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Journal 189

The Irish Railway Diaries of G J Aston 1950

EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION TO ASTON’S 1950 DIARY  

Gerald Aston’s pre-war visits to Ireland, in 1936 and 1939, were described in Journal 183 (February 2014 – with an Introduction by Michael Davies). His first post-War trip was in August 1946 (Journal 185, October 2014), when he covered the railways of the nine counties of Ulster in a comprehensive manner. In August 1948 (Journal 189, February 2016), he was back again, travelling around the South and Southwest in appalling weather. Given that experience, one might have thought he would have selected a different month for his 1950 visit, which was, as we will find out, even wetter!

But once again Aston does not let the rain curtail his enthusiasm. And we learn so much from his diligently recorded notes. Indeed, before he even gets here, we learn about the unusual operating methods applied to the South Wales valley services north from Bridgend – an area of special meaning to the undersigned. He gives us interesting details of the make-up and break-up of through carriages on many Irish routes, including new and previously unknown detail of the through working between Dublin and Clonmel via the Fethard line. Who else but Aston would have used the Waterford-Limerick night mixed and mail service to get to Mallow to pick up the night goods via the Croom line? The observations on train dining facilities also fascinate – and indeed parallel the experiences of later travellers during the early 1960s. The diversity of motive power is intriguing, as is the occasional appearance in main line service of engines from the nineteenth century. Perhaps an ominous signal for the future is the relatively quiet level of boat passenger traffic found on the Rosslare route in 1950.

We have again been restrained in editorial tweaking of Gerald Aston’s material, viz. conversion to 24-hour clock, which slightly diminishes the vintage tone of the text, but makes reading easier, as well as some other points adverted to with previous sections of Aston’s diaries.

And so we come to the end of this remarkable series of word pictures of Irish railways. Gerard Aston has left us a most memorable account of his visits, we feel we have got to know him, and we will miss his eager approach to his travels and his meticulous details of his experiences.

We must also record our thanks to Michael Davies for facilitating publication of this material in the Journal.      MW

In planning an itinerary for this year, I was influenced mainly by a desire to complete my travels over the railways of Ireland which are still open for regular passenger traffic, in case either an acceleration of the closing process or the course of world events should rob me of the opportunity another year.

In the days before the war, I had made four visits, but three of them were for only two or three days, and the fourth lasted less than a week. Nevertheless, they had given me a chance to cover such delectable lines as the Tralee & Dingle, the West Clare, the Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties, the Lough Swilly right through to Burtonport, and most of the County Donegal, in addition to more prosaic and largely incidental journeys on the NCC, Great Northern and Great Southern systems.

In 1946, with an intensive programme lasting ten days, I finished off the Great Northern and the County Down, all the NCC except the narrow gauge, and commenced operations against the CIÉ by going over the Cavan & Leitrim, including the Arigna branch. During 1948, I transferred the scene of operations to the South, and was courteously assisted by my CIÉ friends to include the Macroom and Countmacsherry lines (both then closed for passenger traffic) in a tour of County Cork, in which I also included the lines within reach of Killarney, notably the Valencia[1] branch. Later in the year, I was able to fill up one or two of the smaller gaps – Larne and Ballyclare narrow gauge, the GN Ardee branch, Oldcastle, and the MGW main line as far as Athlone.

It was, accordingly, to the Galway and Sligo region, and to the various approaches to Waterford, that I turned my attention in 1950. As I was also wanting to complete my travels on the passenger lines of South Wales, the Fishguard route to Ireland naturally became first choice, and indeed apart from the inconvenient hours of transfer at the ports, it has much to recommend it in the way of comfort, the boats, even in August, being far from crowded.

