, 8 or 9 men, conceal from the railway staff, attacked the guard’s van and began robbing the mail. One of the robbers had been delegated to hold the engine crew at gun point. Henry Forbes observed much of this action, but also observed that the robbers had not covered the off-side of the train. He, with great courage and his Webley pistol in hand, clambered along the trains side board and came to the engine, whereby he pointed his pistol over the footplate and shouted, “Hands up”. The startled robber throws his hands in the air in reaction, before taking off across the platform to the waiting room, from where he exchanged shots with Mr. Forbes. The shooting panicked the robbers in the guard’s van and they all took off across an oat field, adjacent to the permanent way. Henry Forbes crossed the platform and took up the chase, again exchanging shots with the robbers, shooting one dead and fatally wounding another. After entering the oat field Henry Forbes found a young man, John Joseph Garvin (25) of Donegal Town, laying in the field having tripped over a boundary fence. Henry Forbes then collared the fallen fellow and escorted him back to the train and instructed the crew to proceed to Donegal Town. The fallen robber was kept under cover of Mr. Forbes’ pistol that, unbeknown to the robber, was now empty. Henry Forbes had been given the five shot pistol by Stater officer Comdt.-General Joe Sweeney stationed at Drumboe Castle, for Mr. Forbes’ own protection. Upon arriving in Donegal Town Station no Gardaí (Policemen) were available or present. So, Henry Forbes then crossed the platform and took the young robber, under cover of his empty revolver, to Stranorlar where police had been alerted by telegraph and the man taken into custody, before being transferred to Derry and the assizes.

All the newspapers were at pains to point out that although the train was full, none of the passenger assisted Henry Forbes, except the guard who helped get the captured robber over the fence to the platform.

John Joseph Garvin, the captured robber, was court marshalled on the 28th Sept 1920 for theft of two mail bags.


During the Irish Civil War, the CDRJC railway lines were far from immune from attack. Donegal was strongly pro-treaty and thus became a target of the IRA both in county and for attacks across the border. The Stater army with Headquarters in Drumboe Castle under the command of Comdt.-General Joe Sweeney, eventually defeated the IRA forces, but not before they had caused major disruption to the railway. The CDRJC lines were considered ‘legitimate targets’ as they carried Stater troops, provisions and mail containing army orders. One such incident that went on to have serious consequences occurred on 15 March 1921. A CDRJC train was traveling from Stranorlar to Glenties was held up at Fintown by armed men and two mailbags taken. Railway and telegraph lines were cut and local roads trenched. Henry Forbes, fearing the worst, mobilised a special train to inspect the track. Near Ballinamore Station he found that the permanent way had been tampered with, so as to attempt to cause a serious accident. The same night saw an engine cleaner come under rifle fire, a fireman’s house also coming under fire with the fireman narrowly escaping serious injury. These attacks caused great consternation amongst the CDRJC staff who refused to work the line. Consequently, Henry Forbes had no option but to close the line.

During the CDRJC claim for damages of £200 for damages, the Judge heard evidence from Mr. Forbes of a two-month period where the railway had come under attack with rail lines being torn up and thrown in a local river in the district of Ballinamore, raiding of station and destruction of the property and attempts to blow the lines up with explosives. The railway employees had also been threatened and attacked. The claim covered cost for having to close the line, until further notice. Henry Forbes explained that the actions of the IRA had brought great inconvenience to the local people and businesses.

The problems of the Genties Branch line were mirrored throughout Donegal and across the border in the Unionist 6 counties. The long border and relative rural nature of the border, made Donegal a focus of IRA irregular’s activity and of Free State forces attempting to capture and thwart their attacks. Donegal became a battleground between the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces, with the Unionist counties a second target for the anti-treaty IRA. Jun 1920 saw the IRA stating that they intended to prevent goods being transported from Donegal to Derry, then still hopeful of keeping Derry in the Republic. Indeed, they often stopped CDRJC and Derry & Lough Swilly trains bound for Derry, searched the train and discharged any goods that were bound for that city. The goods were allowed to be returned to their owner. Vehicle traffic also suffered the same actions. The situation became even more complex, when the Derry Special Constabulary under command of Lt. Col. Moore Irvine who, under orders from the ‘Northern’ government in Belfast, put in place an embargo on goods bound for Donegal from Derry. It seems that the idea of an embargo was born out of the Belfast embargo that was put in place to protest at the violence being vested on Catholics in the city. Donegal had actually talked about an embargo on Derry goods in protest at the collusion of the Unionists, RIC (later known as the RUC or B Specials), Black and Tans and British troops to kill Catholics.

Considerable cross border trade took place on a daily basis with the railways being a main form of transport and Derry Port being a major export port for Donegal products and cattle. It seems that the embargo was an arbitrary decision that had been taken without consultation and the victims were not the IRA, who were the object of such an embargo, but the Unionist merchants of Derry. The merchants along with the Crown’s representative, his Majesty’s Lieutenant for Derry Mr. Cooke, appealed to Col. Moore Irvine for a suspension of the embargo. The embargo lasted but three days when the merchants caused such a ruckus in Belfast that the order was rescinded.

The Embargo Order caused some amusement in Donegal, as previously stated Donegal merchants and farmers had discussed just such an embargo but had failed to enforce it. Now here was the Police Chief of Derry doing exactly what had been proposed locally. One Donegal businessman, upon learning of the new order, was reported to have said, with obvious amusement, ‘The only effect is that it will penalise Derry firms, while supplies can be easily procured elsewhere. If the notice prohibiting the import of such supplies into Donegal had originated in this county, there would be an outcry in Derry against the boycott, but now it was to be officially imposed by order of the Belfast authorities. If the real boycott of Derry was now decreed in Donegal, firms in the city will have no reason to complain.’

The reaction and statement by Henry Forbes was rather surprising given his Unionist background, he said ‘The Donegal people should have an opportunity of seeing how they in Derry condemned the Order. Donegal can get along without Derry. If the Derry merchants think they are indispensable to Donegal they are making a great mistake’. He stated that this order would hurt the Derry merchants and Donegal Railways alike. He then went on to say, ‘I shall not allow the Donegal people to be starved as far as lies in my power’. Adding, ‘and if this Order is not cancelled we shall take steps to see that food supplies are brought into Donegal’.

