Remembering the Gorey rail crash of December 31, 1975, in which five passengers lost their lives
ON the morning of New Year's Eve, 1975, an excavator on the back of a tractor and trailer accidentally struck the Cain railway bridge on a narrow road at Tubberneering, Clogh, three miles outside Gorey.
Despite the best efforts a local man Christy Hill, and the train driver Joseph O'Neill from Rosslare Harbour who braked when he was alerted to the danger ahead, the approaching train derailed when it hit the buckled track, sending some of the carriages crashing down the bank.
Some 94 passengers were on board. Forty-three were injured, while five died - William Hayes, (80), from Ardcavan; Philomena Moss, (50), from Kilmore; Anthony O'Brien, (42), from Wexford; Peter Roche, (16), from Wexford; and Richard O'Neill, (24), from Dublin, who was an off-duty CIE employee.
'It was one of the worst scenes I ever attended,' recalled Albert Willoughby from Gorey, who was a 30-year-old member of the Gorey fire crew, which was the first emergency response team at the scene.
'I remember I was sitting at home playing with the children when I got the call to go to the fire station,' he said. 'We were told a train had crashed.'
He remembers seeing the wagons lying on their side. 'I took an American boy and girl out through a window,' he said. 'The boy said he'd left his cigarette lighter back in the carriage and asked me could I go in to get it and I said "no way".' He also recalled going into a carriage and going to the assistance of family members of one of the passengers who died.
'It was such a major incident,' he said. 'Fire crews came from as far as Kilkenny. I often thought about that day during my 36 years with Gorey Fire Service. Poor Christy Hill went to try to stop the train but it was too late. I felt so sorry for him.'
Albert recalled that a large mobile crane had to be brought in from Wexford to help stabilise the carriages which were still on the track.
The emergency crews were joined by a lot of locals who rushed to the scene to help. 'There were a lot of walking wounded, and a fleet of ambulances came to take them to hospital. A lot of people were very lucky and were unhurt but they were all very traumatised,' he said. 'It was very fortunate that the front two carriages were empty or it could have been a lot worse.'
'I remember the late Doctor O'Doherty, father of the doctors in Gorey now,' he continued. 'He did a Trojan amount of work. He crawled on his knees with his bag up the bank through the mud. I never forgot the work he did that day.'
Albert's brother Teddy was also on the crew of first responders. 'I was with sub-officer Tom Hobbs who has passed on now,' he said. 'We witnessed terrible scenes. The main engine was on its side at the bottom of the bank. It was a miracle that the driver survived.' He recalled seeing two carriages in a V-shape in the middle of the bridge. Numerous medics went to the scene, including Dr O'Loughlin from Gorey.
The head surgeon from Wexford Hospital was called to help some of those most seriously injured. 'He was brought up onto a carriage in a cage on a snorkel fire appliance,' said Teddy. 'He was seeing to the injured and I think he forgot where he was he was so engrossed in his work, and stepped through a window. He would have fallen down to the ground only we pulled him back.'
The Gorey crew were there for a good while on their own, using ladders to access the train. Local volunteers were kept back from the most dangerous aspects of the work, but helped where lifting was needed. Though he doesn't remember the weather conditions on the day, he does recall being very mucky and dirty afterwards. 'We were worn out after it,' he said. 'We did the best we could.'
He also remembered seeing a plane flying low over the scene and later seeing footage of the crash on the ITN news. 'It was one of the toughest days for everyone,' he said.
Ned Harney from Ballyedmond was also on the Gorey crew that responded to the disaster that day. 'It was a horrific day,' he recalled. 'It was the worst incident I attended. I was only 20 years-old. I was on the crew for about two years at that stage.'
He recalled seeing how the train had slipped about 20 feet down the bank. 'Some of the carriages went in on each other,' he said.
He remembered entering the carriages to help get people out. The train was unstable and they needed to get the passengers out of danger. 'We just helped so many people,' he said. 'There were no phones on the scene but the house across the road was a great help with water and so on. We just sat the survivors side by side along the road. A lot of people lent a hand that day.'
A plaque is to be unveiled at the bridge at the site of the crash outside Gorey on New Year's Eve on the 40th anniversary of the disaster, in memory of those who lost their lives.