Tuesday, August 15

And so, on August 15, after escorting my family to Sheffield, and seeing them off to Carlisle by the “Thames-Clyde”, I started my tour from Victoria Station at 13:52 by the 12:20 York–Swansea. At 13:45, it started to rain, and this was to be the most consistent feature of the holiday! We had a train of eight Great Western corridors, this being a Tuesday, worked through to Banbury by a V2, No. 60831. The string of pitfalls which now besets the Great Central line to Nottingham was negotiated in the usual perfunctory fashion, and we came to a stand at Nottingham North box in 56½ mins, afterwards drawing into the platform comfortably within the scheduled hour. Forward from there, the running was dull and devoid of note. We passed Culworth Jcn on time, but were stopped at Chalcombe Road for 1½ mins dead, and ran into Banbury 5½ late. Here we changed engines, getting “Castle” No. 7017, “G.J. Churchward”. The engine works through to Swansea, with Newport men from Banbury to Newport. What a change this is from pre-war practice, when the train took to the hills from King’s Sutton and changed engines at Gloucester and again at Cardiff. We were a minute over time at Banbury, recovered it to Oxford, and a minute more was gained there. At Foxhall Junction (Didcot), we were stopped dead for the passage of the 16:15 Bristol–Paddington on the Up main line, and the 23½ miles to Swindon occupied 27¼ mins start to stop, as against the very easy schedule of 27 pass to stop. The top speed was only 64 mph at Shrivenham, but this was due to a really severe southwest gale of wind and rain beating right across our path. Swindon was at its wettest and most miserable, and got us away still 5 late, but the easy booking of 45 minutes for the 34½ miles down to Stoke Gifford enabled me to pass that point on time. Here, I had the first “new line” of the tour, for I had never previously been from Stoke Gifford to Patchway over the direct line.

And here also we must regrettably take our leave of Aston until the following evening, due to two of the pages of this 1950 diary being missing. He appears to have spent the day exploring the South Wales valleys. When we rejoin him, he is on a late afternoon train to Nantymoel in the Ogmore Valley, north of Bridgend on the South Wales main line between Cardiff and Swansea. This had started out as a combined service from Bridgend for Blaengarw, in the Garw Valley, and Nantymoel, and had been divided en route at the junction station of Brynmenyn.  

Wednesday, August 16

This is one of those cases – Aberbeeg, on the Western Valley is another – where you have to be careful to get in the right portion beforehand, as at the actual point of division, it is impossible to transfer to the front coaches, and by the time the rear part comes to the platform, the front part has left. The lower reaches of these valleys – Lyynvi, Ogmore and Garw – are pleasant country enough, without a suggestion of the bare, threatening hills and ugly collieries which lie higher up. At Nantymoel, the clouds were very black, and though I made a quick excursion into the village, I was soon driven back to the train by a heavy shower, and my stay of 20 minutes proved unnecessarily long. On the way up, I had noted the ‘Fox and Hounds” lying conveniently adjacent to Brynmenin[2] station, and as I was in need of a meal, it seemed good to alight there, rather than continue into the inhospitable Tondu, as I had intended. So down the valley I went, explained my ‘break of journey’ with some difficulty to a very Welsh porter, and after a little persuasion was taken into the kitchen of the “Fox and Hounds” to enjoy a very welcome high tea. By this time, it was after 19:30, and I was glad to have a leisurely and satisfying meal. Meanwhile there was more rain, and finally I had to make a dash for it across the road to the station to get the 20:32 to Blaengarw. In this case, the train from Bridgend splits at Tondu instead of Brynmenin, so there was no free entertainment before the train came to the platform, with 0-6-0T No. 7752 hauling a two-set. On arrival at Blaengarw, the guard indicated a brief circular tour I could make in the few minutes available, but I found the overhanging hills very grim, and in no way enhancing the surroundings of the village. The same engine and train worked down to Brynmenin, where the coaches were attached to the rear of the train from Nantymoel; this changed engines at Tondu, so in the half-hour’s journey from Blaengarw to Bridgend, we were hauled by three different engines!

Back from the branches to the splendour (?) of the main line, I went forward to Swansea by the “Red Dragon”, alias the 17:55 Paddington–Carmarthen. This drops its dining cars and several other vehicles at Cardiff, and runs on to the West with a modest formation of 7 vehicles, for which we had No. 7009 “Athelney Castle”. However, we had a surprisingly brisk run, covering the 12.1 miles from Bridgend to Port Talbot in 15¼ mins, with a maximum of 75 mph at Margam Moors, regained another minute at Port Talbot, and by dint of a maximum of 70 at Llansamlet were able to run into Swansea only 1 minute late, after 5 mins late departure from Bridgend.

