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Ireland’s Railway Systems

From Small Beginnings to Great Achievements


THE “NORTH ATLANTIC EXPRESS” of the Northern Counties Committee (LMS) system leaving Belfast

THE “NORTH ATLANTIC EXPRESS” of the Northern Counties Committee (LMS) system leaving Belfast. This express maintains a daily service between Belfast and Portrush - a distance of sixty-five and a quarter miles. The run is accomplished in eighty minutes. These corridor coaches were built in the Northern Counties Committee's workshops. The 2-6-0 locomotive illustrated conforms generally to LMS practice.

FROM the beginning of the railways until to-day railway conditions in Ireland have been different from those in England, Scotland and Wales. The first railways in Ireland were built to carry passengers rather than goods, because there was neither heavy mineral traffic nor a big output of manufactured articles to transport. Since the first railway was opened in 1834 the population has declined from about eight millions to little over half that number. Most of the larger towns are on the coast or on navigable rivers, so that cheap transport by water is available. In recent years the railways have paid attention to road transport. and have coordinated and developed road auxiliary services for goods and passengers.

There are four principal railways - the Great Southern Railways, the Great Northern Railway (Ireland), the Northern Counties Committee (London Midland and Scottish Railway), and the Belfast and County Down Railway. Most of the Irish main lines are on the 5 ft 3-in gauge.

The railways which were entirely within the Irish Free State were combined on January 1, 1925, into the Great Southern Railways, which, at the time of writing, operate 2,157 miles of 5 ft 3-in track. The Great Northern Railway, however, extends on both sides of the border, having a total of 562 miles of track, of which 332 miles, are in Northern Ireland; the gauge is 5 ft 3-in. The Northern Counties Committee (London Midland and Scottish Railway), which operates in Northern Ireland, has 201 miles of 5 ft 3-in track and sixty-four miles of 3 ft gauge.

The standard gauge of 4 ft 8½-in is not used in Ireland. During the war of 1914-18, when English rolling-stock was used in France, the Irish stock could not be requisitioned because of this difference. The Irish gauge of 5 ft 3-in is found also in the States of Victoria and South Australia, and in Brazil.

The first railway in Ireland was the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, which was opened to the public on December 17, 1834. It connected the capital with the port of Kingstown, now called Dun Laoghaire, and was about six miles in length.

The project had to overcome considerable opposition. One opponent, Mr. O’Hanlon, told a Railway Committee of the House of Commons in 1833 that it “would be a monstrous thing that the solid advantages of commerce, manufactures, and all the blessings resulting therefrom, should he sacrificed to a few nursery maids descending from the town of Kingstown to the sea at Dunleary, to perform the pleasures of ablution.”

Kingstown, originally called Dunleary, was at one time a fishing village. But the mouth of the River Liffey became choked with sandbanks that made the approach to Dublin very difficult for vessels of any size. Therefore a harbour was built by the engineer Rennie, who began work in 1816, and the place was named Kingstown when George IV visited Ireland in 1821.

The contractor who undertook the construction of the railway became a national character. He was William Dargan, and he was described as a “prompt, sagacious and far-seeing man,” who judged character by instinct and was seldom mistaken in those whom he selected to carry out his plans. He had been engaged under the engineer, Thomas Telford, on the construction of the Holyhead Road, and returned to Ireland, where he became a contractor. He was known as “the workman’s friend”, because of the justice and fairness with which he dealt with his employees, and he was also spoken of as “the man with his hand in his pocket”, because of his open-handed generosity. He had 2,000 men working on the construction of Ireland’s first railway, and he was afterwards a part-contractor for some of the lines now absorbed in the Great Southern system. Towards the close of his life he became one of the wealthiest men in Ireland; but, partly through his own generosity and partly because of the failure of companies in which his money was invested, he died in penury. His name is perpetuated by a tablet on the National Gallery in Dublin, which is inscribed: “National Gallery of Ireland. Founded AD. 1864. Erected by the fellow-countrymen of William Dargan Esquire, aided by the Imperial Government, in commem-oration of his munificent Liberality in founding and sustaining the Dublin Industrial Exhibition of 1853.” Thus there is a connection between Ireland’s first railway and her National Gallery.

The Dublin and Kingstown Railway was intended to be opened in June, 1834, but there was a delay owing to many difficulties. A few days after the permanent way had been completed a storm of exceptional violence demolished the bridge across the Dodder at Lansdowne Road.

In September “The Dublin Penny Magazine” announced: “The Railway will be opened on the 18th of the present month. His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, several noblemen, members of Parliament, and a number of gentlemen have notified their intention of being present on the occasion. We have heard that there will be on the road fifty carriages, and six locomotive engines such as that shown in the engraving, which will convey one thousand persons who have been particularly invited for the occasion.”

A Successful Trial

There appears to have been a hitch, as the first trials were not made until October 4, when the steam engine “Vauxhall”, with a small train of carriages “filled with ladies and gentlemen” travelled from Dublin to the Martello Tower, Williamstown, a distance of two and a half miles. The trip was made four times in either direction, at a speed of thirty-one miles an hour. The passengers were delighted with the comfort, and some said they could read and write with ease while moving at “this great speed.”

On the next day the “Hibernia” drew the train to Salthill in sixteen minutes, “notwithstanding the many difficulties attendant on a first starting.”

A journalist, anticipating the success of the railway, penned the following purple passage: “Hurried by the invisible but stupendous energy of steam the astonished passenger will now glide like Asmodeus over the summits of houses - then skim across the surface of the sea, and, taking shelter under the cliffs, coast among the marine villas and through rocky excavations until he finds himself in the centre of a vast port.”

The gauge was the English standard of 4 ft 8½-in. The engines were imported from England, but most of the carriages were the work of Dublin coach builders. The rails were of iron, and the sleepers were hewn out of Donnybrook granite. The engineers consulted included George Stephenson, Thomas Telford, Alexander Nimmo, Charles Vignoles and William Fairburn.

The first train on the Dublin and Kingstown Railway passing Merrion on its journey to Kingstown

IRELAND’S FIRST RAILWAY. The above picture shows the first train on the Dublin and Kingstown Railway passing Merrion on its journey to Kingstown. The four classes of carriage are all shown. The line was opened in 1834 and the gauge was the English standard - 4 ft 8½-in. The average time of the first train was nineteen and a half minutes for the six miles journey. The line cost over £300,000 to construct.

