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In 1851 The Midland Great Western Railway opened its station in Athenry. The line was extended from Athenry to Galway completing one hundred and twenty eight miles of railway. At that time there were great hopes of developing Galway as a major transatlantic port using Lever Line ships. However the Great Southern and Western Railway had more influential backing and Cobh in Cork was selected as the transatlantic port.
In 1860 Athenry became a junction, with the opening of the line to Tuam and in 1869 when the Ennis line was completed Athenry became a very important railway town. The Waterford and Limerick railway controlled the line from Ennis to Tuam and eventually continued on to Collooney in Sligo.
The down platform had a nameboard stating Athenry and Ennis junction and the up platform stated Athenry and Tuam Junction. The signal cabin contains sixtyfour levers – one of the largest cabins in the West of Ireland.
The arrival of the railway was a major advancement in travel for passengers and freight replacing horse and car transport and barge movements for freight. Finance for these various routes was raised by the gentry and every effort was made to accommodate the laying of the track adjacent to the “Big Houses” as can be seen at Belleville and Woodlawn.
A glance at the railway network map at the end of the last century showed the country very well served by various companies with most places not more than a few miles from a railway station.
During the mid 1850s there was intense interest in extending railway lines and the people of North County Galway were no exception. In 1854 a committee was formed to connect Tuam and Athenry and in 1858 a bill was lodged in the House of Commons to construct a railway called the ‘Athenry and Tuam Railway’: A & TR. Gentlemen named in this bill were: Denis Kirwin, Martin J. Blake, Charles Blake, Robert Henry, John W. Cannon, John Stafford Kirwin, and David Ruthledge. The intention was to use the facility of the Midland Great Western Railway at Athenry.
Athenry Station – Railway Preservation Society of Ireland
Tle House of Commons passed the Bill, and when it came before the House of Lords there were two objections: one from M.G.W.R. who generally objected to any development which might affect its own plans, and the second from Lord Lucan who felt the Tuam line may affect his plans for the Mayo Railroad. The objections were overruled and an agreement was reached whereby the Midland Railway would operate the Tuam line for ten years paying a sum of £400 per year for the facility.
The Bill became an Act, the cost of construction being estimated at £90,000. Shares valued £10 each being issued and borrowing of £39,000 also being available. The Act stated the junction be at the eastern end of the Midland station and the terminus at the Galway Road in Tuam. The Board of Trade demanded bridges to be built suitable for a double track and throughout the section of line where possible bridges instead of gates be built. This development can be seen at the metal bridge at Caheroyan where the stone bridge on the Tuam line is obvious. Facilities for booking and other office work would be provided by Midland.
In March 1959, William Dargan was appointed as contractor and this was very warmly received as Dargan was well known as a capable contractor. Dargan purchased considerable shares in the A&TR. 750 men worked on the construction and the rails were imported to Galway and taken to Athenry by the Midland. Tuam station was built by a local contractor for £4000.
Rapid construction took place and by 19th September 1860 the line was completed well ahead of schedule and was inspected by Captain George Ross R.E. from the Board of Trade. He was very satisfied with the work performed as the bogs had been suitably drained to allow the lines through the bog to be as stable as any other portion.
On September 27th 1860 the first passenger train departed to Tuam and the shareholders were asked to subscribe £1 per share towards a testimonial fund for the A&TR Chairman Denis Kirwin and £250 was collected.
Building and developing railways continued to cause excitement throughout the country after the A & TR was connected to Athenry. Rivalry was intense for territory and battles that commenced at board level were often finalised at the House of Commons in London where the railway company with the best political connections succeeded in getting Bills passed.
The rivalry and bitterness was addressed by an arbitration decision in 1860 regarding territory for MGWR (Midland Great Western Railway) and GSWR (Great Southern and Western Railway) and each company was allocated territory as follows:
GSWR – Ireland south of a line Dublin Edenderry-Athlone and East Bank of the Shannon.
MGWR- areas North and West of this boundary.
At this time the Waterford and Limerick Railway (W & L) which was the fourth largest Railway Company extended its railway from Limerick to Ennis. The MGWR had the main line from Dublin (Broadstone) via Mullingar and Athlone to Galway and the A & TR (Athenry and Tuam Railway) was working to Tuam using MGWR rolling stock, ie. engines, carriages and freight wagons.
