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Magic Miles

The search for ‘GNRI’ on eBay has become an addiction. Postcards, books, pamphlets, posters; all have become must-haves in my quest for railway smarty-pants-ness.

My current favourite is a 1935 travel guide written by J B Stephens entitled, Magic Miles in Ireland, Great Northern Railway. I’m imagining myself as the hard-working colleen Deco-esquely depicted on the front cover, arms akimbo, ready for action. Except she was probably patronisingly expected to peel potatoes, whereas I have my own crops to harvest in the form of endangered railway paraphernalia.
Indeed, being a female in a largely male-dominated field of railway enthusiasm provides me with an interesting perspective, one which wishes to challenge the notion of woolly-headed trainspotters, and not only through my presence but for the men themselves.

I have been honoured to meet civil and mechanical engineers, financial directors, librarians, project managers, train drivers, station managers, heritage officers, professors, web designers, and many others from all over Ireland and the UK. Their ages vary from 25-93. ‘Railway enthusiast’ is not a term which defines them, but is one which unites them, their own myriad of professions providing their status and therefore their unique input into railway history. Women are also not excluded by any means.

On Thursday, 24 May, I was invited by Margaret Mallon to give a public lecture at the Dundalk County Museum for the Dundalk Railway Heritage Society as part of their 60-year commemoration of the closure of the GNRI engineering works. 

Looking back at me were an audience of eyes, female, male, old, young, professional, enthusiast, retired and resident. No-one fell asleep – I shout at you if you do – and a lively discussion followed, with one female resident sharing personal memories of the engineering works and houses built by the GNRI, whilst the female heritage officer at Louth County Council invited me to search their archives.
The Dundalk Democrat provided reassurances that my talk was not a ‘very stuffy subject’ (thanks, I think), whilst The Argus hailed me as a ‘widely recognised authority’, which sets a worryingly high bar to reach for.
Perhaps it is time to readjust the stereotypes we apply to fields of interest – archaeologists don’t all look like Tony Robinson, for example – and instead focus on the significance of differing viewpoints which enrich histories.

As I pack my soapbox away, some blighter has just outbid me on a postcard of Oldcastle Station. Time to roll those sleeves up and continue my battle for GNRI memorabilia domination.