Bakery products were particularly hard hit as there were few large bakers in Donegal and the majority of baked product were imported from Derry. The Spillers and Baker’s representative had made it known that they and the Derry bakers were out to defeat the order and had already discharged three steamers of flour into the Donegal ports of Ramelton, Burtonport and Killybegs.

Following the cancelling of the Order, many felt that it should make no difference and that the boycott should continue with Donegal itself boycotting Derry merchants who have the power to change a Government order, but lifted no a figure in defence of Catholics being targeted in Derry and Belfast.


The dangers of the ‘Blockade of Donegal’ having now passed, a few weeks later, Henry Forbes had to make a speech biding his Chief Locomotive Engineer farewell. R. M. Liversey had begun his career 25 years with the CDR in the workshops. Mr. Liversey, then went on to spend time at the world famous Messrs. Neilson Reid & Co in Glasgow, followed by a spell with Messrs. Barclay Curle & Co., marine engineers before moving on to Messrs. Topham. Jones & Railton in charge of their Port Talbot Docks Railway contract. Next the ‘Young’ Liversey was employed in Gibraltar, where he was appointed as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Navel Harbour Works contract at the tender age of 25. Mr. Liversey, in Gibraltar, was in charge of a stud of locomotives and dredgers and other mechanical equipment. Following the completion of the contract R. M. Liversey went on to surveying, designing and equipping a series of aerial ropeways in France, Spain, Algeria and the UK. Mr. Liversey took over as Chief Locomotive Engineer from his father R. H. Liversey when he retired at the same time as the CDR was purchased in 1909.

Mr. Liversey’s career was to now take him to India, where he would be General Manager for Messrs. Braidwait & Co., Leeds, where he would be constructing a massive pipeline and railway 50 miles long to bring water to the city of Bombay. His duties would be to build bridges and other infrastructure and be in charge of 15,000 men. It seems that 10 years previously, the rulers of the native Indian States required to train a subject to run a narrow-gauge railway, they had chosen the County Donegal Railway Co. and the subject had spent two years with the CDR. The visiting Indian engineer, must have been quite a sight in rural Donegal. R. M. Liversey was a prolific inventor and had designed many items for the steam trains of the CDR. He had designed and patented a concrete sleeper that were still in use 7 years after installation. The final formality, of his departure, was for Henry Forbes to present Mr. Liversey with a Canteen of Stainless Steel Cutlery with Silver Tea Set for his wife and a Silver Toilet Set for his young daughter. Following the presentation an impromptu danced ensued with Guard McKean conducting the orchestra and ‘..the entertainment was spiritedly kept up until the “sma’ wee hours”’.

Henry Forbes was also a man with a great ability for expression. He had undertaken a trip to the International Railway Congress held in Rome in the summer of 1922. Upon his return, he was asked to address the Belfast Transport Officials Club on the 25 October of that year. He first related to local disturbances to the Donegal Railways during the troubles. He went on to describe in great detail and in very flowery language his trip and the sights he saw. One such sight was a ‘skull and cross bones’ sign on the Italian railways, deterring trespass. He noted that these were illuminated at night and thought that such signs would work well in Donegal. He closed his lecture with another wordy description of Italy but added ‘But on returning to the Barnesmore Gap, in County Donegal, and saw its fresh and wondrous beauties, I forgot the blue Italian skies, the lovely lakes and the Mediterranean shores and I was glad to be back in the first gem of the sea, the first pearl of the ocean, my native land – Old Ireland’.

Partition was causing problems at the borders between the Free State and the Northern Counties and the Derry Chamber of Commerce voted to make Henry Forbes a member, representing CDRJC on 14 Nov 1922. The Boundary Commission was examining the borders and there was still a vague hope, by some, that Derry would join the Free Sate. However, with the deaths, that year, of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths these hopes faded. Churchill had cynically agreed to a boundary commission to determine the border between the Irish Free State and the Northern Counties, but with quite the opposite intention to the nationalist and the Free State government. While the Free State petitioned for predominantly Catholic areas to join the Free State, Churchill was manoeuvring to annex East Donegal which held a good proportion of Protestants and Unionists. Henry Forbes was forced into a position that must have had a bitter sweet taste. He was by nature a Unionist, but by emotion a railwayman. He foresaw that if Derry were to join the Free State his entire railway would be in that country. But if East Donegal was annexed then the chances of his railways surviving were extremely remote. Henry Forbes petitioned Andrew Bonar Law the erstwhile Prime Minister, to not contemplate annexing East Donegal, he also made representations to the Boundary Commission. The annexation did not go ahead as the UK’s 1922 General Election threw up a hung parliament and the idea was dropped.

The Railway Commission was sitting in Dublin. The objective of the Commission was to examine the future and probable amalgamations of railway companies for the Saorstat, plus looking at any future extensions that might be required. Henry Forbes had represented the position of the CDRJC, together with the two owners LMSR (NCC) and GNR(I) and concluded that in general the railway was efficient and required neither subsidy or any extensions. One extension that might have been suggested would have been the Ballyshannon to Sligo link, but it can be assumed that the GNR(I), in particular, would not have found favour in such a link. Henry Hunt of the L&LSR also gave evidence to the Commission, but he suggested that a link from Fintown, on the CDRJC system to Dungloe, on the L&LSR system, should be built, as well as an extension from Glenties to Killybegs, through Ardara. It seems these suggestions, by the Traffic Manager of another railway company without consultation, more than angered Henry Forbes and probably set his mood for discussions between the CDRJC and L&LSR on amalgamation a few years later. There had long been a proposal for the Ardara extension from Glenties, but this had always failed to find funding or prove its viability. Here was a Manager from another company making, what Henry Forbes would call, wild and unfounded suggestions. So incensed was he, that he penned a letter to an Ardara business owner which contained the following pithy remark;

From today’s paper you will see the Mr. Henry Hunt, the English Manager of the Londonderry & Lough Silly Railway, and who I do not suppose ever spent a day in the district, proposed that the Donegal Railway should be extended from Glenties to Killybegs and from Fintown to Dungloe. I need not expound on the folly of such a scheme”

There had always been adversarial rivalry between the two Donegal narrow-gauge companies. The situation was compounded when, under Irish Government control in 1921, Henry Forbes was ordered to loan 5 carriages to ‘The Swilly’, presumably due to the inadequacy of the L&LSR’s own rolling stock. A previous incident, just as Henry Forbes arrived in Stranorlar, in which the L&LSR was being sued for the death of a cow by a ‘Swilly’ locomotive, they asked the CDRJC for assistance in defining the level crossing and claimed right of way. Henry Forbes declined to have his company drawn into the argument, which was probably not viewed well in the L&LSR HQ in Derry.