The line was opened on December 17, 1834, and the “Dublin Evening Post” published the following account:

“This splendid work was yesterday opened to the public for the regular transmission of passengers to and from Kingstown and the immediate stage of the Black Rock.”

“Notwithstanding the early hour at which the first train started - half-past nine o’clock - the carriages were filled by a very fashionable concourse of persons, and the greatest eagerness was manifested to witness the first operations of the work.”

“Up to a quarter-past five the line of road from Merrion to Salt Hill was thronged with spectators, who loudly cheered each train that passed them. The average rate at which the trip was performed yesterday was nineteen minutes and a half, including the delay of about two minutes at the Rock, where passengers were taken up. Much confusion was occasioned at starting by the want of proper arrangement, but this inconvenience will be very easily obviated.”

"The utmost precautions were, how ever, taken to prevent the possibility of accident by stationing men at proper intervals along the road, and the trains at starting were propelled slowly for a short distance for the same object. Although there could not have been less than from three to four thousand persons upon the railway during the day, we are happy to state that these very necessary precautions were attended with the desired effect."

“The carriages started every hour during the day from either point of the line,” stated “Saunders’ News-Letter”, reporting the event. “The number of persons desirous to travel by the new conveyance was so great that a vast number of persons were not fortunate enough to secure a seat. The average time in which each trip was made varied from fifteen to twenty minutes; but it is to be considered that more than the usual number of carriages were attached to each engine in order to afford greater accommodation.”

Four Classes

The carriages were of four classes: first, second, closed second, and third. A contemporary account stated: “The railway coaches of the first and second class may be almost called elegant; the third-class carriages are superior to those in use on the English railways.”

The “Hibernia” designed by Richard Roberts of Manchester

ONE OF THE FIRST LOCOMOTIVES IN IRELAND was the “Hibernia”. The engine was designed by Richard Roberts of Manchester. It possessed single driving wheels of 5 ft diameter. The leading wheels were 3 ft in diameter. Its horizontal boiler operated at a pressure of 75 lb, and the cylinders, mounted vertically, had a diameter of

11-in and a stroke of 16-in. One of the bell-cranks can be clearly seen.

The locomotive “Hibernia” was designed by Richard Roberts, of Sharp, Roberts and Company, who established works in Manchester in 1833 for the manufacture of locomotives. It had a single pair of driving wheels, 5 ft in diameter, and a pair of leading wheels 3 ft in diameter. Although a horizontal boiler working at a pressure of 75 lb was adopted, the cylinders were mounted vertically over the centre line of the leading axle. They were 11-in in diameter by 16-in stroke, and the power was transmitted through connecting rods and bell-cranks, with arms of equal length, to the driving wheels. The valve motion was likewise original; there were no eccentrics, but short arms on the bell-cranks for the movement of rocking shafts near the foot-plate.

Three locomotives of this type were built; but they proved a failure, the bell-cranks, through not being a good mechanical job, being the weak feature. Beyond these three engines for Ireland only one other of this design was built. This was the “Experiment” for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

When the extension of one and three-quarter miles to Dalkey was completed it was operated by atmospheric traction until 1856. when it was converted to steam operation. In that year the line was leased to the railway then known as the Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow and Dublin Railway for £36,000 a year.

Although the original line from Dublin to Kingstown was only six miles long, it cost over £300,000, and was therefore among the most expensive of the early railways. Despite this, the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, which has long since been incorporated in the Great Southern system, was a paying concern, dividends as high as ten per cent being paid for the year ended March 31, 1846.

In comparison with England railway construction in Ireland was slow. The next line to be opened was in 1839, when the Ulster Railway Company opened a railway from Belfast to Lisburn, about seven miles, and extended it in 1841 to Porta-down, and in 1848 to Armagh. This railway was afterwards incorporated in the Great Northern. The Dublin and Drogheda Railway, which was much more ambitious as to length, was opened on May 24, 1844. Amiens Street Station was to be the Dublin terminus, but the first train did not begin its journey of nearly thirty-two miles from the station, for the reason that the bridge across the Royal Canal had not been completed. This was a set-back, but not of sufficient seriousness to delay the opening. A temporary platform was built on the other side of the canal, and the Lord Lieutenant of that time, Earl de Grey, arrived with his suite, and declared the railway open for passenger traffic. He then entered one of the seven carriages, and made the journey to Drogheda.


THE BOYNE VIADUCT, DROGHEDA. This viaduct carries the Great Northern Railway Company’s main line, between Dublin and Belfast, over the River Boyne, some thirty-two miles north of Dublin. The structure is about 1,760 ft long with fifteen semicircular masonry arch spans and three girder spans, two of 141 ft and one of 267 ft. The whole is supported on massive masonry piers. The underside of the girder is about 90 ft above high water level.

The time for the thirty-two miles was one hour eighteen minutes, the return journey being made in five minutes less than the outward one. Express trains now cover the distance in little over “even time”. Wherever coast guards were available they were stationed along the line, to salute the train as it went by. “Not the slightest accident occurred,” a newspaper of the time proudly announced. The previous day, to make sure of the line before they invited the Lord Lieutenant to ride on their railway, the shareholders and their friends made a trial trip of their own and celebrated the occasion by a “sumptuous entertainment”.

By 1845 the three railways of Ireland covered a total of only seventy miles, compared with about 1,700 miles in Great Britain. In 1847 one of the worst disasters in the economic history of Ireland, the Great Famine, occurred. The earnings of the railway companies fell considerably. English capitalists were chary of investing in Irish railways, and work on new lines was held up by the lack of money. After the Great Famine, however, the work of building railways proceeded, and every year saw further lengths of line opened to traffic.

The first three railways had lines of three different gauges, the dimensions being: Dublin and Kingstown Railway, 4 ft 8½-in; Ulster Railway, 6 ft 2-in; Dublin and Drogheda Railway, 5 ft 3-in. According to one legend, the engineers of the Ulster Railway and those of the Dublin and Drogheda line deliberately planned the tracks on different gauges, so that if two lines ever met, neither company could use the rolling-stock of the other.

