Railways and County Carlow

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Railways

Co. Carlow

Railways and County Carlow

Compiled by William Ellis

PLANS to run a railway that would serve County Carlow were mooted in the early days of the steam era. The initial effort to connect Dublin and Carlow was made in 1836, two years after the first public railway was opened in Ireland between Dublin and Dunlaoghaire.

A view of Tullow Station in 1956
Photo L. Hyland, courtesy Irish Railway Record Society

Great Leinster & Munster Railway was the title of the company formed to undertake the project. Its first attempt to have an Act of Parliament authorising the scheme passed was thwarted by a ruling of the Standing Orders Committee of the English House of Commons. An advertisement dated May 3, 1836, appeared in The Carlow Sentinel giving the following explanation for the committee's action:

The Provisional Committee of the G.L. & M.R. think it right to inform the Shareholders that the decision of the Standing Orders Committee was given on Petitions from a Canal and River Navigation Company, merely with reference to the non-compliance with the Standing Orders, and not in any way affecting the real merits of the undertaking.'

GWR "County" Class 4-4-0 No 3801 "County Carlow" at Reading shed yard in 1930.
Source: ebay seller

3 1/2" Gauge 4-4-0 Loco and Tender GWR County Class "County Carlow" No.3801, coal fired. Finished in GWR Lined green with County Class nameplate to front ...

In the November 12, 1836 Carlow Sentinel another advertisement appeared giving the proposed route of the railway line. It was to start near Kilmainham in the townland of Inchicore, in the parish of St. James and county of Dublin, and to terminate in the lands of Pennefeather's Lot, in the parish of St. John and the county and city of Kilkenny.

The advertisement listed all the townlands in the seven counties through which the proposed railway was to run. The townlands contiguous to Carlow town were Killabbin, Killeshin and Cloydagh in Co. Laois and Clogrennan, Fonthill and Ballinabranagh in Co. Carlow.

In 1836 because of the numerous proposals to build railways in Ireland, a Royal Commission was set up to consider what routes would be of most benefit to the country.

Although an Act of Parliament was passed in 1837 authorising the building of the G.L.&M.R. line, the company did not proceed with their project, awaiting the report of the Commission. It turned out to be a wise decision as their route was not among those recommended.

If this line had been built the station for Carlow would probably have been near Graiguecullen.

Rathvilly Station House in 1989.
Photo: W. Ellis

Great Southern and Western, Railway

It was 1844 before another Act of Parliament was passed authorising a railway that included Carlow in its route. This was the Great Southern & Western Railway which was planned to connect Dublin and Cork, with a branch line to Carlow.

January, 1845, saw the turning of the first sod for the project. Contractor for the Dublin to Hazelhatch section was William McCormick, and William Dargan secured the contract for the Hazelhatch to Sallins section.

When the railway was completed to Sallins it was decided to concentrate on the line to Carlow. Dargan and McCormick took a joint contract for this section of the work, Cherryville, 2½ miles from Kildare was the site chosen for the junction with the main line to Cork. Cost of Dublin-Carlow line was £675,540.

The first passenger train arrived in Carlow on August 4, 1846. A few days prior to its opening to the general public, the directors invited a number of guests on an inaugural trip, which was reported as follows:

“The train left the Inchicore station at 12.20 and arrived at Carlow at 3.10 pm. There was no effort at high speed, merely to prove the line and allow the visitors to enjoy the picturesque table-land through which the line passed. After a delay of an hour to permit the visitors to see the bustle of business in Carlow, which is rated as the third best inland town in Ireland, the train made its return journey.”

Passengers for Cork, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Waterford and other destinations in the South availed of the trains to Carlow from where stage coaches conveyed them on the rest of their journey. The evening train connected with the Cork mail coach which reached that city at 5 am the next morning.

In the early days, timekeeping was a bit of a headache for the Stationmaster, as we read that he was asking the directors of the company for directions as to what he should do about the mails which were being brought late to the station. On one occasion he held the train for half an hour, but still no mails arrived.

