Ronnie recalls encounter with Great Train Robber

Ronnie Harkness with his book which was signed by The Great Train Robber Gordon Goody. INPT05-040
Ronnie Harkness with his book which was signed by The Great Train Robber Gordon Goody. INPT05-040

The death last week of the sole surviving member of The Great Train Robbery gang has a particular resonance with local man Ronnie Harkness.

Former councillor Ronnie met Gordon Goody near Mojacar, Spain, late in 2015 where he was promoting his book, ‘How to rob a train’.

The Great Train Robbery gang robbed the Glasgow to Euston overnight train of over £2.6 million pounds - the equivalent of £46 million today - on August 8, 1963.

Goody was sentenced to 30 years but was released in 1975, after which he travelled to the resort of Mojacar, in south east Spain, where he set up his beachside bar named Kon Tiki.

Said Ronnie, “I knew that Gordon had lived in my former home town of Cookstown in his early days, so I introduced myself as having been born there.

“He was eager to talk about his school days in Glenarny National Boys School, to which he travelled daily on a donkey. He had fond memories of Cookstown, but intensely disliked his headmaster Baldy McCullough.

“When he heard I was living in Portadown nowadays, he smiled and said he remembered holding the strings of a lodge banner there during a 12th of July parade.”

Goody openly acknowledged that he continued a life of crime associated particularly with the drugs trade.

He suffered from failing health for a number of years but was well-known and respected in the Mojacar region. In fact Mojacar Town Hall paid a glowing tribute to him after his death.

In his book, Goody named the mastermind behind the robbery, known as ‘The Ulsterman’. He was Paddy McKenna, a Belfast man who was employed in 1963 in the main sorting office in Newtown Street, Manchester. He died in 1995.

“Gordon told me he had kept contact with a neighbouring friend in Cookstown and they talked regularly on a fortnightly basis,” said Ronnie.

“Despite his notoriety, I found Gordon to be very amiable and had difficulty leaving him as he would have talked all evening, despite his failing health, about his time in Ulster. He suffered from emphysema and relied on an oxygen mask.

“He insisted on signing a copy of his book, on which he wrote, ‘What a pleasant surprise, memories of Cookstown’.”

A spokesperson in Mojacar said, “All who knew him were struck by his friendliness, his love for his friends and family and the many pets he rescued from the street. He was a complete gentleman, far removed from the image that marked the difficult years of his former life.”