Following the end of the Great War, industrial relations throughout the UK and Ireland turned to a rather aggressive environment. There had long been industrial disputes in Ireland – Aug 1907 – the Belfast Lockout, 1918 – General Strike and the 1920 – General strike, 1926 – General Strike. Henry Forbes, along with most employers were against unionisation and collective bargaining. Mr. Forbes largely resisted all attempts to unionise the CDRJC workforce. A number of Wage Boards were formed to act an arbitration device between worker (and their Unions) and employees. Two of the most prominent were the Railways Wages Board and the Agricultural Workers Wages Board. The concept of the boards was to give a fair hearing to employees and to investigate inconsistencies in wages of comparable duties. But this also gave employers the opportunity to cut wages as was the case in 1925. The Railway companies applied for a reduction of wages of certain grades of railway workers of 5s/week. The employers’ argument being that ‘labourers’ wages had advanced disproportionately to the more skilled grades. That a comparison to agricultural workers also showed a disproportionate differential – i.e. agricultural labourer to railway labourer. The employers argued that these wages were having a major impact upon profit and thus viability of some railway companies. The railway companies argued that the datum point for wages should be pre-war in 1913. Wages rises had been granted during the war due to higher food and fuel costs.

The employees were represented by ASLEF and the Railway Clerks Association. Needless to say, the employees/unions opposed any cut in wages for any employees.

The evidence provided by the employers seems to have persuaded the Railway Wages Board that a cut was justified, a decision taken later and by a ‘majority decision’. Thus, from June 1925 the cut in wages (approximately 9%) was implemented. The Wages Board were to figure greatly in the years to come. CDRJC and its owners with the Great Southern Railway and Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway were all present, including Henry Forbes.

While the argument of railway workers’ wages was being debated in Dublin, the industrial situation across the Irish Sea was deteriorating fast. 1925 saw mine owners and operators propose cutting miner’s wages and increasing working hours, due to the post-war depression. The Westminster Government paid a 9 month wages subsidy to avert a general strike. But things came to a head in March 1926, when a Government sponsored Samuel Commission recommended a cut in wages, but no increase in hours – both unions and employers rejected this recommendation. Thus, the 1926 general strike in the United Kingdom began, it lasted 9 days, from 3 May 1926 to 12 May 1926. The strike involving 1.7 million workers was called off on 12th May by the TUC, but on condition that the Samuel Commission recommendations be implemented, a complete back down by the Unions and it left to the employees the option to reinstate workers on an individual basis.

The employees of the CDRJC did not strike, but coal shortages from the UK, Ireland had but few coal mines itself, were critical to the company’s logistics and these supply lines were badly affected. This brought Henry Forbes to thinking about the problems and the inspiration came from a surprising source. In 1907, the Irish railway system entered the age of the internal combustion engine. In that year the CDRJC purchased a diminutive 4-wheel, 10hp petrol-engine railcar from Allday & Onions of Birmingham. The vehicle had an open body and was intended for use as an inspection car, but proved to be underpowered. In 1920, it was re-equipped with a 22hp Ford petrol engine, receiving an enclosed body capable of accommodating 6 passengers at the same time. The railcar showed its worth during the 1926 coal strike when it operated passenger and mail services on the lines from Stranorlar to Glenties and Strabane. Henry Forbes, was convinced that lightly used services and lines could be operated at significantly lower costs by railcars rather than steam locomotives with carriages and the company embarked on a programme of introducing further railcars into the fleet.

The 1926 strike had brought a great awareness of the vulnerability of the CDRJC dependence upon coal. Henry Forbes embarked upon a research and development program and in 1931 the first diesel railcars were introduced on the CDR lines. Two cars, numbers 7 and 8, could seat 30 passengers each and proved to be extremely fuel efficient, achieving about 25mpg on trial runs. They could also reach speeds of over 40mph, while easily maintaining 30mph over the steeply graded Barnsmore Gap section. After their trials, they at first operated between Strabane and Killybegs, but were later seen all over the CDRJC’s system. There was an obvious cost advantage to running the railcars as Mr. Forbes reported to the Board, that it cost 11.1/4d per mile to run a steam engine compared to 3.1/4d per mile for the railcars. The railcar fleet continued to expand until 6 units were working over the system in 1934. Following the introduction of the first diesel driven railcar in the British Isles on the CDR in 1931, it was found that the diesel engines were powerful enough to also draw a trailer. The trailers carried 29 passengers and were built locally in Strabane.

The diesel driven railcars were not just unique to Ireland, they were also the first to be introduced in the UK and only the second to introduce this new concept in Europe. Thus, the CDR made railway history. Henry Forbes was also a member of the Committee of Management of the Clougher Valley Railway, who in 1932, put into service a railcar, most probably encouraged by Henry Forbes and as he was only too willing to spend another company’s money, Walkers of Wigan supplied the power unit, which included the drivers cab, a 74hp Gardner engine and a 4-wheel power bogie. Articulated from the power unit was a 29-seat passenger coach, which had been built by the Great Northern Railway in Dundalk. This was the first articulated railcar to run in Ireland and it marked the start of Walkers’ long association with Irish railways. Following the demise of the CVR in 1942, the railcar was purchased by the CDRJC. The CDRJC then changed its fleet over to the articulated type railcar, as they were superior to the original railcars.


Just at the time of the general strike, another fierce competitor descended upon Donegal, the motor bus. The buses were largely from Derry and were severe competition with their ability to drive anywhere there was a road, as distinct from the railway which is confined to the permanent way. A meeting in June 1927 held in the Butt Hall, Ballybofey of local railway men, hackney car owners and others complained indignantly that Six Counties buses were coming into Donegal. These buses would ply for hire, but take all profits back over the border. The complaints also raised the points that the livelihood of the railwaymen was at stake and with that the local merchants. A series of resolutions were passed that evening.

  1. The DCC should not be maintaining roads to the benefit of ‘foreigners’ from the Six Counties, who made no contribution to the cost and brought cheap goods and services into Tirconaill.