Here I had a rather dreary wait for the boat train, from 22:45 to 23:20. The refreshment room was closed, and there was nothing to do but read in a draughty waiting room until the 18:55 from Paddington arrived, over ¼ hour late. We went out 18 mins late behind a Hall, with 10 on, 325 tons, piloted to Cockett by a 0-6-0T. The running was dull in the extreme, and we could raise nothing above 64½ mph across the flats to Carmarthen, where we were still 17 mins late. A p.w. restriction before Sarnau did nothing to help, and with no extravagant speeds across the ups and downs of Pembrokeshire, we finished up 15 late into Fishguard. Here I spent some time trying to find someone to receive my “Welsh bag” into the cloakroom, as all the staff was much too busy carrying passengers’ bags on to the boat. However, I eventually prevailed on the Inspector to do the job for me, and was the last passenger of all to find my way into the Passport office and so to the “St Andrew”, the sole survivor of the pre-war Fishguard fleet. I went below for a bed, and was asleep soon after our punctual departure at 02:15, though I woke a few times, and settled uneasily, owing to the continual pitching as we crossed in the teeth of the wind.

Thursday, August 17

Arrival at Rosslare was punctual at 05:30, and I was interested to have a good walk round the place in daylight, having previously been there only when travelling back to England, and in the dark.

The three boat trains were drawn up as under: the 07:10 slow to Waterford was in the main platform, on the stop-block, a collection of miscellaneous 6-wheelers; in front was the 06:30 to Cork, formed of six bogies and two six-wheeled vans, and headed by a K1 2-6-0, No. 391; in the bay, right out in the open and surrounded by puddles, was the 06:55 Dublin train, consisting of six corridors.

The Cork train included a breakfast car, of common class, with the loose chairs one frequently finds in Ireland, and the only first class accommodation in the train was marshalled next to it, coach 27M[3], a most interesting period piece of about 1905, with a centre corridor section seating 14 in the middle, and a compartment for six at each end. It was very spacious for the legs and rode most comfortably, causing me to recall my last journey in 1948 by the eastbound boat train, when we had a steel Third which had been painted up to First, and was far from roomy, especially in that direction when most passengers have so much more luggage!

We were away promptly at 06:30, but it was soon evident that the driver was not very interested in timekeeping. Taking into account the necessary slacks of 30–40 mph through the crossing stations, through none of which we exceed 35 mph, it is necessary to run at much more than 40–45 mph between these slacks to keep the schedule of 60 mins, even though this calls for an average speed of only 38 mph. In the circumstances, we lost over 5 mins to Waterford, not more than 2 of which could fairly be put down to a p.w. slack after Wellington Bridge.

At Waterford, which was wet and windswept, I was glad to get straight into the Dublin train, which included a steel composite in its make-up of four bogies and a six-wheeled van, plus a horse box for Dublin, and was worked by D10 4-4-0 No. 314. We moved off to time at 08:15, but were promptly pulled up for some last-minute passengers running down the platform, then we slacked almost to a standstill at Suir Bridge to pick up a goods guard who had presumably just landed in off a Down train. However, thanks to energetic running and smart station stops, most of which were of only 20-30 seconds duration, our 5 minutes late arrival at Kilmacow was reduced to 1½ mins by Kilkenny. There we overstayed our time by 2 minutes, but found the longer distances between stops to our liking, and with steady speeds of around 55 mph, reached Maryborough on time. Here there was a pleasant surprise, for instead of waiting until 10:30 to be combined with the 08:05 from Limerick and 09:15 from Thurles, I learned that we were to run on independently and, moreover, to omit the parent train’s booked stops at Portarlington, Monasterevan and Kildare. The appropriate schedule for such a non-stop run is 60 mins, as CIÉ lay down very precisely in the working book what point to point times should operate on every route, and anyone can thus calculate the proper timing for a special train. With D2 4-4-0 No. 330, and the same load of 134 tons which we had brought from Waterford, we actually took 63¾ mins, including a slight p.w. slack approaching Inchicore, but as we left Maryborough at 10:24, and were in Kingsbridge just before 11.28, i.e. over 17 mins early by the public time, one could hardly complain. We had touched 60 only once, at MP 43¼, with a maximum of 37 at Kildare, and subsequent maxima of 58. As I wanted to call at the CIÉ offices, I didn’t wait to see the Limerick train arrive, and so could not judge whether the division from Maryborough was justified or not. Incidentally, it is Maryborough in the working time tables, and in common parlance, but “Portlaoighise”[4] in the public book, and frequently in the weekly notices.