A Royal Commission was set up to report on the muddle, with the result that the width of the Irish gauge was fixed at 5 ft 3-in. The gauge of the Ulster Railway was altered about 1846, and that of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway in 1857, the alteration costing the latter company £38,000.

The construction of the early railways was a task of considerable magnitude. For example, on the Londonderry and Coleraine line it was decided, in 1846, to blow a hill, through which a tunnel had been been begun, into the sea. A heading or gallery was hewn in the rock from the side of the cliff, 50 ft in length, at the end of which a shaft was sunk for 22 ft to the level of the railway. Another gallery was made at the bottom, running at right angles to the first one, and farther into the rock. At the end of this was placed a charge of 2,400 pounds of black-powder, the earth was filled in, and the electric wires were arranged. A small charge of 600 pounds of powder was then placed higher up in the rock. When the explosion took place a huge mass of rock, estimated at something like 30,000 tons, rolled into the sea.

IRELAND’S main railway systems, whose total mileage is about 3,000, are shown on this map

THE RAMIFICATIONS OF IRELAND’S main railway systems, whose total mileage is about 3,000, are shown on this map. In addition there are also a number of local railways.

The famous engineer, I. K. Brunel, whose name is more particularly associated with the Great Western Railway, did not confine his attention to England. Possibly his most spectacular work was carried out on a stretch of line between Bray and Wicklow, some sixteen miles in length. It was said the Bray Head could not be conquered, and Brunel accepted the challenge. At one point south of Bray he bridged a wild ravine with a wooden viaduct 300 ft long and 75 ft high. Before it was quite finished it was destroyed in a night by the sea, and another was built. A few years later a train was derailed while crossing. It was found that the waves had battered the piers of the viaduct with such force that the vibration of the whole structure had thrown the rails out of gauge, and the viaduct was abandoned. In places the line was on a ledge 70 ft above the sea, enclosed here and there by a roof to protect the track from stones falling from the heights above it. The line was very costly to maintain, £40,000 being spent in ten years on defence works, and the shareholders did not appreciate Brunel's spectacular achievement, which was so costly to maintain against the elements.

In the early days the Irish railways were somewhat haphazard. There is a story that on one line some locomotives were altered from tender engines to tank engines, and that the brakes of this type, which were on the tenders, had disappeared in the process of alteration. When the driver wished to stop a train, having no brakes on his engine, he whistled. The guard heard the whistle and then applied the brakes.

An accident with a terrible death-toll occurred on June 12, 1889, at Armagh, when eighty passengers lost their lives. An excursion train, crammed with school children and teachers, was on its way to the seaside resort of Warrenpoint. The engine was not powerful enough to pull the train up an incline, and it stopped on “dead centre”, that is to say, with both its pistons wrongly placed for restarting. The driver divided the train into two parts, “scotching” the wheels of the rear part with stones to prevent it from running downhill. He intended to take the first part of the train to the top of the incline, and then return for the second part. To get over the difficulty caused by the engine having stopped on “dead centre”, he backed the first part of the train. This struck the uncoupled back section, which jolted the stones away and began to slip down the incline, at the bottom of which was an ordinary train.

It is said that some passengers were in the guard’s van of this section, and that, in an attempt to help the guard by applying the hand brake, they turned the handle the wrong way, releasing the brake instead of applying it. The carriages gathered speed and went faster and faster down the incline, until they crashed into the other train, with terrible results. Except for the Quintinshill accident, in 1915, which involved an estimated death-toll of 224 passengers and three railway servants, the Armagh collision was the worst disaster in the history of the railways of the United Kingdom.

But in spite of this terrible accident, the Irish railways have always been noted for their efficient operation.

KINGSBRIDGE STATION, the main Dublin terminus of the Great Southern Railways

KINGSBRIDGE STATION, the main Dublin terminus of the Great Southern Railways. In 1925 all the lines wholly within the Irish Free State were amalgamated into one enterprise, “The Great Southern Railways”. The company operates 2,157 miles of

5 ft 3-in track.

During the various “troubles” the railways suffered considerably from all parties. In the Easter Rising of 1916, stations in Dublin were taken over by the Irish Volunteers, but were evacuated. Then the military authorities restricted passenger traffic and used some of the stations as barracks. The permanent way was blown up in several places and a cattle train was derailed. On one occasion an engine was set running uncontrolled over a section of the line, but was thrown off before any damage was done. The curfew law in Dublin, Cork, and Belfast limited suburban evening traffic, and from time to time there were strikes and boycotts. Certain areas were closed by the authorities and markets were stopped, so that the railways lost passenger and goods traffic, and, in addition, certain lines were closed altogether.

During the Civil War in 1922 rails were torn up, bridges destroyed, and trains derailed or fired upon. A Railway Protection, Repair, and Maintenance Corps was formed, temporary repairs were made. blockhouses were set up along the lines, and armoured trains were run. Indeed, few railways have had so many difficulties with which to contend as those of Ireland.

The Largest System

The Great Southern is the largest railway in Ireland, its route mileage - all in the Free State - being nearly three times as much as that of the other three important railways. It employs 12,044 out of the 15,420 railway workers whose head-quarters are in the Free State. It took over no fewer than twenty-six lines when it came into being in January, 1925. Among the companies absorbed were the Great Southern and Western, the Midland Great Western, and the Dublin and South Eastern. The main routes from Dublin are to Limerick Junction, Mallow, and Cork, to Mullingar and Galway, and to Wicklow and Waterford. The mail steamers from Holyhead arrive at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), whence through carriages are worked in connection with the mail steamers to Cork and Queenstown (Cobh). In connection with the steamers from Fishguard to Rosslare Harbour, through trains are run from Rosslare Harbour to Waterford and Cork.

The line running south from Dublin passes the frequented seaside resort of Bray (Bri Chualann), which is also a centre from which to explore the beauties of County Wicklow, “the Garden of Ireland”. Farther on beyond Greystones, is the picturesque town of Wicklow. The Devil’s Glen, a lovely mountain pass, is near. After Wicklow the line leaves the coast and runs via Rathdrum to Avoca, near the “Meeting of the Waters”, about which Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, wrote a song. Avoca and Woodenbridge, just beyond it, are in the heart of delightful country. The railway goes on through the old town of Arklow to Macmine Junction. Hence one line runs south-east to Wexford and Rosslare Harbour, and another west via New Ross to Waterford. Waterford was once a Danish town named Vedrifiord, “The Star of the Suir”.