  2. The bus service from Derry to Ballybofey offered unfair competition to the CDRJC, who contribute £2000 rates to the county and who gives large employment in the town. Such bus competition could cause the CDRJC to close with great injury to the inhabitants of Donegal.

  3. To call upon all Donegal members in the Dail to protect their constituents and their constituents’ livelihood, who were the ratepayer.

  4. It was believed that this bus service was only the start of an invasion from the Six Counties.

  5. We also strongly urge that the members of Fianna Fail who were elected to represent Tirconeill in the Dail should at once take their seats and voice the opinions of their constituents on all matters of local nature and national importance. More than any county, Tirconeill has suffered immigration of youth and bone and sinew of the county during the last uneconomic spendthrift and disastrous years. If the atmosphere of the Dail is not National or Irish enough for them, then in God’s name, let them enter the Dail and make it thoroughly Irish, National, self-sacrificing and truly patriotic.’ (Cheers).

Henry Forbes did not attend the meeting because he was travelling and the meeting was called by the Railway Workers and not by the CDRJC. However, it must be assumed that Mr. Forbes would have wholeheartedly approved of the action and wording of the resolutions.

Later in July the DCC debated the resolutions passed in Butt Hall, Ballybofey the previous June. The resolutions did not find, surprisingly, unanimous support. A Mr. McPhelimy argued the case of the railway workers and people of Ballybofey. While Mr. Gallagher thought that the resolutions were motivated by the railway company, this was denied by Mr, McPhelimy.

Mr. Gallagher contented that unfair freight rates had created a situation that allowed busses to find a market. This was again denied by Mr. McPhilemy. Mr. McPhilemy had stated that the buses were constructed in England and operated by English companies. Mr. Gallagher stated that the CDRJC locomotives were also manufactured in England (completely ignoring the fact that much if not all coachbuilding was carried out in Dundalk).

It was resolved that as the DCC had no powers to restrict buses coming over the border, that the Donegal TD be asked to review the situation and to press for legislation to give County Councils more powers in this field.

Following the introduction of the railcar on the Stranorlar to Glenties line, Henry Forbes was again confronted by the unions in the Wages Board in Dec 1927. It was contended that as the railcar, referred to as a bus by the unions, was driven by a driver trained to drive a locomotive. So that being the case there should be a guard on the railcar. They contended that the railcar was actually a bus except that it had flanged wheels. The union contended that the single driver on the ‘rail-buses’ was in violation of the National Agreement of 1922. The union further contended that the wages paid to the driver, were not at the same level as a locomotive driver.

The Wages Board deliberated in private and then concluded that the CDRJC had not violated the National Agreement 1922, as there was no such job description as ‘bus driver’ in the agreement.

The unions were again active later in December of 1927, when the combined railway companies requested to reduce the wages of new employee to grades as porters, labourers and platelayer by 10%. This reduction did not affect other grades or existing employees. The combined railway companies made their case on reduced income and viability of the rail systems itself. They maintained that revenue had fallen to such an extent that action was needed. The annual revenues had been, in 1925, £2,453,474, but in subsequent years were 1926: £2,196,286, 1927 had further fallen to £2,006,854, an actual reduction from 1925 to 1927 of £446,620. The reduction in wages would be worth around £20,000/year to the companies.

The unions contended that they recognised the problem of road vehicle competition and supported the rail companies in actions to regulate these services. But the proposal would mean two men doing the same job would be getting different levels of remuneration. This the unions opposed.

The Board retired but the stated that while they sympathised with the railway companies, the reduction of 10% was too great and they could only approve a 5% reduction for new employees.


The Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company was in financial trouble. Henry Forbes had inspected the entire system and concluded that there was little to be gained from amalgamation. All thought that ‘The Swilly’ was dead.

This year, 1929, saw the first fight back against road transport by Henry Forbes and the CDRJC. Mr. Forbes was authorised, by the Board, to apply to Dublin to run three bus routes in Donegal. The routes were Glenties to Ardara, Glenties to Portnoo and Killybegs to Glencolumbkille. The idea was to hire buses rather than own them, but this proved impossible and in 1930 Henry Forbes bought three Reo buses from the GNR. It was never intended to replace train service, as was the case up in the L&LSR region, but to compliment the rail services. The conditions of the roads must be imagined, for the buses lasted only 3 years and were only fit for scrap. Two of the buses were converted into railcars, following Henry Forbes’ favourite motto ‘waste not want not’.


The thought of amalgamating the L&LS and CDRJC was again raised in 1930 J. B. Stevens (General Manager of GNR) and W. V. Woods (V.P. of the LMS) who announced that a Commission would be formed to consider the concept “for the fusion into one System of the Railways in the County of Donegal.” Such was the urgency, probably due to the dire financial situation of the L&LS, the report was to be compiled within a month. The Commission was to consist of Messrs Taylor and Wallace of the LMS and Mr Shanahan of the GNR(I), assisted by George T. Glover and Henry Forbes, respectively locomotive engineer of the GNR(I) and secretary & manager of the CDRJC.

The report covered all aspects of the operations of L&LS Railway, covering rolling stock, permanent way and accounts.

The first meeting of the Commission members took place 26 September 1930. Following the meeting George T. Glover went off to inspect the rolling stock and with Henry Forbes inspected the whole of the permanent way.

The second meeting took place on 3 October 1930, when G. T. Glover reported that he had inspected all but two locomotives, the company’s steamer ‘Lake of Shadows’ and two motor boats. Glover also commented on the poor state of sections of the Carndonagh line. Forbes for his part was of opinion that an amalgamation of the two lines was unlikely to affect any material economies so far as his line was concerned, apart perhaps under the heading of workshop costs. Glover raised a number of questions which required Forbes’ attention, viz. the disparity in coupling heights between the stock on the two lines – 2ft 10½in on the CDRJC and 2ft 7½in on the L&LSR, whether either-side brakes should be fitted to Swilly wagon stock as it passed through Shops, and whether Forbes considered it essential to fit the latter stock with brake pipes.