Having renewed my acquaintance with various CIÉ friends and had lunch in the dining room at Kingsbridge, I went across to Westland Row, doing some shopping on the way. The 14:40 to Galway and Sligo was also running in two parts, the Galway train being drawn up at the main platform, with D6 4-4-0 No. 543 and seven corridors, including a steel Third painted up to First. The Sligo portion was in the bay, facing towards Bray, and would have to be drawn out on to the main line for the engine to be attached. It had three rather ancient corridors and a 6-wheeled van, and for the benefit of my timing, I elected to travel in the Galway steel coach, and change at Mullingar, although the train ticket collector was not at all pleased with me, and seemed very uneasy lest I should fail to change there! Actually the running was extremely dull, speed at no point exceeding 54. We passed Moyvalley 6 mins late, but despite a p.w. slack beyond Hill of Down, we knocked 2 mins off that into Mullingar, so taking 66¼ mins against the schedule of 63. The point to point times, shown against every station, are very unequal in their demands on the engine, the timing of 8 mins over the 6 miles from Lucan to Maynooth, for example, which includes slacks for various curves, being quite impossible, while 14 mins are allowed for the final 8½ miles from Killucan to Mullingar.

We arrived at Mullingar at 16:06½, and the Sligo portion, which had presumably been drawn out of the bay at Westland Row as soon as we had left, and then tailed us down the line as closely as possible, ran in at 16:18 behind 4-4-0 No. 546. This came off, and we went on behind D7 No. 539, with the same load of about 100 tons. This proved a very energetic run, as we left Mullingar 11 late and were on time arriving at Boyle, and then, by completely ignoring the public departure times at intermediate stations, got progressively earlier until we ran into Sligo 7 mins early at 18:58, having covered the 84 miles from Mullingar in 152½ mins, including thirteen stops and 3 p.w. slacks, instead of the 170 mins booked. Without a gradient profile, I could not assess the work performed very accurately, but the driver ran hard up all the banks, and did not rush unduly down them, the speed at no point quite reaching the 60 mark. The station work too was very smart, taking less than a minute, except at Longford and Carrick, where we took water, and at Dromod, until after Boyle, when we were killing time. At Sligo it was pouring with rain, which hardly abated during the whole night, and I was very glad that I had no further to go than the Great Southern Hotel just outside the station. Here I was regaled with a worthwhile dinner of seven courses, and was amused to find myself treated with some degree of deference, apparently because I was one of the few visitors who was not participating in a CIÉ “All-in” tour! Little did they know what sort of CIÉ Tour I was making!

Friday, August 18

The morning was fine, though the rain was obviously not far away, as I walked over to the 08:35 train, by which I was off to Kilfree Junction for Ballaghaderreen. No. 539 was again the engine, with a mixed bag of two fitted goods vans, three corridors, a 6-wheeled van, and a horsebox. We kept time with ease, and with one fellow passenger I alighted at Kilfree. The 09:40 branch train was far from ready; I thought for a moment they were going to commit the one unforgiveable Irish sin and work the train tender first, but it turned out that 2-4-0 No. 656, which had worked the branch train in, was to change over with a fresh engine, which was following the 08:35 Up from Sligo. J18 0-6-0 No. 592 turned up eventually, and after the enginemen had changed footplates and transferred their property and all the tools, we finally left at 09:57, with two 6-wheeled coaches and three non-fitted vans: although the train is classified as “Mixed”, there was no brake van. By a liberal interpretation of the overall 20 mph speed limit, we completed the journey in 28¾ mins instead of the booked 45 mins and arrived only 5 mins late.

The mileage shown in the WTT and in the list of speed restrictions suggests that the mileposts reverse at Kilfree and continue the Broadstone mileage through to Ballaghaderreen, but this is not the case, there being a fresh series from zero at Kilfree, terminating at about 9¾.

