Took you on a train journey in a north-south direction, through a beautiful country teeming with the products of the earth, skirting the west side of the Wicklow Hills, between Dunlavin and Baltinglass, following the Slaney Valley to Tullow. A beautiful Railway Line, one that exhibited in its construction, a rare combination of science and art.
The railway development in the Dublin, South Kildare and Carlow region began in 1861. Many planned routes were abandoned along the way, but in 1881 the Great Southern and Western Railway revived the idea of a line from Sallins to Baltinglass. Robert Worthington was contracted to begin work in March 1883. Robert Worthington also extended the railway to Tullow. The railway was scheduled to pass through the following town lands situated in County Carlow: Mountneill, Waterstown, Patrickswell, Rathvilly, Broughillstown, bough, Rickets town South Rathdaniel, Raheenadaw, Kilmagarvogue, Tankardstown, Rathlyon, Butlersgrange and Tullowphelim.
The local ratepayers guaranteed interest on the cost of this extension. A sum of £1,200 per annum for 35 years. Landowners along the route received payment for lands taken over by the railway. The arbitrator in charge of payments was George Posnett. The agreed amount was £11,399 or approximately £1.085 per mile. The average weekly wage at the time was £1 per week. Up to fifteen hundred men worked on the construction of the railway line.
Workers walked long distances to work and had poor living conditions. Houses were built for Station Masters. Maintenance men lived in small cottages built along the line by the company. Strict guidelines had to be obeyed before the line could be opened. Adequate station boards had to be provided as well as a clock visible from the platform. Gates at accommodation crossing had to be prevented from opening inwards onto the track.
The Tullow Railway Line opened on 1st June 1886. A turntable was placed at Tullow Station, the end of the line, this was to turn trains about in the direction of Dublin for the return journey. Tullow cabin had thirteen working levers and three spare. There were eight over bridges and seven under bridges and a bridge of lattice grinder construction across the river Slaney. An accommodation crossing was placed at Rathlyon.
At one time six passenger trains, three each way, two goods train one each way and numerous specials were provided. The original trains ran on steam and pulled several wagons.
Carriages were called 1st Class, 2nd Class and 3rd Class. 1st Class had seating of fine upholstery and were lit by numerous oil lamps. 2nd Class had hard wooden seats, and 3rd Class were very primitive. On Monday, fair days in Tullow, as many as three to four cattle specials left the town transporting livestock for sale in the Metropolitan market or the direct shipment to England and Scotland. The animals reached Dublin between 3 and 4 o’clock, and being landed at Cabra had capital pasturage and rest, before being driven next morning to the Metropolitan Market. The farmer required a market for his produce and the Railway, by its speedy transit, afforded him the accommodation he required at reasonable terms.
The incoming trains to Tullow carried coal, manure for the crops, the post, films in steel boxes for the local cinema. In 1901 Tullow Railway Station was the scene of a horrific accident. On the morning of 22nd November at approximately 7.15a.m the daily train arrived from Dublin. Richard Mooney, the engine driver shunted and turned his engine towards Dublin ready to take on passengers at 7.30a.m.
The train left the platform only to stop a quarter of a mile down the track. The Fireman got down from the train and returned to tell the Station Master that there had been an accident. He was tending the coalbunker when he happened to look around at the driver, only there was no driver. He stopped the train and walked back along the line to find the driver under the Check Platform with serious injuries to his legs. It seems Richard Mooney was not altogether happy with the performance of his engine, he decided to go out on to the footplate to make an adjustment while the train was in motion, he slipped and fell under the train. The following morning Robert Mooney died.
Tullow’s Station Masters were; the first Mr. Dan Lennon, Mr. J. Riordan, Mr. Murdock and the last Mr. Thomas Nolan. Mr. Murdock was Stationmaster for over 25 years. His endeavours in connection with the " Mystery Tours " run by the Railway Company saw Tullow securing many of these trips, whereby hundreds of visitors were introduced to the locality, to be prospective tourists in years to come. Tullow Station House was bought by its present owners in the year 2000. Most of the building is in its original state. As road transport developed, traffic fell away, and in 1928 a Sentinel – Cammel steam rail car was tried on the line, it did not prove popular with public or staff and was taken off.
As motor transport became more popular in the post-war years the railway went into decline and in 1947 the passenger service to Tullow was withdrawn. A goods service once a month, dealing mainly with the transport of livestock, was retained with occasional passenger excursions for special events such as All-Ireland final or annual pilgrimages to Knock Shrine.
In 1957 a daily goods train was put on, worked by a lightweight diesel locomotive, an innovation that postponed, but did not in the end prevent the final closure on 15th June 1959. With the whistle blowing, crowds cheering, the last train to travel Sallins to Tullow branch line steamed into Tullow on a Sunday Evening. It was the Balinglass Fair Special and 3 Carriages were provided on it for members of the Railway Records Society and other interested people. When the train was turned on the turntable, detonators on the line exploded and at the railway bridges near the town, crowds of people gathered to cheer the train on its way. It ended 73 years of rail travel to Tullow, and two of the men who saw the arrival of the first train in June 1886 were there to see the last one steam out. They were Mr. J. Sunderland, Station Road and Mr. J. Doyle, The Course, Tullow. Driver Denis Murphy was broken-hearted making the last journey, as it was on the Tullow line he started his Railway Career.
This article was researched by Tullow Historical Society member Mary Maher.