Prior to the above two meetings, Henry Hunt had submitted proposals for cost cutting. Henry Forbes who was almost legendary for his ‘sharp knife’ when it came to cost cutting was consulted and concluded rather dismissively: “The Statement of the Estimated Economies was prepared early this year; since then 14 men have been dispensed with, so that the saving in Wages and Salaries of £20,260 is now reduced to about £18,784. It is not necessary to go into the savings in Coal etc. further than to remark that as certain passenger trains must for reasons given below, continue to run, no provision has been made for the cost of coal for these trains, so that a saving of £4,400 is illusory”

The last of these very detailed reports were submitted by 27 October and the matter considered. It was felt that Henry Forbes’ original report finding was correct and an amalgamation would achieve little. The reports are enormously detailed and make for interesting reading as a snapshot of the situations facing an Irish narrow-gauge railway. The death warrant had been writ. In the real world, Buncrana to Carndonagh closed in 1935 and Letterkenny to Burtonport in 1940. Services were resumed as far as Gweedore in 1941, but withdrawn again in 1947. The Donegal remained intact until 1947, when the Glenties lines closed to normal traffic. Trains to Derry ceased from 1 January 1955, but the rest of the system survived until closure from 1 January 1960, with freight services from Strabane to Stranorlar continuing for a short period into 1961. Could Henry Forbes have saved the L&LSR? Would the burden of the L&LSR have brought about even earlier collapse of the CDRJC? These are questions that can never be answered, but one can assume that Henry Forbes did see the dangers to the CDRJC of a railway that, although receiving a government subsidy, was in poor condition and poorly managed.


Financial problems beset the railway companies in Ireland. Road transport was the main competitor, but the depression also meant that revenues were weak. It was against this background that the Association of Railway Companies applied to the Wages Board for a reduction in wages for two grades as follows: 10% - All staff and conciliation grades, excluding drivers, firemen and cleaners. 5% - Stationmasters and goods agents and male and female clerks. The Association claimed that while the Irish Railways were under government control, wages had increased disproportionately.

The Railway Clerks Association, resisted the reduction.

The Board decided in March 1930, that a reduction of wages should be applied, albeit temporarily and that the Board would review the situation in January 1931.

Strike action was taken by railwaymen in Northern Ireland over the proposed further reduction in wages by 10% (effectively reducing wages by a total of 15%), that were proposed to become permanent on 30 January 1933. The unions claiming that the reason for the poor financial position of the LMS and GNR was the lack of regulation of road transport, which was putting railway men’s livelihood at risk. The employers stated that the high wages awarded to railway workers while the railway companies were under government control, had severely weakened their financial viability. The strike involved the NUR, ASLEF and Clerks Association and lasted 67 days. The unions called off the strike on 7 April 1933, little or nothing had been gained.

In Northern Ireland, the Stormont Government was drawn into the dispute, and was the source of some heated debates. Even as the strike drew to a close, some members seemed to be advocating continued confrontation. In the South, the Irish Free State – which included a major portion of the Great Northern Railway - saw equally interesting debates. Mr De Valera’s Government initially “subsidised” the Wages Board pay cuts for employees in the Free State, by funding the difference between the cuts and existing rates of pay until the end of April.

Almost as a precursor to the strike, in 1927 both the Stormont and Irish Free State governments had brought in legislation to allow railways to operate road passenger and goods services. In the North, in particular, this proved woefully inadequate, and was not improved with further legislation introducing a licensing system for freight hauliers. During the strike, this proved to be a trump card for the railway companies. The detailed investigation by Sir Felix Pole, and further legislation brought in by the Stormont Government in 1935, with the object of reducing duplicate and uneconomic road transport competition, had no better result.

As with the 1919 strike, troops with machine guns and armoured vehicles were deployed to the streets, along with armed police, to protect both travellers and the volunteer train crews.

This was an exceedingly bitter dispute, with the Great Northern Railway at its centre. The company operated in both the North and the South of Ireland, with its main works in Dundalk, south of the recently established border.

To say there was a difference of opinion with the railwaymen’s trade union representatives and the growing “rank and file” movements in particular would be an understatement. The railwaymen’s own union leaders ‘hinted’ at possible use of the Trades Disputes Act 1906, along with suggestions about using the unemployed on Outdoor Relief as volunteers to prevent wider disruption to economic activity.

With no progress, the positions became entrenched. For the unions’ part, they would not re-open negotiations until the 10% cut was taken off the table.

The end result, however, of all the effort put in by railwaymen was the imposition of the pay cuts. The Railway Vigilant for May 1933 published details of the ‘settlement’ reached:

This Agreement, signed on April 6th, 1933, provides for all conciliation grades, exclusive of road transport passenger staff, a deduction from earnings (i.e., wages plus overtime, night duty, etc.) of 7 ½ per cent., and at the same time all holidays for the year 1933 to be taken without payment for same.”

The terms of workers’ re-instatement were punitive, though reflected in press and official commentary simply as being dependent on traffic demands. In this way, men kept unemployed for a year and more were re-employed in lower grades, occasionally subordinate to those few employees who had not resisted the wage reductions.

In this way, a man could be re-employed by a company, book on for duty daily at his depot, but would only be paid for driving, firing or cleaning turns that the company made available, and be made redundant again after four weeks. During that time, he might not have collected even a week's wages.

In the end, the leaner railway system that resulted was equally as close to disaster as it had been before the dispute, and was still unable to compete effectively for any new traffic.

In the life of this dispute, very little changed in the ‘establishment’ view of trade, order and economics, and the railwaymen with their unions really only managed to reduce the impact on wages.

Meanwhile on the CDRJC lines most employees carried out their duties and on 5 February 1933, Henry Forbes announced that although the railway was carrying freight only at that time, passenger and mail services would resume shortly. Two days later a notice was placed in the Derry Journal by Henry Forbes:

The strike was causing some disruptions and goods that were normally carried by railways were being denied passage by pickets. The Belfast Dockers had also refused to handle any goods that were bound for rail transport. One instance that appears to have escaped the pickets was a consignment of Stout from Belfast, bound for publicans in Strabane by lorry. Pickets were in attendance, but the consignment accept with the RUC acting as guards.

11 February 1933 – Henry Forbes made a public announcement the strike was over on the CDRJC lines so far as Stranorlar – Ballyshannon and Killybegs sections were concerned where all men had returned to work. A few men were still out in other section, but the services were running as normal. He also said that men were applying for re-instatement, but they cannot be employed as there is no work for them. A pretty clear ‘carrot and stick’ approach, it would seem.