Another route from Dublin to Waterford goes through Kildare, Portarlington, Maryborough, and Kilkenny, while between these two routes is a web of connecting lines. West from Waterford the network of lines covers the south-west of Ireland.

A narrow-gauge 2-4-2 compound engine on a broad-gauge transhipment truck at Belfast

THE IRISH GAUGE is 5 ft 3-in, but the Northern Counties Committee (LMS) has sixty-four miles of 3-ft track in addition to 201 miles of the broad gauge. Here is a narrow-gauge 2-4-2 compound engine on a broad-gauge transhipment truck at Belfast. The initials “M.R.” stand for Midland Railway (now absorbed in the LMS), which acquired the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway in 1903.

Cork city is the centre for the tourist who wishes to see this part of the country, and it is served by lines branching out in all directions. Cobh (Queenstown), the Atlantic port, is one of terminals of the Great Southern. A line runs east from Cork to Youghal, from which port Sir Walter Raleigh, its mayor, sailed to found Virginia. To the north a line runs parallel with this one, connecting Mallow and Waterford, and tapping beautiful country. Southwest from Cork a line, with a number of branches to the coast, runs to Bantry, through Bandon. From Mallow a line runs westward, branching south to Kenmare, and west to Killarney, to Tralee, and to Valencia. From Tralee a line goes through the Dingle peninsula. Another branch runs from Tralee through Listowel to Limerick city, the third town in the Free State. The power station of the Shannon Electricity Scheme is situated at Ardnacrusha, three miles away, from which radiates the network of high-tension cables carrying current to all parts of the country.

From Limerick a line runs to Ennis, the chief town in County Clare, which is a junction, one railway going west and then south along the coast, and the other going north to Athenry (for Galway), Claremorris, and Sligo. The cliff scenery all along the coast-line from Ennis is magnificent, culminating in grandeur in the Cliffs of Moher, near Lahinch. This line branches at Moyasta, one track running west to the bathing resort of Kilkee, and the other east to Kilrush, on the estuary of the Shannon.

Galway, with its fine harbour, on the west coast, is reached from Dublin by the main line that crosses the Central Plain of Ireland. The town’s records go back to 1124, and many Anglo-Norman families settled here. The port had an important trade with France and Spain, and some of the old houses have a foreign appearance. One building, the Lynch Mansion, now a bank, has a strange story. The only son of the mayor of the town, in 1524, stabbed the son of his Spanish visitor in jealousy, and gave himself up to justice. The mayor sentenced him to death, but no executioner could be found. The mayor executed his only son, hanging him from the window with his own hand.

The Aran Islands, reached by steamer from Galway, are attractive, the islanders being people with a character of their own, and might be a race apart from those on the mainland.

Great Northern Railway of Ireland pneumatic-tyred rail omnibusAN INNOVATION on the Great Northern Railway of Ireland is the pneumatic-tyred rail omnibus. The wheels have steel rims between the rubber tyres and the rails.

THE RAIL OMNIBUS has the advantage of being able to stop at level crossings and pick up passengers at any point. It is economical to work in thinly-populated districts. This photograph shows the well-appointed interior of the rail omnibus which is depicted above.

The line runs west into Connemara from Galway, the train journey being a revelation of successive scenes of beauty - mountains, lakes, and rivers. The Twelve Bens, seen from the train, form a glorious group. Recess, which is 163 miles from Dublin, is one of the choicest spots in Connemara, and is a centre for anglers and tourists. Its lough is one and a half miles long, and is ornamented on the south bank by the plantations of Glendalough House. The train skirts Lough Glendalough, and the aspect of Glen Inagh and the Twelve Bens is very fine as it approaches the foot of Derryclare Lough. The line trends south-west, and passes Athry Lough, but then resumes its westward course to the south of Ballynahinch Lough, across which the Twelve Bens show to great advantage. The country now becomes wild and rugged as the train steams towards Clifden, and its wildness is the more marked after the picturesque combination of lake, river, and plantation around Ballynahinch Castle. Clifden is famous as the landing-place of Alcock and Brown, on the first direct Transatlantic flight, in 1919.

The northward continuation of the line from Ennis connects at Athenry with the main line from Dublin to Galway. Beyond Athenry is Claremorris, a junction for a line to Manulla Junction, whence one branch runs West to Westport, Mallaranny, and Achill, and the other north to Ballina. Mallaranny is the headquarters for tourists exploring West Mayo. It is screened from the Atlantic gales by the mountains of the Curraun Promontory. Facing Achill is the largest island on the Irish coast, Achill Island, which has an area of about fifty-five square miles.

Sligo, an important seaport, is connected with the western network of railways via Collooney, near the end of the long branch from Limerick, Ennis, and Claremorris.

Central Ireland is served by the sections and branches of the Great Southern system, which extends from Cavan in the north to mid-Tipperary in the south, and from the Boyne in the east to the Shannon in the west. Within the area are included the Bog of Allen, and the great Central Plain of Ireland, which and is traversed by the main line of the western section from Dublin to Galway. Mullingar and Athlone, the two principal towns, are important junctions. Athlone, through a branch line from Portarlington links up the western and southern sections. Tara Hill, the valley of the Boyne, Clonmacnois, the Upper Shannon, the Westmeath lakes, and many other places are in this area.

Ballybrophy is the junction for the Birr (Parsonstown) and Roscrea and Nenagh branches. The Roscrea-Nenagh branch gives a connection from Dublin to Limerick as an alternative to the Limerick Junction route.

Athlone, near which is a, powerful radio transmitting station, is almost in the centre of Ireland. It lies on both banks of the Shannon. The railway station is on the west side of the river, the longest in Ireland, which is spanned by a fine railway bridge.

Great Northern Railway of Ireland diesel railcar

MODERN RAIL DEVELOPMENT IN IRELAND. A Diesel rail-car built in 1932 at the Dundalk works for service on the lines of the Great Northern Railway.

