The International Steam Pages

Four Days, Three Provinces,
and the Greater Part of the System,
Irish Republic September 2017

Robert Hall writes about a surprisingly comfortable 'Track Bash'. This is part 2, if you have yet to read part 1, then it would be a good idea to follow this link!

Robert has prepared a map which will be a great help if you are unfamiliar with the subject matter.

Waterford to Limerick Junction for long, one of the proud main lines of the former Great Southern & Western Railway is threatened with closure any time now, and reduced to two workings each way per day. My fourth-and-last of those lines on which the axe seen as likely to fall. I took the 16.25 departure for Limerick Junction: three-car mainline-multiples set, seemingly quite well patronised for its hour-and-forty-minutes' journey. Intermediate calls nowadays (a number of one-time smaller stations on the route, now closed) are at "the three C's" Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, and Cahir; plus Tipperary town, some 6 km short of Limerick Junction (cue the feeble, and ancient, railfans' joke to the effect that said junction received its name because it was not such a long, long way from Tipperary). I found this, in September's last couple-or-three hours of daylight, a scenically most beautiful journey in a quiet way running mostly up the valley of the Suir, with little mountain ranges, as referred to earlier, never far off on either side. Felt it heartbreaking that this line is likely to have very little longer to live.

Punctual arrival at Limerick Junction 18.05 to surprise and pleasure, discovered a very smart connection on to Limerick city (my booked resting-place for the night), which I had overlooked in pre-trip perusing of timetable: a Dublin Limerick loco-hauled fast train, reversing and transacting business at the Junction, and departing thence 18.13, arriving Limerick in not far off the last of daylight at 18.40.

With the four lines threatened with imminent extinction, having been travelled on in two days; my succeeding two days were envisaged as a chance to see something of Ireland's south-west / far south, all new to me first-hand; including the area's "capital", the city of Cork. Also to travel over as much as possible of the surviving rail passenger network sometimes a bit of a balancing act between these two goals, needing compromise. A couple of bus rides of fair length, taken: in order to get some kind of view of scenes no longer accessible by rail or in one instance, a shortish stretch never spanned by rail.

In this spirit: the morning of my third day, out of Limerick by the 08.35 Bus Eireann no. 13 service to Tralee. Road's route quite closely follows the former Limerick Tralee railway line, which lost its passenger service in 1963, and now carries no rail traffic of any kind track lifted over most of its route. A rather wet morning; but so far, not so greatly as to ruin the views (this the only one of my four days, which was largely rainy in Irish-weather terms, fortune favoured me). Many beauteous and interesting scenes: was not able to see any sign of the mentioned parallel one-time railway, except at one point where the road crosses on a bridge, over a rail line with track still down: this quite near the Limerick end am given to understand that track is still in situ, though disused, from Limerick to Ballingrane junction and up the branch to Foynes which would seem to match with what I saw. Elsewhere visibility was not optimal, and perhaps I didn't know where to look.

Have come across in recent years, considerable criticism of the Irish Republic concerning lax or non-existent building-planning regulations, whereby entrepreneurs or wealthy folk have been doing much building of dwellings, in areas of great natural beauty disregarding and spoiling that natural beauty in the process. In some stretches, hilly ones in particular, of the Limerick Tralee run, I could see what these critics were getting at for me it didn't outright ruin the fine scenery, but it marred it. Didn't feel particularly aware of this situation, elsewhere on the tour maybe Ireland's less glamorous south-east / midlands / "mid-west", are not so much coveted as beautiful places to live, in an "each man kills the thing he loves" fashion. Part of my reason for getting the bus Limerick Tralee, was to at least call on bus journey, at Listowel: junction-with-broad-gauge, of the superbly mad Lartigue monorail line to Ballybunion, 1888 1924, which I would give anything to make a time-travelling journey to witness. Listowel appeared as quite an imposing town, with a fine town square which includes a ruined castle.

It would seem that in the main, Irish Republic towns' bus stations are in close proximity to their railway stations which I was glad of at Tralee, because by then it was "raining stair-rods". The next train out of Tralee on the line to Mallow, at 11.05 (four-car mainline-multiples set), would have per original plans allowed me to get out at Killarney and spend a couple of hours doing the ordinary touristy bit in that famed beauty spot; but with the miserable weather as it was just then, there was no incentive to do that, and every incentive to stay on the train until some improvement as regards the meteorology scene. Tralee Killarney Mallow is reputedly a beautiful run, but for me at that particular time, the driving rain obliterated most of the scenery. "Win some, lose some" there's a reason why Ireland's landscape is so resplendently green...

Duly done arrived Mallow 12.36. The only sense-making thing was to carry on thence ASAP to Cork: done by boarding at 13.13, the next Dublin Cork train loco-hauled, bringing me into Cork at 13.45. The weather had relented rather, some time well after midday decent visibility for what travelled through between Mallow and Cork and proceeded to become better still, making the covering of Cork's local passenger lines a pleasure, not just a duty.

