Museum Behind Barber's Shop Remembers Fermanagh Days Of Steam

By Richard Moss | 20 September 2007
a view of a barbers shop with two barbers cutting hair whilst another man waits on a bench

The barbers in action at Headhunters Barbers Shop and Railway Museum © Headhunters Railway Museum

On September 31 and October 1 2007, scores of former railwaymen throughout Ireland and Britain will converge on one of the most unusual museums in the UK to remember a steam railway that disappeared 50 years ago.

The railwaymen and enthusiasts will be making their way to Headhunters barbers shop in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, which as well as boasting railway carriage seats and a fine collection of steam-related memorabilia on its walls, is home to a fully kitted-out museum dedicated to the preservation and the recording of the heritage associated with the old Ensikillen railway.

Monday September 30 1957 was a sad day for Enniskillen and for every station, halt and level crossing between Clones and Omagh, from the Junction to Bundoran and from Enniskillen to Sligo, as railway services were withdrawn on 93 miles of track of the Great Northern Railway (Ireland).

The unusual museum that celebrates and preserves the remains this lost heritage was established in 2002 by barber brothers Gordon and Nigel Johnston with the help of their brother Selwyn. Together with former railway employees and enthusiasts, they established a free museum at the back of their barber’s shop Headhunters, and it now displays, collects, preserves and interprets local heritage - while having fun in the process.

“We had a great family interest in the railways and we thought, why not do it here?” said Selwyn Johnston. “Since then we have had to be creative to make it work.”

a black and white photo of two uniformed men shaking hands on a platform next to a steam engine from which a driver and a fireman look on

The last day of service for the Eniskillen to Sligo line. © Headhunters Railway Museum

The museum is perhaps one of the most unlikely success stories but the combination of a short back and sides and a trip back to the golden age of steam has seen the small enthusiast-run museum and barber business attract visitors from all over the world.

“Railway enthusiasts regularly travel from places such as Dublin and Belfast to get their hair cut and combine their visit with an opportunity to view new railway exhibits within the museum,” explained Selwyn. “It is one of the perks of being a pensioner - free bus travel, a reduced rate for a haircut and plenty of time on your hands!”

“Last week a group of German visitors with an interest in railway heritage discovered the museum through an entry in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board Visitor Attraction Guide. And yes, they also had a haircut while they were here.”

The museum, which is currently applying for accredited museum status from the Northern Ireland Museums Council, has a good relationship with local museums. The conservator from Fermanagh County Museum has worked closely with the Johnston brothers and volunteers to advise about conservation and display techniques.

a photograph showing a man at a book signing surrounded by people

Ken Love, former GNRI fireman, signs copies of his book Bygone Days on Fermangah Railways at the museum. © Headhunters Railway Museum

The added activity in the barbers shop means the unusual venue has also become a kind of hub and visitors often get the added bonus of talking to ex-railwaymen who pop in from time to time.

“We often get people who worked on the railways dropping in,” said Selwyn. “Museums can be lifeless but we keep it alive, we keep the talk going and there are a lot of living memories here and I think that is really important in keeping the history alive.”

“In this day and age in order to preserve and retain this heritage and in order to have something close to a living experience you have to reach out to the public in innovative ways,” added Selwyn.

“What we are doing here is trying to bring this heritage to different audiences. We get 30 to 40 people a day coming into the museum of all ages.”

With the 50th anniversary of the closure of Fermanagh's railways later this month many visitors are making a special pilgrimage to Headhunters to remember the area’s bygone age of steam.

a man having his hair cut in a barbers shop

"Anything for the weekend sir? Or perhaps a tour of the museum?" © Headhunters Railway Museum

In its day the railway played a very large part in the social and economic life of Fermanagh, and now over 50 members of the Irish Railway Record Society, several of whom are former railway employees, will be making a nostalgic journey by train on Saturday September 22 from Dublin to Sligo and then onwards by coach to Enniskillen, tracing the route of the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway.

Further commemoration events will see several former railway employees from Fermanagh making the journey to Downpatrick Railway on Saturday September 29 to work a train once again before converging on Headhunters Barbers Shop and Railway Museum.

Once there, some of them may opt for a quick trim before enjoying a museum open day that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the passing of the golden age of the Northern Railways.

On Monday October 1 2007 Charles Friel, Enniskillen-born author and photographer (and a founder member of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland), will be at the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen to recreate the railway that disappeared 50 years ago.

a black and white photograph of a steam train steaming past a sign saying Enniskillen

The glory days of steam in Enniskillen. © Headhunters Railway Museum

“We’re having a slide show and we’ll be bringing all of the former railwaymen, and their family and friends together - it’s a reunion,” said Selwyn.

Charles will recall the days of steam with a selection of slides showing the trains, the people, and the places as they were back then. He will be illustrating the everyday scenes of passenger and goods trains, the cattle specials and the excursions as well as the famed Bundoran Express.

Selwyn has put together a website to record the reminiscences of former railwaymen who worked the Enniskillen to Sligo line. For more information and to find out where to get to have your hair professionally styled in the most nostalgic surroundings see www.headhuntersmuseum.com.

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