There were incidents of sabotage such as the blowing up of a small culvert in Cashelnavane near Barnsmore Gap on 10 Feb 1933. A number of keystones were blown out, but the culvert remained intact. Another incident occurred on the Glenties line on 14 February 1933, when a bogey had been placed on the line and a railcar hit the object. The railcar was carrying three men and three women, hit the bogey and the front wheels left the track. Whether this was an accident or sabotage, was being investigated by the Guards. When the case for compensation came to court, an amount of £23 was sought for the repair of the bridge, reduced from the original claim for £100 immediately after the accident, the company make good the bridge. The bogey on the Glenties track was originally believed to be an act of sabotage. But upon investigation it was now know that it was an accident and Mr. Forbes and CDRJC had immediately withdrawn their claim.

The Free State government announced that it will subsidise the cut wages until the end of April. Henry Forbes declared this a ‘generous offer’, but as the CDRJC was working normally, it would be ‘unfair’ to take the governments money.

A letter was sent, on 13 February 1933, by Henry Forbes to merchants in Glenties and Ardara, pointing out the wages received by railway workers. He also mentions that he was again running the railcar service on that line, with ‘business as usual’. This brought about a robust response from the unions on 19 February 1933, who held a public meeting in the Market Hall. The ASLEF representative J. H. Taylor, stated, quoting Mr. Forbes, that the CDRJC had introduced the railcars as they were ‘cheap and in-expensive oil-driven motor buses that were cheaper to operate than steam’. But had not reduced the fares. Mr. Taylor went on to say, “We as Irishmen, will stand shoulder to shoulder with our comrades in the Six Counties and will not be beaten down”. He added that Henry Forbes had stated that the annual wage bill for the Glenties railway workers is £1,520. That the CDRJC was losing money, adding “I tell them here tonight, if they were losing money before the strike started, they are losing ten times as much now”.

Interesting the differing views and rhetoric.

Henry Forbes responded in equally robust manner in a letter published in the Derry Journal on 24 February. Mr. Forbes pointing out that Mr. Taylor was from London ASLEF and could not possibly understand the Donegal situation. The CDRJC had, in fact voluntarily, reduced fares to pre-war levels with the advent of the railcar. He went on to add; “It might not be inopportune to here remind Mr. Taylor that it was his Union who, some years ago, attempted to prevent the introduction of these very cheap working units – which I am pleased to see he commends – on the Donegal Railways and which have proved of such benefit to those who, unlike some of our critics, cannot afford the luxury of high speed cars”.

The offending Circular read as follows:
County Donegal Railways.
Manager’s Office

Stranorlar 13/2/33

To the Traders Merchants & Co Glenties, Ardara and District.

It is desirable that you should be informed of the full facts in connection with the Railwaymen’s strike at Glenties. The Irish Railways Wages Board, Dublin on 25th November last by a majority finding decided that the rates of pay of certain grades of railwaymen should be reduced by 10 per cent, under the rates ruling prior to 9th May, 1931 factually this only meant present cut of about 6 per cent, in the case of the higher paid men). The Railway Labour Unions whose headquarters are all in England, refused to accept this finding, and to prevent strike the Saorstat Government agreed in the case of employees whose depots were in the Free State, to bear the whole of the cut and subsidise the railways to that extent, up to 30th April next, and further promised to introduce legislation before the latter date that would probably have had the effect of restoring prosperity to the railways. What was the Glenties men's grievances? There was in fact, none! To an ordinary person the gesture made by the Saorstat Government was a most generous one but so far from its being appreciated, the outside staff at Glenties, without moment’s warning to their employers who paid their wages, went on strike on 31st January without any regard to the inconvenience that would result to traders, merchants, and the general public. I hold the men who acted in this way were unfaithful to their country, the State, the supporters of the railway and their employers and showed an absolute disregard of their duty as public servants. The Saorstat Government have now withdrawn the subsidy as from midnight, 30th January, owing to a strike having taken place and by the railwaymen breaking away from the arrangement and unfortunately, the innocent men who remained faithful and stuck to their work will have to suffer from the action of the few hot-heads at Glenties and elsewhere. "It may be of interest to set out the regular wages paid to those now off duty at Glenties these do not include any overtime payments):

Per Week.
£ s d
(a)Station Master. 4 1 0
(b) J Clerk. 3 10 6
Engine Driver. 3 17 5
Rail Car Driver. 2 16 7
Fireman, 2 16 7
Guard. 2 12 9
Checker. 1 19 4
Porter. 1 19 4
Ganger. Permanent Way. 1. 19. 10
Labourer, Permanent Way. 1 15. 9

Wages paid in Glenties per week £29 4 10 or £1 520 per annum.

  1. Rent charged for house land and gardens, less rates, only 3s 3d Per week.

  2. His wife is Postmistress at Fintown, he is allowed live there and given a free pass Fintown and Glenties.

With the exception of the last three and the Clerk, all the others are supplied with free uniforms. All the men work only 8 hours per day, any time worked over this being paid at time and a quarter. The station-master and the Clerk get a fortnight's holiday each year and the others a week’s holiday with full pay and free passes for themselves and their families. The station master and clerk get a pension after 60 years of age, the railways paying one half of the annual contribution. None of the men are asked to pay Unemployment Insurance, the station-master and clerk are not even asked to pay Health Insurance and are guaranteed full pay when of ill for three months. There are many traders in Glenties and elsewhere who — what with poor trade and bad debts — at the end of each week would be glad to be able to think they had the same cash in their pockets as these men. The public complain that some of the railway freights are too high and the Management is prepared to assent to this but it is considered the railwaymen were not asked to sacrifice much by a cut of 10 per cent, in their wages which might have enabled the Committee to pass on to traders a reduction in freight charges, but as already explained the Glenties men were not even asked to make this sacrifice under the Government’s guarantee: despite all this they struck work and are now making futile attempts to close down the railway. I confidently submit the matter to your unbiased judgment and in fair play ask for your help in combating this type of terrorism.

Henry Forbes.


Towards the autumn of 1933, the Donegal Transport Commission was set up to look at the possibility of providing Donegal with an appropriate deep-water port. Partition and due to that, a border, now meant that Killybegs was in serious competition with the Port of Derry, that had served as the main port for Donegal for many years. Also, goods were starting to be delivered through Sligo from Dublin, according to Mr. Henry Forbes. The interests and the facility of the railway, made it essential that Henry Forbes was on the Commission, that was to make the submission to the Dail through the Donegal TDs.