From Ballaghaderreen, I wanted to get to Ballina cross-country, but the Dublin–Ballina bus, which connects these places, was not due till 14:30, and I didn’t want to wander round for four hours. The sky was looking a little clearer, so I thought I would take a chance, walking the first ten miles to Charlestown, which would occupy three of the four hours. So I found the bus agent – as usual a BAR – and handed in my case to be conveyed on the bus as a parcel, which incidentally cost 2d more than the passenger fare from Ballaghaderreen to Charlestown. An interesting sidelight on Irish life came to my notice in the shape of an advertisement for a Football excursion to Dublin the following Sunday. “Train leaves at 07:10. Mass in St …… Church at 06:15”. All on the one notice.

I had walked about three miles along the road to Charlestown, when it became suddenly darker, and in a moment there was a terrific shower of rain. Fortunately at this very moment a car came along – only one or two had passed before – and an obliging commercial traveller offered me a lift to Carracastle, which was as far as he was going. This both took me out of the rain and saved my legs, leaving me with only 4 miles more to walk. The shower had passed when I got out of the car, but there were two more before I reached Charlestown, causing me to take shelter behind the hedge and partly under a bridge. As I still had two hours to wait for the bus at Charlestown and more rain was imminent, I found my way to the station, on the old WL&W line from Limerick to Sligo, made myself known to the Stationmaster, and sat comfortably in his dry waiting room writing letters until it was time to think about the bus. This is one of the routes which still has only one train per day each way. The Down[5] train goes at 09:35 and the Up is not due till 16:41, so the place was not exactly busy at 14:00.

It was just over an hour’s run on the bus from Charlestown to Ballina, the last 10 miles from Foxford being mostly within sight of the branch railway from Manulla. There were two buses which as usual, raced madly along honking everything else out of the way. Rain came down at intervals, but the afternoon improved as it wore on, and by the time we reached Ballina at 16:00, it was very pleasant. Here I was met by one of my Derby colleagues who was having a fortnight’s fishing holiday there. He had hired a most disreputable old car, with no handbrake and a horn which could be blown only by making contact between a naked wire and the metalwork of the dashboard. He ran me round to see the sights of the place, which is very prettily situated, then to his hotel for some tea and finally up to the station about 17:00.

The two passenger trains from Ballina leave at 09:05 and 12:20 to connect with the 09:35 and 12:50 from Westport to Dublin at Manulla. A similar connection with the 18:20 Mail from Westport would have served me very well, but there isn’t one, although one can get a bus to catch that train at Castlebar. However, I wanted to travel the branch without further waste of time, and my indulgent CIÉ friends had readily authorised me to travel on the 17:30 Goods train as far as Claremorris, where I planned to stop the night. This train eventually finds its way into Athlone at 01:41, where it combines with an earlier goods from Westport to arrive eventually at North Wall at 07:30. The Stationmaster assured me that there was no hurry, as we should have to wait for the arrival of the Down passenger train, due at 17:15, giving a connection out of the 11:05 Westland Row–Westport, and this was known to be running nearly an hour late “as usual”, he was sorry to say. So he took me round the premises, down to the stop block where the line used to continue to Killala, and finally into the signal box. The Down passenger finally arrived just after 18:00, and the Claremorris guard hastened over to our train which he was to work back. The train was set ready, and we left at 18:15, with J18 0-6-0 No. 582, thirteen goods, one livestock, and eleven empties and the brake. We recovered 10 mins in running to Manulla, notwithstanding a couple of minutes over time at each stop, where the necessary attaching and detaching, though expeditiously done, was not completed quite within the 10 mins allowed. At Balla, 18 mins are allowed and by cutting this to 12, and running briskly on to Claremorris, we arrived there at 20:43, 21 mins late, just in nice time to cross the 15:55 Dublin–Westport without delaying it.

In the gathering gloom I made my way to Conway’s Hotel, which I found to be kept by a spry Cockney who seemed quite out of place there. I appeared to have the place to myself, except for a party of five who were motoring through to Achill and called in for some supper. If only I had been able to count on falling in with them when making my plans, I should have been delighted to include a ride to Achill in my itinerary. I had studied the bus service for long enough, but could see no means of doing it without taking an extra day, which I didn’t want to do.

