A train carrying a host of VIPs and standard class passengers was engulfed in flames after it crashed into wagons, claiming the lives of 33 people. The tragedy at Llanddulas near Abergele happened 155 years ago, this Sunday, August 20, in 1868 - but it stills draws people to the area.

Now the stories of the victims have been brought together for the first time in such detail as people prepare to mourn the dead of one of Britain's worst rail disasters at a service in St Michael's Church, Abergele this Sunday. (Aug 20)

It was on that day that the Irish Mail was thundering through North Wales bound for Holyhead and the ferry to Dublin. Lord Farnham of County Cavan and Judge Berwick (Cork and Dublin) were among the prominent passengers.

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But the locomotive collided with goods wagons, two of which contained paraffin. On impact the front the loco's wooden-framed carriages became an inferno and only three bodies could be identified. All who died at the scene were buried together behind St Michael's Church, Abergele.

Now organisers at the historypoints.org scheme has placed QR codes near their mass grave so that anyone can use a smartphone for information about the crash and each of the victims, including the driver of the Irish Mail who died of his injuries later.

While most of the dead were English or Irish, Dublin church organist William Henry Owen was from a musical Welsh family. In 1860 his father, known as Owain Alaw, published what became the Welsh national anthem.

Reverend Kate Johnson, Vicar of Abergele, scanning a QR code behind St Michael's Church, to find out about the victims of a 19th Century train crash
Reverend Kate Johnson, Vicar of Abergele, scanning a QR code behind St Michael's Church, to find out about the victims of a 19th Century train crash

The crash victims' stories were researched by Dr Hazel Pierce, a member of the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives. She said: “The first class carriages were at the front of the Irish Mail .

"Those who died were mainly wealthy people who could afford the higher fares but the accident also claimed the lives of a 10-year-old girl and various working people, including servants and three railway workers. They all deserve to be remembered, as well as the effect their deaths had on those they left behind.”

The Rev Kate Johnson, Vicar of Abergele, said: “The memory of the 1868 train tragedy is with us in Abergele. People come searching for the painting in the town hall, records in the archives and the gravesite in St Michael’s Churchyard of the 33 people who died.

"We shake our heads in sympathy, but it was devastating for those who saw the tragedy unfolding on that fateful day and those responsible for the aftermath. So, on 20 August 2023 we will pray for the souls of those who died in such a tragic way.”

Archives and churches in Ireland and England kindly provided images to illustrate web pages in memory of some of the people or groups who died. Each of those pages is accessible by clicking on a dove icon beside the person’s summary on the main web page.

* People can scan the QR code for a web page which can also be viewed on the HistoryPoints website at home.

HistoryPoints is a non-commercial venture which has created QR codes for more than 2,200 places across Wales since 2012, to enable people to discover the stories of places and objects on the spot or when browsing the HistoryPoints.org website.

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