THE COMFORTABLE INTERIOR of the Great Northern Diesel rail-car shown above. The company possesses four of these Diesel rail-cars.

The chief features of the district served by the Meath branch of the western main system are the Boyne Valley and Tara, Trim, Bective, and their surroundings. The Boyne valley is at its loveliest near Navan. Near Kilmessan Junction, whence a branch line runs to Trim and Athboy, is the famous Tara Hill. Trim, the county town of Meath, is thirty miles from Dublin. About two miles south of the town is the parish of Laracor, associated with Dean Swift. “Stella”, chaperoned by Mrs. Dingley, lodged at Trim.

Among the early locomotives of the Great Southern is one, No.36 in the records of the company, of the “Bury haystack dome” type. It was built by Bury, Curtis, and Kennedy, of Liverpool, in 1848, and incorporated the distinctive design favoured by these builders. It is of the 2-2-2 type, with cylinders 15-in in diameter by 20-in stroke. The driving wheels are 6 ft in diameter; the leading and trailing wheels are 4 ft 8-in and 3 ft 10-in in diameter respectively. The boiler barrel is 11 ft 11-in in length between tube-plates, and carries 151 iron tubes of just over 2⅛-in external diameter.

THE“KESTREL, a 4-4-0 used on the Great Northern Railway of Ireland

THE “KESTREL”, a three-cylinder compound engine used on the Great Northern Railway, with one high-pressure cylinder inside and two low-pressure cylinders outside.  This 4-4-0 passenger locomotive of the “V” class is one of five recently built by Beyer, Peacock & Co, Ltd, of Manchester. The Great Northern Railway has nearly two hundred locomotives in operation on its lines.

The firebox is of copper, fitted with bar crown stays, and screwed iron stays in the water spaces. In addition to the doming of the firebox wrapper-plate, the back-head of the firebox is semicircular. The frames are of the forged bar type, with the cylinders inside, the broad gauge of the Irish railways favouring this arrangement.

The heating surface of the tubes is 1,000 sq ft, and of the firebox 60 sq ft, giving an aggregate heating surface of 1,060 sq ft; the grate area is 12·75 sq ft. The working pressure is 80 lb per sq in; and the tractive effort, at 85 per cent of the boiler pressure, is 4,250 lb. The overall length of the engine is 21 ft 2-in, and the height to the rim of the funnel 12 ft 8-in; the centre line of the boiler is 6 ft 4-in above rail level. The weight is a little under 23 tons.

4-6-0 engines are employed on the Great Southern systemof Ireland for express work

A HEAVY PASSENGER LOCOMOTIVE. 4-6-0 engines are employed on the Great Southern system for express work. The locomotive illustrated has two cylinders, and is fitted with Walschaerts valve gear. This type of engine hauls the Dublin-Cork mail trains.

This locomotive covered 487,919 miles in a quarter of a century of service, being withdrawn from service in January, 1874. The company, then the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland, set her upon a pedestal at their locomotive works at Inchicore for permanent preservation as an example of good workmanship.

One of the most interesting inventions of recent years is the Drumm Traction Battery, invented by Dr. J. J. Drumm. This battery is used for road and rail transport, and has operated eighty-ton suburban passenger trains on the Great Southern Railways for several years without one failure.

A 4-4-0 PASSENGER LOCOMOTIVE in service on the Northern Counties Committee (LMS). The design of the locomotive recalls the practice of the former Midland Railway of England. The company operates sixty-one locomotives on the 5 ft 3 in gauge, and nine on the 3 ft gauge.

Large-scale track electrification of the Irish railways is not considered an economic possibility, but this quick charging battery was designed to solve the problem. Traffic on the railways is not sufficient to justify the expense of electrification, either by the third rail or the overhead systems. As the distances between the terminal stations of the railways are short compared with those of other countries, it is considered that a Drumm train will be able to cover the longest routes, with a halt of a few minutes for recharging the batteries at stations about fifty miles apart. Since the inauguration of the Shannon power scheme, plenty of power is available. An economic advantage claimed for the Drumm battery is that its use will reduce the imports of petrol and heavy oil required by petrol-driven and Diesel-engined rail-cars. The battery is a variation of the nickel iron alkaline type.

The original Drumm train was constructed in the Great Southern Railways workshops at Inchicore.

Trial runs in January, 1932, showed that the train could attain a speed of fifty miles an hour within fifty seconds of the start. A speed of fifty-five miles an hour, it is stated, was maintained for the greater part of the journey from Dublin to Bray. The first train was put into commission and a second quickly followed, both becoming part of the Bray-Dublin service, Dr. Drumm’s invention is one of the most interesting of recent years. Further developments are promised.

A goods train climbing a bank of 1 in 40 on the Northern Counties Committee line

ON THE NARROW GAUGE. A goods train climbing a bank of 1 in 40 on the Northern Counties Committee line. The train is hauled by a 2-4-2 compound engine.

The area served by the Great Northern Railway has its full share of historic associations and picturesque scenery. The company links up the Free State with Northern Ireland and was incorporated by an Act of 1877 which amal-gamated the four following companies: (1) Dublin and Drogheda Railway, comprising a railway from Dublin to Drogheda, Howth Junction to Howth, and Drogheda to Oldcastle; (2) Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway, comprising a railway from Drogheda to Portadown; (3) Irish North Western Railway, comprising a railway from Dundalk to Enniskillen, which company also worked a line from Enniskillen to Londonderry under lease, and a line from Clones to Cavan; (4) Ulster Railway, comprising a railway from Belfast to Clones, and Portadown to Omagh.

Since incorporation the Great Northern has acquired ten other railways, and built four branch lines. The company is a joint owner, with the LMS Railway, of the County Donegal Railways. Connections are made at Dundalk and Newry with the Dundalk, Newry and Greenore Railway (twenty-seven miles), owned by the LMS but now worked by the Great Northern. It serves a picturesque part of Ireland.

Coast and country are served by the ramifications of the Great Northern. The track runs by the Irish Sea, inland along trout-rippled streams and rich meadows, through orchards that in spring are covered with apple blossoms, by woods of leafy oaks, or over brown bogs, and along winding, island-studded lakes. Westward is Donegal, the Highlands of Ireland, with its kindly, witty people. To the north and east are found the beauties of Enniskillen, Lough Erne, Londonderry, the Giant’s Causeway, and the Mountains of an ancient Mourne.