Saturday August 19

Next morning looked as threatening as ever, as I walked down to the station to catch the 08:20 to Ballinrobe. Now the first main line trains away from Claremorris are at 10:48 Up and 15:45 Down, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for finding the station quite so dead as it proved to be at 08:15. There was just nobody about; the booking office was locked up and no train in the branch platform, though it did eventually draw in from the yard about 08:18. I was the only prospective passenger and the guard solemnly opened a first-class door for me. When I told him that I wanted (a) to book a ticket (PT) [Privilege Ticket – issued at a reduced rate to railway staff] and (b) to leave my case in the cloakroom, he was a bit taken aback, apparently being well aware that a PT is the one sort of ticket on which one cannot “pay at the other end”. So we walked across to the office together, and he unearthed the key from its hidey-hole and opened the door. We agreed that the 3rd single fare to Ballinrobe was 2/-, so I deposited my case in a corner of the office, left my privilege order and 6d on the desk, and left it for the guard to explain to the Stationmaster at Ballinrobe that although I couldn’t produce a ticket, I had paid my fare! This performance occupied 5 mins, and the train left 4 mins late as a result, with G2 2-4-0 No. 658, three 6-wheelers, a load of cattle, and two unfitted goods vans, one of which was put off at Hollymount. Again, although it was rated as a mixed train, there was no rear brake. Despite the late start and 4 mins over time at Hollymount, we ran into Ballinrobe a minute early, and after the few market women who had joined at Hollymount had handed in their tickets, I made my peace with the Stationmaster, assisted and corroborated by the guard.

Within a few minutes of my setting foot in the main street it was raining, and having learned my very wet lesson the previous day, I was content to take shelter under a large tree, read the morning paper, and wait 1¼ hours for the arrival of the bus from Galway which would take me on to Westport. This came in right on time, and it was a pleasant hour’s ride, with distant views of the Connemara hills. The buses stop at Westport Station, which is by no means the usual practice in Ireland, and this one was to stand there for some minutes before proceeding to Ballina, so I got out and soon found out how far out of the town the station lay. The stone viaduct which carried the Achill line across the valley, high above the town, still stands with the rails on it and is used for stabling wagons, but the track finished a little way beyond the north end of the viaduct. As I had 1½ hours to spare, I walked through the town and found my way with some difficulty down to the Quay, getting wet and being blown dry again two or three times in the process. Until just after 1900[6], there was a passenger service down to the Quay, and the station can still be seen; there is very little shipping traffic now, but wagons come down regularly for a mill there, and a trip is run most days. I walked up the line from the Quay to the station, just two miles on a steadily rising gradient, and picked my way carefully over the very slippery sleepers and through the weeds. The rain came on more heavily long before I reached the top, but I had no time to spare for sheltering and had to push on, wet though I was. Eventually, I came abreast of the small loco shed, passed the junction with the Achill line, and so on to the platform where the 12:50 train for Dublin was drawn up, consisting of four corridors, including a steel composite and a tea car, and one 6-wheeled van, about 130 tons in all. When the coaches were newly painted in CIÉ colours, their weight was clearly written on the ends in light green, but on most of the bogies, this has now become undecipherable, and only the 6-wheeled vans, which are almost all 13½ tons, seem to be kept legible. The engine was D5 4-4-0 No. 547, which found the schedule very easy going, particularly between Manulla and Balla, 3.5 miles, allowed 9 mins, which we did in 6¾. We also gained about a minute on each other section, and so reached Claremorris 5 early.

With a train commencing its journey at 12:50 and carrying a refreshment car, I naturally expected to get a meal right away. So when it got to 13:15 and there had been no signs of life, I went through to the car to enquire. It was a scene of great activity; the crew of three were busily enjoying their own meal, and I was told that the public would be summoned along when they had finished, which was about 13:35. Even then there was no regulation about it. The 22 (?) seats were quickly filled up by those nearest the tea car, including myself, but the Conductor went on and canvassed the whole train, with the result that another 30 or so quickly presented themselves and had to be turned away. When I got out at Athlone at 16:00, they were still serving tea, the third sitting I fancy, and no doubt there would be time for two more before Dublin. This being a small car, with a staff of only three, Conductor, Cook and Boy, there was no table d’hôte lunch, but a high tea was served to all, comprising cold ham or lamb (or both), lettuce, tomato (not very plentiful), bread and butter, marmalade, a pastry and tea. In English eyes, the helping of ham would atone for any other deficiencies, but I wonder rather at the Irish being so ready to pay 4/6 for this two-course meal.