The meeting on 29 September 1933, resolved to make a statement:

The Chairman then quoted the following extract from the report of the Commission set up in 1926 — "The port of Killybegs, in its safe anchorage and deep water, free from navigational difficulties, possesses natural advantages perhaps greater than those offered by any of the smaller ports around our coasts; It has railway connection to a pier which, though neglected for years, is still serviceable and can accommodate coasting vessels of any good draught; and it has behind it an area of country for the service of which it would seem to be ideally situated. And to these advantages must be added the favourable position in which the establishment of the Free State and the creation of a customs boundary has placed Killybegs in competition with Derry, the port which has in the past served, almost exclusively, the requirements of Donegal." The Commissioners decided to enlist the support of traders in the county for the establishment of a deep-sea port at Killybegs. Mr. Michael Quinn proposed, and Mr, John Cunningham, P.C., seconded, the following resolution, which was ordered be sent to the Ministry and T.D.’s for the county:

"That the Commissioners desire to bring to the notice of the Government in view of the proposed establishment of a deep-sea port for Donegal, the claims of Killybegs and to draw their attention to the report of the Ports and Harbours’ Tribunal (1930), especially paragraph 631. and to emphasise the fact that since the sitting of the Tribunal in 1926 considerable improvements have been effected to the pier. The harbour was effectively dredged a few years ago, so that there is a depth of 26 feet of water along both sides of the pier at high water, ordinary spring tides, and also that Killybegs, being a natural harbour, has all the advantages for a deep-sea port, including safe anchorage for vessels up to 12.000 tons. Any vessel can enter the harbour during any storm of tide or weather. There is a connection to the extreme end of the pier of the Donegal Railway Company, which affords excellent facilities for discharging vessels and having goods conveniently distributed over practically the entire county. The Commissioners feel that with its natural advantages, combined with the amenities outlined, Killybegs is ideally situated for development as a deep-sea port.”

The following resolution was proposed by Mr. Murrin. seconded by Mr. Cunningham, and passed unanimously:

That we call on the Government to impose a prohibitive tariff on all coals landed by sea in ports outside the Saorstat and afterwards imported by rail or road into the Saorstat particularly Donegal”.

So, started the task of providing Donegal with its own deep-sea port.

Following the demise of the CDR’s bus fleet, four second-hand lorries were purchased and a new era began. The lorry fleet used to feed the railheads from outlying areas. The lorry fleet quickly expanded until, in 1937, when there were 19 CDR lorries plying the tracks of Donegal. Towards the end of the CDR, the fleet had expanded again to thirty-four lorries and three tractors. 1955 the bus routes would be reinstated running from Stranorlar – Glenties – Portnoo, Glenties - Dungloe, Ballybofey – Letterkenny and Malinmore – Killybegs. Clearly competing to a certain extent with the CDR.


19 January 1934, saw the first official sitting of the Donegal Transport Commission with presiding officers: Mr. P. J. Hayden (Department of Industry and Commerce), Mr. Joseph Ingram (Secretary), Mr. Philip O’Donohie B. L. (Chairman) and Mr. Arthur Hassard M.A.

The scope of the enquiry is:

To inquire into the feasibility of the establishing of a deep-sea port in County Donegal and also into the adequacy of present transport facilities in Donegal.

The need of a deep-sea port was not universally accepted, Major Myles, county Deputy, said the concept of a deep-sea port was ridiculous “at the moment our import trade from all outside counties is going down and it is the policy of the country today that the less imports the better’.

County Deputy Brady pointed out that if Saorstat ports were used for the import of coal, much employment would result.

Henry Forbes stated that imports from Derry and Dublin were now beginning to be replaced by goods from Dublin through Sligo, he went on to add “The position now is that the traders in Donegal are ordering direct from Dublin merchants owing to the tariffs”.

Captain J. Hamilton of Ballintra, related how a business man attempted to build a railway between Killybegs and Castlecaldwell 1879, with a view to Killybegs becoming a cross-Channel Port and a Transatlantic port, but with the troubles of ’79 the project was dropped. However, Captain Hamilton felt that a need was still there for such a port.

Enthusiasm was obviously the mood at the time with some witness suggesting that Killybegs could be served by a broad-gauge railway (probably not favoured by Henry Forbes) and the building of an aeroplane base for mails (transatlantic?).

When asked by the Chairmen what Henry Forbes thought of the idea of building a railway from Killygordon to Convoy (four miles long), he answered, not surprisingly, “I think that there could not be any possible justification for the building of a railway between either Killygordon or Stranorlar and Convoy, so as to obviate the delay in the customs” Perhaps Henry Forbes had in mind problems of the Glenties line.

Henry Forbes was of the mind that while Killybegs was an excellent port, it could not serve the whole county. Neither were weekly sailing of flour from Dublin likely to make the port viable. He probably had thoughts of losing the flour traffic from Limerick and Mallow, so did not enthuse about Killybegs too much.

July 1934 a further sitting of the Commission took place with the Railways Companies. The Commission Chairman ask many questions about the viability of Killybegs port. Henry Forbes felt that the volume of traffic through the port was unlikely ever to justify the cost of making it Donegal’s deep-sea port. The Chairman then went on to ask about proposals for railway extension to avoid crossing the Free State and Northern Irish borders. There were three suggestions for such extensions:

  1. Extension of the CDRJC line from Ballyshannon to Sligo, including a very expensive bridge over the River Erne.

  2. Killygordon to Convoy.

  3. Clady to Lifford Loop.

Henry Forbes gave evidence that all these lines offered little in terms of viable options over the road transport links being operated by the CDRJC. None would be capable of carrying enough traffic to justify the capital expenditure. The LMS and GNR representatives all concurred with Henry Forbes’ views.

The County Donegal Transport Commission wound up its hearing, the Chairman stating “As far as Killybegs is concerned the Commission is finished”, some taking that to mean that Killybegs attempt to become a deep-sea port was also finished. Pundits predicted that although geographically strong, the local populace had done little to develop and promote the port, which was a major weakness in the justification process. Only half of those having previously stated that they wanted to give evidence, turned up.

