Percy French parodied Ireland’s West Clare Railway in the late 1890s, when most of the trains were late too! 
 “Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right,” sang 89-year-old Mairead O’Dolan with great gusto two Saturdays ago.
Her adoring audience, a busload of railway enthusiasts, called at her beautifully conserved railway-home in Belcoo and Blacklion station.  
They were there on a whistle-stop bus-tour of former railway stations in Fermanagh, Tyrone, Leitrim and Cavan. 
The evocative trip anticipated the forthcoming 60th anniversary on September 30 of the closure of the GNR lines to Bundoran and the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties (SLNCR) line between Enniskillen and Sligo.
Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, with Enniskillen’s Headhunters Railway Museum, organised the commemorative tour as part of the recent European Heritage weekend. 
Percy French’s overdue trains weren’t unlike the late arrivals at Mairead O’Dolan’s station platform where long-waiting passengers claimed that SLNCR stood for ‘Slow, Late and Never Came Regular’!
“Belcoo and Blacklion station was unique,” tour-guide and Headhunters Museum Vice-Chairman Alan Devers explained. 
“It was the only railway station that served two towns in two different countries,” Alan added.  
He had previously pointed out the family home where his great uncle, an accountant on SLNCR, lived overlooking Enniskillen station. 
“All the buildings have disappeared,” he lamented, specifying the various rail-routes from Enniskillen that served the local community whilst being a vital industrial artery to the rest of the world. 
Alan’s well-practised eye easily discerned the historic remnants.
The Great Northern Way is now a public footpath where “you can still find granite-chip ballast from the old tracks” he explained. 
The trains passed the Gospel Hall “which was there 60 years ago” said Alan, adding “a lot of the nearby houses were railway houses” - a theme that was the constant thread through his tribute to trains.
We saw houses at former railway-crossings that are today’s cross-roads; old stone bridges lurking unseen behind ivy-tangled trees; long-defunct tracks identifiable only by overgrown hedgerows and man-made embankments contrasting subtly with glacial drumlins. 
“The railway line is not even protected in death,” lamented Alan, “Shame! The government allowed buildings to be constructed on the old line.”
“I never thought I’d stand in one of these again,” said one of the bus-passengers, looking out of the original wooden waiting room beside the original platform at Irvinestown’s original GNR station house. 
“The station was opened here in 1866,” acclaimed railway author and photographer Charles Friel told me, “It was an important station - a big fair and cattle traffic.”
The lovingly-restored building is now luxurious self-catering accommodation where vintage railway features have been retained wherever possible. 
“That was the goods store,” Charles beckoned, “that’s the ‘beach’ (for loading cattle) and there was a cover for unloading bread.”
The railway enthusiasts on the bus tour were mourning the demise of trains and Irvinestown’s Station House was the icing on the wake. BBC Proms in the Park was imminent in Castle Coole, and Station House owners Jane and Floyd, along with Radio Ulster’s John Toal Show, organised a live-on-air celebration of music and railway nostalgia.  
Jane Reihill was brought up in the Station House.
“We were referred to as ‘the railway children’,” admitted Jane, reminiscing warmly about playing on the platform and, more sadly, about “the engine that came to lift the tracks in the early 1960s.”
A playschool in the former goods store is “all that’s left of Ballinamallard station,” recounted Alan Devers before embarking on the enigmatic intricacies of Bundoran Junction where “they sometimes had three trains together at one time in the sleepy little station. But you could only consume alcohol in the refreshment room if a minimum of two trains were there at the same time.”
Policemen spied on bootleggers from up the junction!
“Strange licensing laws,” Alan commented.  There were ‘value added tracks’ on Boa Island - “the only place where you could see Lough Erne from the train,” said Alan, pointing to the panorama that was captured for posterity on an iconic railway poster. 
Castlecaldwell’s old station house is beside the road, near the castle where the train ran above its majestic gate lodge. 
Belleek station is now a playschool “where the raw materials came in and Belleek pottery went out with no breakages” boasted Alan.
A pizza shop and coffee house stand atop the 49-foot-high railway-tunnel under the street. 
Leitrim’s beautifully preserved Glenfarne Station with its handsome original signal-house is close to the original Ballroom of Romance. The awesomely straight road to Florencecourt Station on the original SLNCR track is “as rural as it gets” said Alan, “and as straight as the eye can see.” 
For details of railway closure commemorative events see