At Claremorris, I got out quickly, leaving my half-eaten ham to await my return, to retrieve my case from the booking office. Even after the morning’s experience, I did expect to find the place functioning normally now, but to my surprise there was a queue of 15 or 20 people at the booking window, in the rain, and not a soul in the booking office! I thought the Stationmaster might be in attendance on one of his important trains, but there was no sign of him either. Eventually I got the attention of the Inspector, who opened up the office and gave me my case, but did nothing about the people waiting to book. However, we finally left on time, so I suppose the clerk had appeared from somewhere to book them.

We picked up a fitted goods van on the rear at Claremorris, but went forward with undiminished vigour, so that we were waiting for time at every station. At Castlerea, we should have crossed the 11:05 from Dublin, but it was running late, so after waiting our booked 5 minutes, we went forward to Ballymoe, though even there, we were the first to arrive. It occurred to me that at these booked crossings, the arrival time should be the advertised departure, so as to save waiting and wasting time which will usually react into the opposing train. As a result of this bad “meet”, we left Ballymoe 5 mins late, we were a minute over time at Roscommon, where the driver overran the platform with one coach and the best of intentions, only to find that the checker had locked the corridor door and the passengers could not walk back from the first coach. A considerable barney ensued as to whether the checker should unlock the door or the driver set back! Finally the checker gave way with a rather bad grace. We made both the conditional stops at Ballymurry and Kiltoom and were severely checked at Athlone West by a shunting move, and ran in 6 mins late. The train had been extremely crowded from Claremorris onwards and there was a big crowd to join at Athlone, so they whipped the brake van and goods van off, attached two corridors and put the vans back again. This cleared the passengers but gained no time. However, the Up trains seemed to be doing better than the Down on this Saturday; the 11:05 was over 25 mins late when we crossed it, and the 14:40 from Dublin, by which I now went forward to Galway, came in 12 late. This had K1 2-6-0 No. 376 with 9 bogies and was almost full, but without any standing. I found a seat on the milepost side in the rear coach, which had the merit of being off the platform at all stations except Ballinasloe and Athenry, where we drew up, and consequently did not get crowded. We went up the 1 in 160 to Woodlawn at a minimum of 27, and even so gained a minute on the sectional schedule. The maximum speed at any point did not exceed 58 mph, and we arrived at Galway 13 mins late.

It was quite a fine evening, for a change, and after finding my hotel and having a meal I explored the purlieus of the station, there being a convenient path alongside the line over the bridge across the river, with an overbridge which overlooked the station and the truncated remains of the Clifden line. Then I went up to have a look at the salmon weir, behind which are the stone piers that once carried the viaduct of the Clifden railway.

