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The Burtonport Old Railway Walk, Ireland

Paintings of Ireland

Autumn brings incredible colours to the west coast of Ireland. As the grass and bracken die off, they turn a fantastic shade of orange and pink. The pink granite rocks that litter the landscape accentuate the warm colours. They have provided me with much inspiration for my landscape paintings of Donegal, Ireland.

Painting of Donegal Ireland
Autumn in the Rosses, Ireland

This series of paintings has been inspired by the Old Railway Walk which starts near Burtonport, near Dungloe in Donegal. There are no railways in Donegal anymore. There used to be. The line to Burtonport was built in 1903 as a joint venture by the British government and the Londonderry & Loch Swilly Railway Company to attempt to alleviate poverty in north West Donegal.

Steam train at Burtonport, Donegal
Steam trains at Burtonport, Donegal

The trains used to carry fish from the port at Burtonport in Donegal to Derry, in the neighboring county. It also carried many seasonal workers to and from Derry and Scotland.  After 1922 the line crossed from one country into another; from the Irish Free State into Northern Ireland.

Donegal Railways in 1906
Railways in 1906: Credit: Donegal
Gweedore train station (Mount Errigal in the distance)
Gweedore train station (Mount Errigal in the distance)

In the 1940s, however, the Irish government decided to close down the railways in Donegal. I have never really found a clear explanation for why this happened but I am going to assume that the cost of running the line was an important factor. There were also concerns about the safety of the line.

Owencarrow Viaduct, Donegal
Owencarrow Viaduct, Donegal

In January 1925 disaster had occurred on the at the Owencarrow Viaduct when winds of up to 120mph blew carriages of the train off the viaduct causing it to partially collapse. Four poor souls lost their lives.

Owencarrow Viaduct
Owencarrow Viaduct

After the Second World War, the Irish government presumably decided it would cost too much to continue the maintenance of the line and it was closed in 1947. The Burtonport-Gweedore section closed in 1940. There is a great graphic on the Donegal Daily here illustrating the shrinkage and disappearance of the railways. Donegal became a very remote part of Ireland, with no railways and no (still) motorways. Communication with the area improved in 1986, however, when Donegal airport started operations.

Painting of the Rosses, Ireland
The Railway Walk, Ireland

It seems that for half a century nothing much happened on the old railway line. In 2009, however, there was a heavy snowfall, and some of the old railway line was cleared to access water mains that needed repairing. The remaining section was later cleared and gradually developed as a walkway with the support of the local community. A massive effort has gone into creating this beautiful and peaceful walk.

The Burtonport Old Railway Walk
The Burtonport Old Railway Walk

Here are some of my paintings inspired by my husband Seamas’s photographs of the railway walk.

Painting of Donegal landscape, Ireland
Roshin Acres, Ireland
Ireland landscape painting
Long and Winding Road, Ireland

There are many features of the old railway remaining which you can view along the way such as stations, gatehouses, accommodation crossings, lots of pillars, cuttings, embankments, a bridge and rusty gates. There are also lots of shelters for walkers to hide from passing showers to use.

Photo credit: James (Seamas) Henry Johnston

Youtube video- Siúlóid an tSean Bhóthar Iarainn—The Old Railway Walk by Ralph Schulz.

Find out more about the Railway Walk by clicking on the links below:- 

Getting here: From Letterkenny and Dungloe – SITI Rural Transport – Tel 0749741644. From Dublin – Bus Eireann@ www .buseireann .ie From Scotland & Northern lreland – Doherty Travel (00353) 749521867  There are twice-daily flights from Dublin and Glasgow to Donegal airport via Aer Lingus and Logan AirDonegal Airport : 00353(0) 74 95 48284.


18 thoughts on “The Burtonport Old Railway Walk, Ireland

  1. I enjoyed this story very much. We have abandoned rail lines here, re purposed as foot / bicycle paths.

    1. It’s a good idea, somewhere to walk/cycle away from motor vehicles.

  2. I love the colors here, Emma

  3. Delightful fall colors, and so unexpected. Who knew there was anything else besides flaming maple trees in autumn?😍 Certainly not a blanket of pink!

    1. Thank you, Alli. Yes, the blanket of pink is wonderful!

  4. Fascinating as always Emma. Here and there we are just waking up to the thought of restarting some of these redundant lines which is good

    1. Yes, trains are a much more sustainable form of transport than roads with all that tarmac and fumes. They require investment in infrastructure, which government are not always able or willing to pay for.

  5. It looks a very pleasant walk, Emma. What sort of distance is it? I really like your first painting. 🙂 🙂 There are a couple of railway line walks where we used to live- a result of Beecham’s closures.

    1. Well, I had to look this up as I’m not very good with distances. The ewebsite says ” The trail, which has its information points situated in the public carpark across from O’Donnells Bar near the harbour area in Burtonport, and again at the crossroads in Meenbannad, Co. Donegal is a linear walk of ca.5.5km or ca.11km return.”

      1. That’s brilliant- thanks, Emma! I wanted to include it in my Monday walks so the information is very useful. 🙂 🙂

      2. Thank you, Jo! That would be great.

  6. Watch the video… so pretty and love that fade from old to new at the end. I was wondering about the length of that trail too – I see your comment. It seems that old train tracks are usually refurbished as bike / walking trails. I have one near my house but it does not contain historic bits of old things of interest. Is there a reason all the houses are white? Are they made of something that everyone uses? They make a nice contrast to the beautiful countryside and rolling hills.

    1. I think the white colour is traditional – people used to whitewash or limewash the walls of the houses. I am pretty sure that people mostly used regular white masonry paint these days. It’s what we used on our cottage. It was also traditional in Ulster, the north of Ireland, to paint the sills and doors red. I think the red looks very smart.

  7. How wonderful to learn there is still a beautiful corner of the world that is unsullied by highways. While it is sad the train line is no longer, good use is being made of it and I’m glad. I know there are “rails to trails” here in the US as well. Your paintings capture the charm of the area perfectly.

    1. Thank you Melissa. I love the “rails to trails” tag, its a good one.

  8. A very interesting walk and one I hope I might do myself one day. I love your paintings, Roshin Acres and the first one are my favourites 🙂

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