These lines run initially eastward from Cork station, "two-pronged": dividing maybe 10 km out, with one branch turning sharply south to do interesting things involving the extensive Cork Harbour estuary and the various islands within it, and terminating at Cork's seaport Cobh, near the outer end of the harbour. The line gives splendid intricate watery-and-hilly views and vistas (and a wealth of seashore-type bird life); for a couple of kilometres, one can look across a narrow stretch of water to the opposite mainland side where once ran correspondingly along that shore, the 3 ft gauge Cork, Blackrock & Passage line the first of the Great Southern Railways' (result of Ireland's 1925 "Grouping") narrow-gauge sections, which that body chose to abandon: that was back in 1932. Return from Cobh to Cork, then the other "Cork local" line eastward to Midleton, some 13 km east of the bifurcation point; on a branch which used to continue another 20+ kilometres to Youghal this line's passenger services withdrawn in 1963, section to Midleton reinstated for commuter traffic at a considerably later date. The "bash" of the Cork local pair of lines both operated by two-car DMUs was fitted comfortably in between 14.00 and 16.00. Then, a look around the interesting city of Cork, and repairing to the night's bed-and-breakfast establishment.

Said travellers'-resting-joint was on Lower Glanmire Road, and right opposite the city's rail station called until 1966, Cork (Glanmire Road). In the happy days of railways a hundred years ago (much less happy in other contexts just then, for both Great Britain and Ireland) in addition to the Great Southern & Western Railway's Glanmire Road station, the city of Cork had no less than four other stations, termini of other railway undertakings (including the abovementioned Cork, Blackrock & Passage). These withered away, some quite early in the day; from 1961, Glanmire Road now named Cork (Kent), after a gentleman deceased in 1916 has been the city's only central railway station.

So Day 4, and last. After a couple more hours' "touristic doings" in Cork city much of that time spent, truth be known, in its wonderful food emporium the English Market Bus Eireann no. 40 service's 10.40 departure for Waterford was duly caught. A sight of a bit more of the country so far unknown, wished for; plus the Cork Waterford road "beeline" meant far quicker and shorter transit between the two cities, than tackling it by rail losing me "track" Mallow Limerick Junction, but at times as we know, someone or something loses out. Even in the palmy days of Ireland's rail system, Cork to Waterford was a problem, requiring first going out of one's way some 30 km northward to Mallow; then heading east over the Mallow Dungarvan Waterford line, closed in 1967 and which from the map, looks to have been utterly fascinating. Putting in a 25 km rail link from branch terminus Youghal, to Dungarvan; would have created a direct rail route, duplicating what the road does but for whatever reason, that never happened. (Now by rail, you have to go via Limerick Junction, fitting in with the twice-daily workings between there and Waterford; "tomorrow", by the look of things, it will be impossible by rail.)

So, a most interesting and scenic two-and-a-quarter-hour road journey once again in beautiful weather, and with assorted delightful views of sea inlets and small mountain ranges, and stops in odd little towns featuring also Dungarvan, which seems to have mutated / metastatized into a large, hideous industrial estate / business park. Attempted careful watch, east of Dungarvan, for course of old rail line into Waterford: the line's viaduct close by the town of Kilmacthomas, leading on to a steel bridge over one of the town's streets, still to be seen otherwise, no vestiges that I could discern. In my tour, I found abandoned lines "shy": railway-interested people with more experience of the Irish Republic than I, seem to differ on this point some opine that defunct lines are frequently plain to see; others, that there have often been considerable efforts to "disappear" them.

A couple of hours in Waterford, before departure time of my last train journey of the "bash"; the 14.50 Waterford Dublin (Heuston). Consist was a three-car mainline-multiples set. Interesting to travel over this in-the-main quietly pleasant rural route, running via Kilkenny and Carlow to join at the station-less Cherryville Junction, some 50 km west of Dublin, the trunk line from Dublin to the south-west and west. This one likely soon, it seems, to be the only remaining railway serving Waterford. A run of two and a quarter hours (the same as the Cork Waterford bus). Well-used from the outset; from Kilkenny, became decidedly full with passengers after another couple of stops, the impression was "filled to capacity, a fair few people standing"; always gratifying to see, in respect of hopes for a rail service's future even if a bit irritating to slightly misanthropically-inclined gricers, wishing to be able to spread themselves and their paraphernalia out ad lib, in splendid isolation ! 

And off then to Dublin's coach station for overnight return to "the Other Island". A couple of days longer in the Republic would have been nice allowing coverage of rail sections / reaches of the country which the four days would not stretch to; and in the "nicer still" department... but let's not get into contemplating time machines...

As things are working out at the time of posting, more than half a year after my trip: so far as is known, the four threatened lines still have their passenger services. One takes it, though, that the axe could fall at any time.

Rob Dickinson