Families recall heroism of rail driver who prevented second crash during Buttevant rail disaster

Some 18 people were killed in the Buttevant rail disaster in 1980
Families recall heroism of rail driver who prevented second crash during Buttevant rail disaster

Great grandnephew and nieces of August 1980 Buttevant Rail disaster train driver, Bertie Walsh of Glounthaune, Co Cork, photographed at a bench in his honour at the site of the disaster at the 41st commemoration of the tragedy at the weekend. From left: Mia Cummins; Kate and Jack Cauldwell; Alice O’Keeffe and Olivia Cummins.

Out of one of the greatest tragedies comes stories of heroism and selflessness. For relatives of those involved in the Buttevant rail disaster of 1980, they remember and preserve memories 41 years on.

The crash of August 1, 1980, has somewhat faded in the public consciousness in the decades since 18 people died and about 70 were injured, but never so for families and dedicated volunteers in Buttevant, determined never to let the memories extinguish. 

Most of the 230 passengers were holidaymakers who had got on board in Dublin, while some were on their way to spend the weekend with relatives.

For the Cummins family, known throughout Cork for the legendary Gaelic games exploits as well as a chain of sports shops, the heroism of Bertie Walsh will never be forgotten.

Aerial view of Buttevant rail disaster on August 1, 1980 
Aerial view of Buttevant rail disaster on August 1, 1980 

An uncle to Kevin, Brendan, and Ray Cummins, Bertie Walsh from Glounthaune was the driver of the train on the day.

Kevin Cummins said: "A bench at the site of the memorial is dedicated to his memory, recalling his heroism in struggling to extradite himself from the wreckage and run up the line to stop the oncoming chemical train.

It was loaded with net nitrate gases and other chemicals, which would have had a devastating impact on the crash site and, indeed, the nearby town of Buttevant itself."

Bertie Walsh, a veteran of 18 years driving trains at the time of the crash, was singled out for special mention for his heroism by the subsequent Buttevant Rail Inquiry.

Mr Cummins paid tribute to the local Buttevant Rail Disaster Commemorative Committee for their dedication in commemorating the tragedy, ensuring the town will always honour those who perished, as well as those who survived.

"The local Buttevant Rail Disaster Commemorative Committee – chairman Tom Sheahan and spokesperson Terri O’Gorman – have been wonderful in maintaining the memorial and keeping the memory of the tragedy to the forefront in the life of Buttevant. 

"The local Catholic Church lights a candle every day in memory of the 18 victims who died as a result of the accident," he said.

Most of the 230 passengers were holidaymakers who had got on board in Dublin, while some were on their way to spend the weekend with relatives.
Most of the 230 passengers were holidaymakers who had got on board in Dublin, while some were on their way to spend the weekend with relatives.

The commemoration that took place to mark the tragedy this year should have taken place in 2020 on the 40th anniversary, but Covid-19 restrictions put paid to those plans.

The event this year was a very special occasion for the great grandnephew and nieces of Mr Walsh, who were dedicating a bench at the site in honour of their relative.

The crash brought out the best in humanity and service from those in proximity to Buttevant on the day of the disaster.

Nearly 200 staff including doctors and nurses, some who had been on holiday or on a day off, came back on duty to help the stricken victims, and the swift response is credited with saving many lives.

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