Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Train train, comin' down, down the line

A brief follow-up to a post I wrote back in September ... In an effort to unravel Astral Weeks' railway-related lyrics, I reached out to Mark Kennedy, curator of road and rail transport at National Museums Northern Ireland. Kennedy confirmed that "Madame George"'s "Dublin up to Sandy Row" train was the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise, which departed and arrived at Belfast's Great Victoria Street station, located near the Sandy Row neighborhood.

The rail mention in "Cyprus Avenue" ("If I pass the rumbling station / Where the lonesome engine drivers pine") has proven more difficult to decode; it could be another allusion to the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise line or a reference to the Belfast and County Down Railway (BCDR), which ran through Van Morrison's Bloomfield neighborhood and is now the Comber Greenway, a 13-kilometer linear park for walking and bicycling.

The BCDR station closest to Morrison's home was Bloomfield (it would have been a 10-minute walk). Recently, I unearthed a bit more information on the station. According to this link, it opened in May of 1879 and closed in April of 1950. Also, I came across this little tidbit in the map for the recently launched Mystic of the East, a self-guided trail that gives Morrison fans the opportunity to visit the East Belfast places mentioned in his songs: "Bloomfield Railway Station and level crossing (both now gone) were situated at the Cyprus Avenue end of the Beersbridge Road. The station platform stood near its junction with Evelyn Avenue."

Lastly, I found two passages on Bloomfield Station on a website dedicated to the history of East Belfast. The site is run by Aidan Campbell, a retired business consultant who has published several books on the history of East Belfast. The two passages are posted here:
In the East Belfast Historical Society Journal Vol. 1 No. 3, Louis Gilbert talks about his early life in an article entitled 'Love in the Black Lagan Valley': In 1924 when I was a wee lad, I lived off Ravenscroft Avenue not far from the Holywood Arches. There was an electricity sub-station at one end of the street and a school across the road. At the other end, on a high bank, trains from the Belfast and County Down Railway Company's Queen's Quay station chugged and puffed on their way to Newtownards, Donaghadee, Downpatrick and Newcastle. There was a level crossing on the Beersbridge Road and the signalman at Bloomfield Station closed the gates and stopped all traffic every time there was a train.
Bloomfield station in the early 1900s [pictured above] which the Belfast & County Down Railway opened in May 1879 and it looks like cattle are being herded along the Beersbridge Road towards the level crossing. The station was designed by engineer Berkeley Dean Wise (who lived nearby at Knock Road). This portion of the railway line had been opened in 1850 with the aim of eventually providing a service to Donaghadee and the connecting mail-packet ship to Portpatrick. However the route from Larne to Stranraer was favoured, which meant that the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway gained the benefit via their route to Larne Harbour.

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