Northern Ireland

Newry to Bessbrook tram: Students to restore ruined carriage

A dilapidated carriage that once formed part of the Newry to Bessbrook tram in County Armagh
Image caption The dilapidated carriage once formed part of the Newry to Bessbrook tram

It is a historic piece of rolling stock, but for years it has lain rotting on a County Armagh hillside.

Now there are plans to salvage part of the Newry to Bessbrook tram and restore it to its former glory.

Students from the Southern Regional College will spend 18 months restoring the dilapidated carriage, which has been used as a sheep pen in recent years.

Earlier this week a team of workers used a digger to lift it from a field near Camlough

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Media captionA team of workers used a digger to lift the tram from a field near Camlough, County Armagh.

When it is finished, it will be put on public display near Newry railway station.

'Butt of jokes'

A similar one currently stands in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, County Down.

"In its heyday the tramway transported 100,000 people from Newry to Bessbrook, carrying raw materials and workers from the town to the linen mill", said Des Murphy of the Camlough Heritage Society.

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Media captionThe trams once ran between Newry and Bessbrook before the line closed in January 1948

The tramway opened in 1885 and closed in January 1948.

It had a top speed of 10mph and eventually fell into decline as road transport took over.

The tram ran uphill for about three miles and was the butt of many jokes due to its lack of speed.

"William Bradley from Bessbrook once famously said, when asked if he was heading for the tram, 'No, I'm in a hurry today, I'm going to walk'," said Mr Murphy.

'Family heritage'

Ten thousand pounds of lottery money is being used to support the project. The chairman of the Lottery Heritage Fund Northern Ireland, Martin McDonald, came to watch the recovery operation.

Image caption A similar carriage is currently on display in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, near Belfast

His father's family came from Bessbrook and worked in the mill. He believes they would have used the tram.

"It's not often when I come to launch projects like this that I can get involved with a bit of my own family heritage, so it's exciting to me from a personal point of view."

Image caption The 19th Century tramway used to transport thousands of people between Bessbrook village and Newry

The director of the Southern Regional College Brian Doran said the restoration project will present big challenges for his construction students - but he believes they are up to the task.

"This programme will bring our curriculum to life because our trainees involved in painting, carpentry and joinery and engineering will be involved in the restoration of this programme and it's an exciting opportunity for them."

The restoration project is a joint one between the college and the Slieve Gullion Partnership Group.

It is hoped it will be finished by Easter 2016.

Viewers can watch a BBC Newsline video report on this story on BBC One Northern Ireland shortly after 18:30 GMT on Friday, 11 December.