Irish revivalists mourn joint founder


THE Downpatrick & County Down Railway has been in mourning following the sudden death of its co-founder and president Bill Gillespie.

Bill, who was 85, passed away on June 30, while on holiday in Jersey with his wife Winnie.

Bill Gillespie. DCDR

He and co-founder Gerry Cochrane first met Eddie McGrady in 1982 to propose a heritage railway scheme in Downpatrick.

The DCDR was established in 1985 with the aim of restoring a portion of the former Belfast and County Down Railway as a working railway museum. The original line was closed in January 1950.

Bill’s father was killed in action during the Second World War, and his name is displayed on the BCDR war memorial on display in Belfast Central Station.

A DCDR statement said: “Bill had a very strong personal connection to the original railway line, the Belfast & County Down Railway, as his father drove the BCDR diesel locomotive No. 2 on the Ballynahinch branch, a locomotive he attempted to preserve in the 1970s but which was unfortunately scrapped. What an artefact that would have been.

“Bill carried on that legacy by helping to purchase and transport the two
E Class locomotives, E421 and E432, to Downpatrick in the 1980s – E421 was named WF Gillespie OBE.

Bill Gillespie in his school uniform at Ballynahinch station on April 17, 1948 with BCDR diesel locomotive No. 2 at the platform. His father Joe used to drive No. 2 before the Second World War when he was killed in action. Joe used to give him a footplate ride out to Ballynahinch Junction. HC CASSERLEY/DCDR

“When E421 was withdrawn from service it was Bill’s wish that it was put on display in the carriage gallery to help tell the story of our early days and allow visitors to climb aboard it.

“After he retired from the board he was made honorary president of the society in 2015, but had continued to be involved as much as he could be. Bill was a gentleman in the truest sense.”

Bill was also involved in a wide range of activities beyond the heritage line, most notably the Charles Sheils charity in Killough, which administers one of the oldest social housing schemes in the UK.

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