In September 1859 promoters of a railway line from Ennis to Athenry held a meeting in Gort. Such was the enthusiasm for this development that £13,000 was subscribed in thirty minutes. Mr Nicoll who was Secretary of A & TR attended the meeting and Mr Hemins whom I assume was the MGWR Engineer-in-Chief was appointed to act as consultant engineer to the new company. He estimated that the 35 miles of track could be built for £6,000 per mile.
The British Government Act incorporating this new railway line called Athenry & Ennis Junction Railway (A & EJ) received Royal Assent on the 20th August 1860. Share capital was £200,000 . The Midland Railway subscribed £100,000 and A & TR £10,000. Among the promoters were George Gough, Lough Cutra, and Mr Dennis Kirwan whom we recall was the Chairman of the A & TR.
At the ﬁrst meeting of the new company on the 19th Sept. 1860, Mr Nicoll was appointed secretary at a salary of £100 p.a. resulting in him being secretary of both railways joining the Midland in Athenry. This meeting noted the railway mileage from Cork to Galway would be reduced by 79 miles and Waterford to Cork reduced by 57 miles. At that time Galway was being earmarked to become the major transatlantic port and was seen as the third most important station in Ireland after Dublin and Belfast.
The Board of the Midland Railway was not happy with the local contribution and proposed the line be diverted from Gort to Loughrea and join the Midland at Woodlawn or Attymon, but the A & EJ Board refused to divert from their original proposals.
Mr William Munroe was awarded the contract to build the Railway for £250,00. Shares, Debentures and Lloyds Bank accounted for the majority of the payment with only £20,000 cash included. The contract was divided into two parts: Ennis – Gort to be completed by the 1st October 1864 and Gort – Athenry by the 1st October 1865.
Unforeseen circumstances resulted in slow progress and the money was quickly absorbed. The W & L Railway offered £6 O00 in return for two Board seats at a meeting on the 18th February 1863 and Mr Malcolmson and Mr Stephen’s from Waterford replaced two A & EJ directors. In August 1865 Mr Munroe went bankrupt and work was halted.
In August 1866 the Public Work Commissioners sanctioned a loan for £59.000 to restart building. The Midland were approached but were reluctant to get involved. A new firm. Edgeworth and Stanford, commenced work in 1867. The ﬁrm proposed that if the stations were not completed and the electric telegraph was not installed the £59,000 would cover the building costs. Passenger platforms would be built at Crusheen, Tubber, Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell. At this stage of the building Hon. Gough and W.H. Gregory had resigned from the Board. As part of the construction work the contractors purchased engine No.1 from the Midland for £300.
Craughwell Station – Google Maps
By March 1868 a request was made to view Lord Lucan’s stations on the Athlone/Waterford line as the design for the stations had not been completed.
In August 1868 the contractors advised the line would be open on the 1st January 1869 and the Waterford and Limerick Railway (W & LR) engineer examined and found matters very unsatisfactory. He found no work done at Ennis or Athenry and the track was not good with three types of rails and fastening used and the ballast was large stones topped with gravel. Col. Rich approved the opening of the line in 1869. No agreement had been ﬁnalised with W & L regarding working on the line.
A & EJ announced its decision to operate its own line from l5th September 1869. They obtained an engine and two ballast wagons from the contractor on a one week notice agreement and the M & GWR loaned three carriages and a van. Later the Midland loaned another wagon and loco No.8 was purchased for £300 – £60 down and £25 per month.
Difficulties arose with creditors and on the 10th November 1870 the County Clare sheriff attempted to seize the train. Bailiffs travelled on the footplate. Some days later at Gort the Galway sheriff seized the train and ejected the Clare bailiffs and impounded the train.
At the auction it was discovered the only asset was the engine, as the coaches were leased, and the A & TR bought the engine for a nominal sum and resold it to A & EJ. (Remember the same secretary worked for both).
Difficulties arose with the Midland Railway regarding the use of Athenry station. £150 was offered in 1870 which was accepted for one year. The following year a similar offer was made but the Midland would not accept less than £400. The issue was put to arbitration and at this stage the A & EJ Railway discussed the idea of a separate station for themselves at Athenry to force the Midland to reduce their demand.
