By Marie Louise McCroryIrish News
30/10/09It brought poets, artists, sports stars, politicians and trade union leaders together for one cause – to fight a very public campaign against IRA bomb attacks on the Belfast to Dublin rail line
Around 2,000 people boarded two trains at Central Station in Belfast on October 28 1989 to travel the 200 miles to Dublin for the inaugural journey.
As the trains departed at 8.10am and 8.20am people in the Republic were being asked to sign a petition calling for the IRA bombings to stop.
Up until that point the IRA had carried out 64 attacks on the rail link in a tactic thought to be aimed at drawing British soldiers out into exposed areas.
The ‘Peace Train’ was greeted in Dublin by the city’s lord mayor and following a number of speeches, passengers returned to Belfast where a campaign meeting was held.
However, when the train attempted to travel to Dublin again the following day it found itself halted at Portadown because of a bomb alert.
While many passengers boarded buses to continue their journey, around 70 people stayed on board, determined not to give in to those behind the alert.
Chris Hudson, who along with broadcaster Sam McAughtry founded the Peace Train Foundation, was among those who stayed on board along with several TDs and senators.
He said he spent the night sleeping in the carriages and was awoken the following morning by police officers and a priest bringing them food.
“I remember Austin Currie said they would have to carry him off the train by his feet,” he recalled.
“The police brought us tea and sandwiches and Ken Maginnis brought us breakfast. The world’s media arrived at the train.”
The passengers eventually reached Dublin where they were met with rapturous applause from supporters.
The IRA said it had not been responsible for the alert, which was confirmed to have been a hoax.
In the years that followed the Peace Train continued to make its journey, albeit sometimes disrupted by bomb alerts.
It continued to operate each year up until 1994 when the IRA announced a ceasefire.
Twenty years on from its first journey, the Peace Train was last night remembered at a special event at Central Hall in Belfast where some of those involved in the initiative gave a talk.
Mr Hudson said it was a campaign which gave “a platform to ordinary people to express their opposition to the IRA”.
“The main focus was defence of the Belfast/Dublin railway line,” he said.
“The idea was to get a number of prominent people, political and Church leaders and civil society leaders to call upon the IRA to desist from bombing the rail link between Belfast and Dublin.
“Our view was that Irish people, north and south, should have had the freedom and the democratic right to travel without being challenged.
“The Peace Train gave us a mechanism to fight.”