Following the winding up of the Commission a hard-hitting critique was produced in the Derry Journal as an editorial piece. While the paper was very complimentary of Henry Forbes and the practical evidence that he gave, others were not so well treated. While the Vice-President of the LMS (Mr. W. V. Wood) and the Traffic Manager of the GNR (Mr. Wylie) were seen to hold an agreed position with practical evidence, the same could not be said for the Traffic Manager of the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway (Mr. J. Whyte) and

The Traffic Manager of the Great Southern Railway (Mr. P. J. Floyd). The paper pointed to the very obtuse submissions by the three parties:

1. Messrs. Forbes, Woods and Wylie felt ‘No change required in the existing circumstances recommended by the GNR, LMS and CDRJC.’

2. Mr. Whyte of the D&LSR, ‘Amalgamate all transport and get off the rails on to the roads’.

3. Mr. Woods of the GSR, ‘Get back to the railways from off the roads and construct still more railways.

It should not be forgotten that the CDRJC was owned jointly by the GNR and LMS and so a collective approach was more likely than the other two independent railway companies.

But the main criticism was reserved not for those that attended but those that failed to attend or give evidence, the great and good of the railway industry in Ireland. The paper was scathing and dripping in sarcasm.

The Donegal Transport Commission made a recommendation that Killybegs should be developed and the scheme was given a government grant carry out works. The first meeting after elections in October, saw the newly appointed Killybegs Harbour Board, of which Henry Forbes was a member. Since the grant had been approved the engineer surveying the pier had died and this, it was hoped, would not delay the scheme.

Henry Forbes will always be credited for his innovative and practical approach in running an efficient and sometimes profitable railway. But he is also remembered for his attitude to his passengers. Rail crew’s manuals carried this message to all staff members ‘REMEMBER! It is well for each member of this organization to bear in mind that goodwill based upon years of conscientious effort may be destroyed by a moment’s carelessness or indifference towards a customer’. Later he laid out the required standards to which all railwaymen must aspire, but most importantly to the railcar crews who were, inevitably, having much more contact with the passengers than stream engine drivers. His instructions were: “Be COURTEOUS to all, and do not be nervous of saying “please” and “thank you” even to the humblest. Be HELPFUL to all, particularly the aged and infirm, and give the same attention to those that find it difficult to pay their fare, as to the person with the suit case. Wear a smile, and show everybody that you are glad to see them using the railway. A satisfied customer is always the best advertisement.” Henry Forbes had also introduced a ‘stop anywhere’ policy, as this seemed to be the way the buses were able to compete with the railways, but also showed that customer service was at the forefront of CDR policy. Mr. Forbes also merged the second and third-class travel and third-class compartments were fitted with seating 1921. First Class compartments were removed by 1937 giving single class carriages.


Jan 1935 rumours were rife that the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway was to close. The company had started to switch to road transport in 1929 and this resulted in a reduction of traffic for the railways. Actually, only the Carndonagh branch closed in that year, but the writing was on the wall, the rest of the system withered as more emphasis was put on road transport.

One proposal had been for the CDRJC to take over the running of the railway company, but Henry Forbes, practical as ever, reported that apart from railway workshops, there was little in savings by combining the two systems.

The CDRJC had an excellent safety record and death and injury was a rare event in the company. However, November 1935 saw railway employee, Robert F. McCormack, injured while alighting from a moving railcar, outside of his house. It seems that both driver and Mr. McCormack were aware of where Mr. McCormack lived and the train would slowdown and the deceased would alight. Mr. McCormack indeed did step of the moving railcar, hit his head on a crossing pillar and was dragged along by the slowing railcar. He died not of his injuries but of shock according to the Coroner’s Court. It was six years before another death was recorded, again of a railway worker, but this time in the course of his duties. One James Gallagher was hitching two wagons together when he was crushed between the wagons. It transpired that the deceased had attempted to hook the wagons from between the wagons, although instructions were to hook from the side. The Coroner Court decided that Mr. Gallagher died of his injuries incurred in the accident, but made only a small comment on the weight of the train.


February 1936 and the CDRJC annual report made by Henry Forbes showed a 12% rise in passenger traffic over the year, which was to prove the popularity of the Railcars now being used on many routes. Goods traffic saw a decrease but had picked up in the latter part of the year, coal traffic was down.


The duties of a Railway Manager were indeed varied. In March 1939 Henry Forbes was summonsed to give evidence in a slander case in the Donegal Circuit Court. A James McIntyre sued a Joseph Wray for £50 for slander, words spoken by McIntyre to Henry Forbes. After hearing all evidence, the Judge decided there had been no slander.

Shortly before Henry Forbes’ death an article appeared in the Derry Sentinel written by Cmdr. F Gilliland D.L. R.N.V.R. which gave a snapshot of a journey around Donegal. The writer was greatly impressed with the CDR and the attitude of its staff and punctuality. He also directly referred to Henry Forbes in the following manner.

Referring to the closure of many railway lines in Ireland he praised Henry Forbes for managing to keep his line open, Comer. Gilliland went on to write ‘The travelling public must recognise this, although they don’t much come in contact with the fountain head. Mr. Forbes is of a retiring nature, but gets things done. Long may he remain in Stranorlar. Recently I saw him on the platform there, and went up to congratulate him on the rail-cars.’ He wrote me later “I was rather taken aback as at first I thought you were going to complain about the contraption we had, instead of a good old steam train. However, I was greatly pleased at your appreciation of the rail-cars for we do not get much appreciation here about anything”

It should be asked how Cmdr. Gilliland came to call Henry Forbes ‘of a retiring nature’!!


2 November 1943 Henry Forbes passed away. He was survived by his son Henry Cecil John Forbes, serving in the Middle East with the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and daughter Hazel Mary Francis Forbes serving in Belfast and Scotland with the WAAF.

Henry Forbes was not without controversy in his private life. His first wife, mother of young Henry and Hazel, died after a long illness (Transvers Myelitis) in 16 August 1940. Mary had been disabled for some years and was first nursed by Henry’s elder sister Annie Mullan Forbes, but later by Mary’s sister Isabella who lived with them in Stranorlar. Following Mary’s death and much too soon for the local Reverent, Henry married Isabella. The family story is that the Rev Dunlop did not approve of the marriage (neither marrying Mary’s sister and marrying so soon after the death of Mary). Such was the disagreement, that Henry and Isabella married in Kilrea, Co. Derry, married by Henry’s half cousin, the Rev. Hans Hadden in a Presbyterian church, despite both being Church of Ireland.