Drogheda is an ancient town which has suffered from warfare, burnings, and pillage. It has reminders of its ancient history in the parts of the old walls that still surround it, while the St. Lawrence Gate and the Magdalene Tower are almost perfect.

Armagh, another ancient city which also suffered from warfare, burnings and pillage, is the primatial see in Ireland for the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian Churches. In the olden days it was a centre of education for students from all parts of Europe.

A Frontier Line

The Great Northern Railway forms roughly a gigantic Y, with three of Ireland’s chief ports at its three ends: Dublin (with Kingstown), Belfast, and Londonderry. The company claims to have been the first in Great Britain and Ireland, if not in the world, to have its entire passenger rolling-stock lighted by electricity. It claims, also, to be the first company to run restaurant trains in connection with sporting events and to collect, in one amount, a sum to cover the reserved seat on the train, two meals, and a reserved seat for the sporting event.

In the comparatively small area that it serves. the railway crosses the frontiers and customs barriers of Northern Ireland and the Free State at nine places.

The Great Northern terminus at Dublin is at Amiens Street Station, which covers three and a half acres, and has three platforms. Great Victoria Street Station, Belfast, covers four acres, and has five platforms. At each of the two stations about 2,500,000 passengers are dealt with yearly.

Passengers and mails by the night “Irish Mail” from London (Euston) and other centres in England via Holyhead, connect at Kingstown Pier with a train to Amiens Street (Dublin), where they are transferred to the morning mail train for Belfast. This train gives a connection at Dundalk for all stations to Omagh, taking in Carrickmacross, Cootehill, Cavan, and Belturbet branches; at Goraghwood with trains for Newry, Warrenpoint, Armagh, and Banbridge; and at Portadown for Londonderry, via Strabane. Including this train there are five restaurant or buffet car expresses daily in either direction between Dublin and Belfast (112½ miles).


THE NEW GREENISLAND VIADUCTS. The Main Line Viaduct in County Antrim is the largest reinforced concrete railway viaduct in the British Isles It is 630 ft long. and has a maximum height of 70 ft. The main arches in the Main Line Viaduct and the Down Shore Line Viaduct (the lower structure) have a span of 89 ft. Over 17,000 cubic yards of concrete, reinforced by 700 tons of steel, were required for the two viaducts. The higher one forms part of the loop recently built to cut out the reversal of trains at Greenisland.

An express leaves Dublin daily in the late afternoon for Belfast, giving connections at Drogheda for Oldcastle; at Dundalk for Carrickmacross, Cootehill and all stations to Enniskillen and Cavan; at Goraghwood for Newry, Warrenpoint and Banbridge. This train conveys passengers for Scotland via the Belfast and Ardrossan route. Passengers leaving Euston Station (London) by the day “Irish Mail”, and travelling via Holyhead and Kingstown, connect with this train, which enables them to reach Belfast in the evening of the same day.

Travellers by this route to Northern Ireland, and by the afternoon up Limited Mail from Belfast for cross-Channel stations are not troubled by customs examination of their baggage. Through sealed compartments are provided in the trains, as well as on the steamer, and passengers’ luggage passes through the Free State without question.

There is a restaurant car express service between Belfast and Londonderry. The morning mail train from Belfast reaches Londonderry in just over two and a half hours. This train runs in conjunction with the Liverpool, Heysham, and Glasgow cross-Channel steamers, forming a connection at Portadown with the morning mail from Dublin. In the reverse direction the up express from Londonderry to Belfast carries passengers and mails from Londonderry and stations in the Donegal High-lands, connecting at Portadown with the afternoon up Limited Mail for Dublin and Holyhead.

At Dublin there is a heavy seaside traffic with Howth, Malahide, and Skerries, and a frequent service that is increased to a fifteen minutes service on some occasions to carry holiday and residential traffic.

At Belfast the district up to and including Lisburn (eight miles) is residential. The service is half-hourly, except during the rush hours, when trains are run at intervals of from five to ten minutes.

A considerable excursion traffic is carried from all stations during the summer to Bundoran, Warrenpoint, Newcastle, and other places at specially low fares. The excursion fare from Belfast to Warrenpoint and back is only two shillings for a total distance of 102 miles. The time occupied for the journey in either direction - little over an hour - is good for excursion trains.

On such occasions as the July Orange Demonstrations, which are held at different places throughout Northern Ireland each year, the railway is called upon to carry some 30,000 additional passengers in a few hours, and this taxes the supply of rolling-stock considerably. Similarly, the annual Trades Holiday on the last Saturday in August causes the exodus of large crowds from Belfast to some selected meeting place on the railway system.

International football matches at Dublin and Belfast attract considerable extra traffic, and express corridor trains are run at cheap fares. The “Throughout Dining Car Express” is a popular train for Rugby enthusiasts, first-class travel, with luncheon on the outward and dinner on the return journey being provided for a low figure. This express takes slightly over two hours, including a stop for customs examination, to cover the 112½ miles between Dublin and Belfast.

Rail Omnibus Service

The system has connection at Amiens Street, Dublin, with all sections of the Great Southern Railways for passenger traffic to and from south-western and south-eastern districts. It also connects with the Great Southern at Belturbet, Cavan, and Navan. Enniskillen is the junction for the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway.

At Cookstown and Antrim the services link up with the Northern Counties Committee (LMS); at Strabane with the narrow gauge lines (3 ft) of the County Donegal Joint Committee, and at Londonderry with the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway (3 ft gauge) At Newcastle, and Belfast via the Belfast Central Railway, connections are made with the Belfast and County Down Railway. The Belfast Central line also affords through conveyance of a considerable goods and live stock traffic to and from the Belfast quays with the cross-Channel steamers.

Connections are also made at Dundalk and Newry with the Dundalk, Newry and Greenore Railway, for the cargo steamships operating between Greenore and Holyhead.

