Railway Stories

Malahide Railway Station

Built by the architect George Papworth, the station at Malahide opened on the 25 May 1844 as part of the Dublin and Drogheda line. It became the first railway in the world to use the 5’ 3” gauge, which became the established gauge size for Ireland. This line was extended over the River Boyne to Drogheda, and went on to connect with Ulster Rail to Belfast.
Like several buildings of the Great Northern Railway (GNR), the distinctive station is built in a cream brick architecture. It was designed by W H Mills, who also designed other stations including Drogheda, Howth and Sutton.
The Irish Railway Record Society

During the 1920s a group of Dublin-based rail enthusiasts began to record their observations about the railways as they saw changes happening around the city. Many of them would have known Cyril Fry. In 1946 the Irish Railway Record Society was founded, to collect and preserve information about Irish railways from all over the country.
Today the Society has over 1,000 members, some joining from abroad. Their aim is to record both the past and the present-day changes happening in Irish rail. Through its extensive archives and manuscripts, library, journals, photographs, films and other material, the Society has amassed a huge collection of material for future generations fascinated in Irish rail heritage.

The Railways and Cattle Fairs

The carriage of livestock provided a lot of business to the railways. Cattle fairs were held in many parts of the country, and special trains were laid on for large country fairs such as the one at Ballinasloe. In 1891 the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) ran over 1,700 livestock trains, mainly travelling to Cabra near Dublin, and other railways shipped to the cattle market in Belfast, where they were then transported by ship to England. Due to improved roads and the growing number of cattle lorries, by the 1960s this rail traffic began to decline, and in 1975 Loughrea in Co Galway became the last station to move cattle.

Railway Preservation in Ireland

Railway heritage is now hugely popular in Ireland and the UK, as well as further afield. Here, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) was formed in 1964 with the aim of preserving steam engines, carriages and other rolling stock. The RPSI opened their headquarters in Whitehead, Co Antrim in 1966, where they have extensive specialist buildings and equipment to help them carry out their locomotive and carriage refurbishment.

A variety of local groups around the country have restored sections of track and run excursions on a variety of trains, mainly in the summer months. These include the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway; the Cavan and Leitrim Railway at Dromod, Co Leitrim; the West Clare Railway, a narrow-gauge railway at Moyasta, Co Clare; and several others operate partly restored lines.

The Cinema and Irish Rail

Irish railways have featured in several films over the years. One of the most famous is John Ford’s 1952 classic “The Quiet Man” with Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, set in Connemara. Wayne is seen as an Irish emigrant returning to the fictitious Castletown, actually Ballyglunin station in Co Galway. They used the regular daily train in the film, an old steam locomotive with wooden carriages. A local community group are in the process of restoring the station.

In 1978 “The First Great Train Robbery”, with Sean Connery and Lesley-Ann Down, portrayed a famous 1955 train robbery in southern England. Many of the railway scenes were shot at Kent station in Cork and Heuston station in Dublin, along with other locations on the Mullingar – Athlone line, which is now closed. Steam engines restored by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland also feature in the film.

Ireland’s Railway Gauge

Ireland has an unusual rail gauge – the space between the rail tracks – which measures 5’ 3” (1600mm). Initially in the 1830s there were many disputes on this, as different rail companies began building with different gauge sizes. Elsewhere in Britain and Europe the standard gauge measured 4’ 8½”. The width mattered as this affected the costs of engines and carriages, and the amount of land required for the tracks.

The Origins of Model Railways

With the introduction of the railways around Europe, toy makers began to introduce model locomotives in the 1830s, initially made of wood or metal. In 1891, the first commercial train set with tracks, carriages and other accessories was made by the Märklin Brothers in Leipzig, Germany, their trains powered by clockwork engines. French and English manufacturers also made models, and the first electric model engine was made in America in 1896.

By the 1950s model railways were the most popular toy on the market and continued to expand for both children and adults. The introduction of microelectronics in the 1970s introduced more complex systems, and today digital systems allow modellers to control multi-train systems.