Ballyellin Station House in 1989
Photo: W. Ellis.

Great Leinster and Munster Railway

Many companies were formed with the idea of building railways, but some of them never got beyond the planning stage as we have seen in the case of the Great Leinster & Munster Railway. Another company which did not come to fruition was the Wexford, Carlow & Dublin Junction Railway which had plans to connect Dublin and Wexford with a line from Carlow to Bunclody and then down the Slaney valley.

The two companies mentioned in the preceding paragraph amalgamated to form the Irish South Eastern Railway and constructed the line from Carlow to Lavitstown Junction where it connected with the Waterford and Kilkenny line, thereby connecting those two cities with Dublin.

The I.S.E.R. line was opened to Bagenalstown, with an intermediate station at Milford on July 24, 1848. It did not reach Kilkenny until November 12, 1850. The building of the viaduct over the River Barrow outside Bagenalstown was probably the reason for the two-year delay in reaching Kilkenny.

Bagenalstown and Wexford Railway

In 1854, it was decided to construct a railway from Bagenalstown to Wexford, the first sod was turned on January 1, 1855.

The Bagenalstown and Wexford Railway was opened to Borris with an intermediate station at Bellyellin on December 11, 1858. Stage coaches provided a connection with Wexford. March 17, 1862, saw the second part of the line opened to Ballywilliam, with the last halt in County Carlow at Ballyling.

On The Train

He from the window looked to see
The landscape rushing by;
It came along - he picked it up –
He caught it in his eye.
Wrathfully he jerked in his head
To dig for the stinging cinder
But who shall print the words,
he said As his hat flew out the winder?
The Nationalist & Leinster Times, 10/1/1885.

It was a very expensive railway to make as no steep gradients or sharp curves were permitted, a result of this policy is the magnificent viaduct at Borris. Another engineering feature still to be seen but not very obvious is the very deep rock cutting through Kilcoltrim Hill.

While the B. & W. R. was being constructed another company, the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, was building a line down the coastal route and won the race to serve the main centres of population in County Wexford, when they reached Enniscorthy in 1863.

As the B. & W. R. did not serve any major town it never paid its way. In 1864 the company was declared bankrupt and was closed for a time. It was reopened in 1870, eventually being completed to join up with the D.W. & W. R. in 1873 at Macmine Junction.

(Incidentally, this was the first time that the D.W. & W.R. was joined with the rest of the country's rail network, as the Loopline Bridge over the Liffey in Dublin was not opened until 1892).

Even then the troubles of the B. & W. R. were not over and it just managed to remain in business through the efforts of Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh, M.P., who guaranteed payment for the hire of rolling stock. The Great Southern & Western Railway was responsible for the running of the railway from 1876 to 1925, when the Great Southern Railway Company was set up to take responsibility for the railways in the 26 Counties.

February 2, 1931, saw the end of regular passenger services on the B.&W.R. line, the first such service withdrawn by the G.S.R. The final train on the Bagenalstown and Wexford Railway was a cattle special for Borris Fair in March, 1963.

Tullow and Newtownbarry

Another might-have-been railway in County Carlow was a proposal to run a line from Carlow to Tullow and Newtownbarry. Meetings were held in Tullow in 1861 to further the project and collect share capital.

An advertisement appeared in The Carlow Post, November 23, 1861, announcing 'The Incorporation of a company seeking powers to make railways from Carlow to Newtownbarry, and to create Capital therefor, use of portions of the lines of the Great Southern & Western Railway and the Irish South Eastern Railway at Carlow. Traffic arrangements with these companies, Amendment of Acts.'

Platform and shed at Castlemore

The route of the railway was surveyed and the estimated cost of the line was £92,000. It was planned to start the line at south end of passenger platform at Carlow station in townland of Rathnapish and terminate in a field west of' Fair Green in Tullow. A line to Newtownbarry to branch off near Castlemore crossroads and terminate in Carrickduff, 300 yards from centre of town.