Traffic between Northern Ireland and the Free State is subject to customs examination at the boundary posts. The customs authorities and the railway company have, however, arranged for the examination to take place in the trains. There are boundary posts in Northern Ireland at Goraghwood, Tynan, Newtownbutler, Belleek, and Strabane; and for the Irish Free State at Dundalk, Clones, Monaghan, Pettigo, Ballyshannon and St. Johnston.

An innovation on the Great Northern is the pneumatic-tyred rail omnibus, produced by the company’s Chief Engineer, Mr. G. B. Howden. This vehicle is stated to be the only one of its class in Ireland at the time of writing.

Northern Counties Committee system new 2-6-0 two-cylinder superheater engine

THE MOST POWERFUL LOCOMOTIVES on the Northern Counties Committee system are the new 2-6-0 two-cylinder superheater engines, designed by the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LMS. The locomotives conform in general to the usual LMS design, but have wider fireboxes. The locomotive illustrated was built at the LMS Derby works.

It resembles the ordinary omnibus. The wheels have steel rims interposed between the pneumatic tyre and the rail. The rail omnibus has the advantage over the steam train of being able to stop at level crossings, in addition to stations, to pick up or set down passengers. Besides being more economical to operate in sparsely populated districts, the rail omnibus provides a high degree of comfort.

The main line between Dublin and Belfast is carried over the River Boyne at Drogheda, about thirty-two miles north of Dublin, by the Boyne Viaduct. The structure is about 1,760-ft in length, with fifteen semicircular masonry arch spans, and three girder spans, two of 141 ft and one of 267 ft, the whole being supported on massive masonry piers. The underside of the girders is about 90 ft above high-water level. The original bridge was built in 1855. The principle of multiple-lattice construction was first applied on a large scale in this bridge. It was rebuilt in 1930-32, to the designs of the Chief Engineer of the Great Northern Railway.

A 5 FT 3-IN GAUGE VETERAN of the Great Southern Railways, built in 1848

A 5 FT 3-IN GAUGE VETERAN of the Great Southern Railways, built in 1848. The driving wheels are 6 ft in diameter. The working pressure is 80 lb and the weight of the engine 22 tons 19 cwt. This locomotive was exhibited at the Railway Centenary Celebrations at Stockton and Darlington in 1925.

The Northern Counties Committee (London Midland and Scottish Railway) is popularly known as the Northern Counties Railway. It has direct connections with the parent company in Great Britain by a service of LMS steamers between Stranraer and Larne, and between Heysham and Belfast. The railway serves the counties of Antrim, Londonderry and Tyrone.

The main line runs between the two largest centres of population in Northern Ireland, Belfast (the headquarters and principal terminus) and Londonderry. There are branch lines to Larne Harbour, Ballyclare, Cookstown, Draperstown, Portrush, and Dungiven. Narrow gauge (3 ft) lines between Larne Harbour and Ballymena, with a branch to Ballyclare, between Ballymena and Parkmore, between Ballymoney and Ballycastle, and between Londonderry and Strabane complete the system. Some branches are closed to passenger traffic.

The district served has many scenic attractions. These include the famous Giant’s Causeway; Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles; the celebrated Antrim Coast Road; the Glens of Antrim; and the Gobbins Cliff Path, said to be the finest marine walk in Europe. The chief industries are associated with the manufacture of linen, and include flax-spinning, weaving, and bleaching. The agricultural interest is of primary importance, flax, grain, and potatoes being extensively produced. Cattle, pigs, and sheep, largely for shipment to Great Britain, are also of importance.

A RESTAURANT CAR owned by the Great Northern Railway of Ireland

A RESTAURANT CAR owned by the Great Northern Railway. This company claims to have been the first in Great Britain and Ireland to have all its passenger rolling-stock electrically lit, and to have been the first line to run restaurant cars in connexion with sporting events.

As with many other railways, the Northern Counties has been built up by the amalgamation of a number of small independent lines. The first section of the system, the Belfast and Ballymena Railway, was opened to Carrickfergus and Ballymena in 1848. The Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, and Portrush Railway was opened in 1855, and the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway was completed in 1853. Through rail communication between Belfast and Londonderry was, however, not established until the completion of the viaduct over the River Bann at Coleraine in 1860. In 1860 the Belfast and Ballymena Railway became the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. Next year the Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Portrush railway became amalgamated with it, followed in 1871 by the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway. A number of other railways were amalgamated in later years.

In 1903 the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway was taken over by the Midland Railway of England, and since then its affairs have been administered by the Northern Counties Committee. The Committee comprises members representing the English board and members representing Irish interests. While the line is operated as a distinct concern, and has its own officers and staff, it maintains close association with the directors and chief officers of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, as the successors of the Midland Railway Company.

Gradients are frequently severe on all sections of the system, but 1 in 80 is seldom exceeded on the broad-gauge lines, although some of the steeper sections are of considerable length. On the narrow-gauge lines 1 in 40 or 1 in 50 is not infrequent, the steepest gradient being 1 in 39 for 1½ miles near Cargan on the Ballymena-Parkmore line. At one point on this line an altitude of 1,250 ft is reached, the highest point attained by railways in Ireland.

There are only two tunnels on the system, both single line and quite short, one being at Downhill and the other at White-head. At Whitehead the tunnel is used by the down trains only, the up trains using the track constructed outside the tunnel when the line was doubled between Carrickfergus and Whitehead.

Important engineering features are not lacking, outstanding examples being the loop line at Greenisland and the viaduct over the River Bann at Coleraine.

LEAVING DUBLIN. A Great Southern Railways train, hauled by a 4-4-0 passenger express locomotive, is seen here, after its departure from Kingsbridge terminus. The Great Southern Railways Company is Ireland’s largest system and consists of lines solely within the Irish Free State. These lines were amalgamated in 1925.

The Greenisland Loop, between Belfast and Antrim, built in 1931-34, is an avoiding line two and three quarter miles long, which enables mainline trains to run straight through to and from Belfast without the necessity of proceeding to Greenisland and reversing. The route via, Greenisland had always been attended by much delay and expense, owing to the greater distance, the additional locomotives required by reversal, and the gradient encountered immediately after restarting. These disadvantages were known for more than sixty years and plans were prepared from time to time, but were always abandoned because of the high cost involved. Nothing was done until 1928, when an arrangement was made between the Government of Northern Ireland and the directors of the Northern Counties Committee for the construction of a loop line as an unemployment relief scheme.

