Why did a rail link with Strabane destroy Raphoe’s once thriving economy?
The nineteenth century East Donegal community petitioned for a rail link between Raphoe and Strabane. Ironically, when they got it in 1909, it destroyed the local economy. It was disastrous for the local community – no houses were built in the town between 1910 and 1937.
East Donegal – A thriving district of the nineteenth century.
In the nineteenth century, Raphoe was a self-sufficient town and district, with little reliance on other areas for the supply of goods and services. Sheep’s wool and locally grown flax were spun and woven into yarn; the cloth was sold to local tailors, who made up suits to order. Farmers slaughtered their pigs, sheep, and cattle, and salted down nearly a year’s supply for the household. The hides of cattle were tanned into leather. Several mills locally made oatmeal. Roads were overall quite bad, and the only means of transport of goods was by horse and cart.
Modern transportation initially improved the prosperity.
The first step towards modern transport was when the railway from Derry via St Johnston to Strabane was opened in 1847. Merchants were then able to have goods sent by rail from Derry to St Johnston where carts collected them to take them to Raphoe. By 1860 the railway from Derry via Coleraine to Belfast was completed, and this expanded commerce over the whole area. The people of East Donegal soon wanted their own railway and a company was formed to construct a line from St Johnston through Raphoe and Convoy to Glenties, but no financial backing could be found. The next idea was to have a rail link with Strabane and there were several public meetings to gain support, but opposition came from the Duke of Abercorn and his tenants in Strabane, who feared the suggested railway would take trade away from their town. By 1852, Strabane was connected by rail to Omagh – and later to Belfast – and to Derry by rail and canal. The East Donegal community continued to press for a rail link with Strabane. At last, in 1903 sanction was given for a new railway – Strabane to Raphoe and Convoy, and subsequently on to Letterkenny.
The new Raphoe to Strabane rail link in 1909 spelled disaster
The new line opened on January 1st, 1909, but the result for Raphoe was disastrous. Goods could now be brought in more cheaply, but the public could now easily shop in Strabane and Derry; Raphoe’s trade stagnated. The population dwindled, and as a consequence, no houses were built in the town between 1910 and 1937. After the end of WW1, the use of motorcars and lorries substantially increased, and by the end of WW2, greater use of private and alternative public transport brought about the demise of the railway system in this area.
The line to Strabane finally closed on 31st December 1959. Stories abound about the train, the station and the characters associated with them. The station at Raphoe is now the premises of the Raphoe hardware and Grain company.