Plans included platform and shed at Castlemore; Station, goods store and turntable at Tullow; Station at Aghade Road; Station at Killerig bridge or Kildavin; Station, goods store and carriage shed at Carrickduff. Provision had also been made to extend the railway to Rathvilly and Baltinglass, and beyond Newtownbarry if necessary.

It was proposed to raise the capital for the project by private subscription.

A leading article in The Carlow Post, November 30, 1861, was pointing out the advantage of a railway to a town like Tullow, whose inhabitants and traders appeared to be reluctant to subscribe to the project.

The inhabitants and shopkeepers of Newtownbarry had subscribed £1,080, it was reported to one of the earliest meetings, thus showing support for the railway.

An offer to take £5,000 in shares was made by Colonel Bunbury if a station was provided at Little Moyle. The engineer saw no problem in complying with the request, the cost of which would be c£80.

Share capital amounting to £12,330 was eventually contributed and solicitors were instructed to make arrangements to bring a bill before Parliament.

The Carlow Post of February 15, 1862, announced with regret that the promoters of the Carlow, Tullow and Newtownbarry Railway had to abandon the project at the present session of Parliament. All plans, forms, etc. were lodged in due time, but the money deposit required to be lodged did not reach target in the localities — although to their praise it should be stated, a few of the resident gentry came forward most liberally.'

Rathvilly and Tullow service

Tullow had to wait until June 1, 1886, before it got its railway connection, when a branch line was constructed by the G.S.&W.R. from the main Dublin/Cork line at Sallins to serve Naas, Baltinglass, Rathvilly and Tullow.

The company initially planned the railway to Baltinglass only, but when a Baronial guarantee tax to offset losses was agreed to, they continued the line to Tullow. The railway, when opened, did not generate enough traffic so the company had to call upon the tax to make up the deficiency in income.

As can be imagined it was not a popular tax and we read of meetings being held to protest against the 'imposition,' when property was seized for non-payment of the tax. Resolutions in the following vein were passed:

'That regarding the guarantee tax for the Tullow railway as an unjust imposition obtained on misleading information, we hereby reiterate our determination to continue our steadfast opposition to it by offering all the passive resistance in our power to the collection of the said unconstitutional and unnecessary tax upon tne people of the baronies of Forth and Rathvilly.'

Another example:

'That we discontinue the payment of all county tax after the coming assize until such time as the railway guarantee tax is abolished.'

A third example, after the seizure of cattle:

'That we the cess payers at meeting assembled, have no sympathy with those persons who have made themselves obnoxious by assisting in the collection of this unjust railway tax.' Despite all its tribulations the Tullow railway lasted for 73 years. The last regular passenger train service ceased operation in January, 1947.

Excursion, pilgrimage and goods trains continued to run until 1959 when the rails were finally lifted.

During the heyday of the railway boom in Ireland, County Carlow for its size was well served by this mode of transport. When Tullow was linked to the rail network in 1886 there were seven stations, Carlow, Milford, Bagenalstown, Borris, Ballyellin*, Rathvilly and Tullow and a halt at Ballyling, in the county.

1989 leaves one station, Carlow, and a halt at Bagenalstown.

*Ballyeilin in Co. Carlow was the station for Goresbridge in Co. Kilkenny, the reason why this station was known by the name of the Kilkenny town.

A proposal made at a Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway board meeting in 1878 to construct a line from Tinahely to Hacketstown was never acted upon. Plans were also mooted to connect Castlecomer with a branch from Carlow.

The Great Southern & Western Railway, by K. A. Murray and D. B. McNeill.
Huspaths Journal & Railway Magazine.
Railway Times.
Nationalist & Leinster Times.
The Carlnw Post.
Carlow Sentinel.
Journal of the Irish Railway Record Society.

Source: Source: Carloviana 1989/90 No. 37. Page 18-22


[ Memorial to Richard Newmann ]

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