The plans were prepared and the entire work was undertaken by the railway, involving an expenditure of £250,000, towards which the Government of Northern Ireland contributed £80,000.

The loop line has a continuous gradient of 1 in 75. It required the excavation of about 240,000 cubic yards of earth and the placing of the earth in new embankments. The maximum cutting is 22 ft and the greatest height of the embankment is

35 ft. The greater part of the line is on a continuous curve, the maximum radius being three-quarters of a mile. The viaduct, which is the largest reinforced concrete railway viaduct in the British Isles, is 630 ft long, and has a maximum height of 70 ft above the level of the stream. The three main arches each have a length of 89 ft. Twenty-thousand cubic yards of concrete were placed in bridges and viaducts, one and a quarter miles of new line were constructed, and one and a quarter miles of old line were either raised or lowered. The Loop Line has been compensated for curvature, the minimum radius being sixty chains.

A short distance from the beginning of the new loop line at Whiteabbey there is a wide glen over which the new line had to be carried at a considerable elevation. As the maximum depth was 70 ft a viaduct was necessary, and one of reinforced concrete was built in eighteen months. In addition to the three main arches of 89 ft, there are a number of approach arches on either side of 35 ft span.

Down trains for Larne pass underneath the new loop line at the Belfast end of the main viaduct, so that one line is above the other. This down line crosses the glen at a much lower elevation than the big viaduct, and it is carried by a concrete arch of 89 ft span, with three 35 ft approach arches on either side. The two viaducts and the under-crossing required 17,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 700 tons of mild steel reinforcement.

A DRUMM TRAIN passing through Lucan Station, Co. Dublin

A DRUMM TRAIN passing through Lucan Station, Co. Dublin. This train is operated by the quick-charging Drumm Traction Battery. The battery has successfully operated eighty-ton suburban trains on the Great Southern Railways. During trial runs in 1932 the Drumm train accelerated to fifty miles an hour within fifty seconds of starting.

The new part of the line passes underneath a county road, which is carried on a three-span reinforced concrete bridge, and under one accommodation road, which is carried on a single-span concrete bridge. The alteration in the level of the old lines made it possible to eliminate four level crossings by means of one under bridge and two over bridges. On the same section of the line it was also necessary to carry out a road diversion, and provide an under bridge for a district road, which would otherwise have crossed on the level. All these bridges were of reinforced concrete. The earthwork was removed by means of half-yard excavators, which loaded the clay into wagons, in which it was conveyed to the site of the new embankment.

To provide a direct connection from the north to Larne Harbour for the Stranraer steamer, a single line has been retained from a point half-way along the new loop line to Greenisland.

Colour light signals were installed at Greenisland and Ballyclare Junction, the first station at the end of the new line. The signalling is controlled from a central cabin at Greenisland, and the points at the junction are operated by electric motors. There are electric train indicators in Belfast and Greenisland signal boxes, and there is also an illuminated diagram at Greenisland.

The construction of the loop line, together with minor adjustments made to the crossing loops on the railway north of Ballymena, has reduced the time taken between Belfast and Londonderry by more than twenty minutes and the time between Belfast and Portrush by twenty-five minutes.

The “North Atlantic Express”

Portrush, in addition to being a seaside resort and golfing centre, is a residential centre for the business and professional people of Belfast.

The River Bann Viaduct, opened in 1924, replaced the original viaduct built in 1860. The new structure consists of eleven spans; five fixed spans on the Coleraine side, the counter-weight span, the bascule span, and four fixed spans on the Londonderry side. The bascule span is necessary owing to the shipping trade of Coleraine and is 85 ft from centre to centre of the piers, there being a clear waterway of 70 ft between the fenders built round the piers on either side. The bascule span is of the Strauss type, with underhung counterweight, and is said to be the first example of its kind in the British Isles. It is operated by a special hydraulic system which eliminates friction clutches and provides for reverse operation instead of reversing gears.

The “North Atlantic Express”, instituted after the opening of the Greenisland loop, maintains a daily service between Belfast and Portrush (sixty five and a quarter miles), and is particularly convenient for Portrush residents whose business interests are in Belfast. This express leaves Portrush in the morning and arrives in Belfast after a run of eighty minutes, The corresponding train from Belfast leaves in the evening on week days, except on Saturdays, when it leaves soon after midday. There is a stop at Ballymena in either direction.

This train is usually hauled by a 4-4-0 express passenger engine recently constructed at the Committee’s locomotive works, Belfast. The type is not the most powerful on the system, but it has ample power to maintain the high speeds required. The boiler is of the standard superheated type. The two cylinders are 19-in diameter by 24-in stroke, and the driving wheels 6 ft in diameter. The total weight of engine and tender is 84 tons.

The rolling-stock, also built in the Northern Counties workshops, consists of corridor coaches: one 60-ft buffet car, one 57-ft brake third, one first, second, and third composite coach, and two third-class coaches, giving a seating capacity of 194.

The body framing of the coaches is of teak, with mahogany panelling outside and inside. The exterior of the train has been designed to give an almost flush finish, and with the large 5-ft windows presents altogether a very attractive appearance.

Above the window in each compartment, and also in the corridors, a sliding extractor ventilator is fitted.

The most powerful Northern Counties locomotives are those designed recently for service in Ireland by Mr. W. A. Staneer, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LMS Railway. These have the 2-6-0 wheel arrangement and conform generally to LMS practice, except that advantage has been taken of the 5 ft 3-in gauge to widen the firebox. The driving position is on the left side and tip-up seats are provided. The standard tender carries 2,500 gallons of water and five tons of coal.

THE NORTHERN COUNTIES COMMITTEE has constructed rail-cars for light suburban work

THE NORTHERN COUNTIES COMMITTEE has constructed rail-cars for light suburban work. The latest rail-car weighs over twenty tons and is fitted with two Leyland Diesel engines, each developing 130 brake horse-power at 2,000 revolutions per minute.

You can read more on “The Great Southern & Western Railway”,  “The Irish Mail”,

“The ‘Limited Mails’ of Ireland”, “Railway Curiosities” and “The Ulster Express” on this website.