A drawing, I have seen, showing the building on the up platform, where Gerry Costello,the Permanent Way Inspector now has his office, indicated a stationmaster’s living quarters at the rear of the building.
Apparently the Midland built the stationmaster’s house and the houses now owned and occupied by Mrs Loughnane and Mrs Forde to block the A & EJ from building their own station adjacent to the Midland buildings. By this time both railway companies working into Athenry had decrepit equipment and few friends.
Approaches were continually being made to both the Midland and the W & L (Waterford & Limerick) to take over the A & EJ Railway and eventually in 1871 the W & L took over both Ennis and Tuam on a ten-year agreement. The details signed in 1872 allowed for a payment of £5,200 pa to A & EJ plus 50% of receipts in excess of £11.000.
At this time three trains ran in each direction daily and the staff of the railway was as follows: four stationmasters; one clerk; one foreman; one driver (paid 4 guineas); one stoker; one carriage-lifter; one temporary P.W. inspector; thirty-two milesmen; one guard; one cleaner; one night watchman; and four crossing keepers (one at Templemartin). The total wages bill for the first week was £70.4s.5d.
It is ironic that the ﬁrst and last stationmaster in Gort were named Lawler’s. The last stationmaster there only recently deceased. May they both rest in peace!
The traffic superintendent visited Craughwell station and found the station-master missing. Apparently, he had left for Galway two days earlier and had not returned. Hopefully he was able to find employment there because the trafﬁc superintendent sacked him. The stationmaster from Gort was transferred to Craughwell to replace him.
Another incident recorded in the traffic department was the late running of a passenger train to Athenry. The driver claimed a loose feed pipe lost water between Ardrahan and Craughwell and to save burning his fire-box he uncoupled the engine and went to Athenry to take water arriving 74 minutes late. The guard called Maroney told a different story. He said the driver ran short of steam in Crusheen and had to wait there to revive his engine. He later stopped the train in mid-section and left the train there for over a quarter an hour without contacting the guard. If the guard was aware the engine was going to Athenry he would have sent the Galway passengers forward in the engine.
Guard Maroney was in favour with the management and his wages were increased to £1 .12s.6d and extra payment made for his efforts in working late specials.
Back to the goings on with the railway companies. Regardless of this lease the MRWR was approached in 1878 to agree a possible purchase. They offered £145.000 for the company which was rejected as totally inadequate.
A Bill was Presented in the House of Commons but was defeated due to strong W & L opposition. After much haggling and personal bitterness between Mr Cusack, MGWR Chairman, and Sir James Speigh the W & L Railway purchased the A 8; EJ Railway for £180,000 in 1892.
Now that the W & L railway ran from Waterford to Tuam via Limerick they proceeded quickly to extend to Claremorris. The MGWR realised they should not have allowed the W & L to buy the railway serving Athenry and used all their inﬂuence to resist expansion to Claremorris. unsuccessfully.
In 1901 the GS & WR took over the W & L Railway and as part of the deal the Midland had running power to Limerick.
The following Directors of A & EJ were present at a Board meeting in Limerick at 1 o’clock on the 18th August 1864:
Hon. George Stephen Gough, Lough Cutra Castle (Chairman);
W. H. Gregory MP. Coole Park;
Henry Hodgson, Arklow;
Wm. Malcolmson, Waterford;
Abraham Stephens. Waterford;
Joseph Richardson, Waterford;
Joseph Robinson, Corbally House;
Limerick; W Shawe Taylor, Castle Taylor Ardrahan:
Stephen Roche, Rye Hill, Athenry.
John Fowler Nicol]. Secretary;
Wm. H. McGrath. Solicitor;
G. W. Hemins, Engineer – in – chief;
Lieut. General Hall C.B., and James F. Lombard, auditors.
Written by Jim Flynn
Published here 08 Feb 2021 and originally published 1995
The Athenry Journal
The Athenry Journal was founded and edited by Finbarr O’Regan (and later Conrad… Here some recent records:
A View of Athenry from the Outside – Christmas 2001
Athenry Pastoral Council – Christmas 2001
Robert – April 1996
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