Sunday, August 20

The morning was not promising, with as much cloud about as ever, but I stuck to my intention of going out to Clifden by bus. There was a convenient bus excursion, leaving at 10:30 for Clifden by the direct route, and returning via Leenane. The precincts of the station were very busy, as there was a pilgrimage special to Claremorris, for Knock, going out at 11:00, though it appeared to be full to the doors at 10:15, while a great many visitors were hanging around outside for the two bus excursions to Clifden and to the Cliffs of Moher on the Clare side. Among the latter tribe, I found E J Stephens, the Eastern Region District Supt at Doncaster. They ran two buses for each destination, and I settled in the front seat of the second one, in a mixed company of English, Irish, Americans, and even a French family, the father of which understood English or not according to the convenience of the moment. We moved off about 10:40, and as the main road through Oughterard, Maam Cross and Recess closely follows the track of the old railway, after the first five or six miles from Galway, it was the next best thing to travelling on the railway itself. At intervals we ran through very heavy showers, and from time to time the conductor-guide stopped the bus and told us the tale about the topography and history of the districts, including, I was pleased to note, an occasional reference to the old railway line. The clouds were so heavy and low that we saw just nothing of the celebrated Twelve Pins of Connemara, and we ran into Clifden just before 13:00, passing the station buildings on the way. Here we were left to our own devices for lunch, but the Clifden Bay Hotel was the obvious choice, practically everything else being shut anyhow. The rain came down again as we left just after 14:00, and rather spoiled the few glimpses we might have had of the various arms of the Atlantic. At Kylemore Abbey we stopped for an hour, but my recollections, which are of an ugly late-Victorian building something after the style of Balmoral Castle, were not enhanced by the absolute deluge which struck us as we walked the half-mile up to the Abbey and back again, the interval while we were indoors being quite fine! Personally I would have preferred to spend the extra hour in Clifden, or even on the shores of Killary Harbour, a fine arm of the Atlantic to which we came down shortly afterwards, and sped quickly by. At Leenane we stopped again for about ¼ hour, and then turned inland for Galway across Joyce’s Country, a barren tract with high hills on each side. This brought us to the main road again at Maam Cross, and so back through the rain to Galway at 18:45. It was fine again now, and looked like being a nice evening, so I took the opportunity to walk around the docks and right along the front to Salthill, which ranks as a small seaside resort, the principal attraction being the view across the Bay. I had a meal there in a large dance hall place, during which there was yet another heavy shower, and then got the bus back to Galway, to spend the rest of the evening writing in front of the welcome fire 

Monday, August 21

On this morning I had planned to go to Loughrea by bus (the Galway/Dublin bus) and return to Galway by train, so for once I was able to free myself of my luggage for a while. The bus had only 7 or 8 passengers, and left at 08:45, reaching Loughrea, by a devious route via Athenry, at 10:00. Here I was introduced to something new, for there was a Fair in progress. On both sides of the main street were sheep, penned in with hurdles in front of the shops on the pavement. In some cases, a path was left clear to the front of the shop, but in others not! The bus negotiated the centre of the street with difficulty, and I soon found that there was nothing a pedestrian could do but walk down the middle as well. There were a few cattle similarly drawn up in an adjacent street, but for the most part the two were kept apart. The filth on the pavements was unbelievable, and my first question to the Stationmaster when I went to book my ticket was “Who cleans up the pavements?” He assured me that the shopkeepers did, and were only too glad to have things arranged that way in view of the custom it brought them! One gets accustomed to every grocer’s shop being a Bar in Ireland, but I noticed two strange Bars in Loughrea – one a tailor’s and the other a shoemaker’s! They were busy loading sheep at the station, though the Stationmaster assured me that it was only a small fair, and they would only have about 70 wagons. One special for Dublin had already left, and two other engines were hanging about waiting to work specials away in due course. The 11:05 mixed train was worked by D16 4-4-0 No. 533 with two six-wheeled coaches. We drew out of the platform at 11:01 to go over and attach a load of cattle for Sligo out of the yard. A last minute lady passenger was shepherded across the metals by the Stationmaster and hoisted into the compartment by me, with the Stationmaster assisting in rear. We left 5 mins late, but were in Attymon Junction 9 early, thanks to a liberal interpretation of a 25 mph speed limit. I returned to Galway by the Down mail, 08:40 ex Dublin, which had K1 2-6-0 No. 375 and nine bogies, including a T.P.O [Travelling Post Office]. We left 8 mins late, were stopped dead outside Athenry while they juggled with the Sligo–Limerick train, touched 60 mph before Oranmore and ran into Galway still 8 late.

After getting lunch and doing some shopping, I went to the station for the 14:45. This is one of the new trains put on this summer, as a stopping train to Athlone, taking up the working of a previously-existing GSW-section train from there to Portarlington, where it terminates, giving good connections both towards Dublin and the Down line to Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Indeed it offers a much later departure to catch the Rosslare boat than can be secured via Dublin. As Galway now only has one passenger platform, the other being screened off and used as a goods unloading deck, it is the practice to platform the 14:45 on the end of the platform, on top of the 15:30 Up Mail. There is nothing in or out between the arrival of the Down Mail at 12:35 and the departure of the 14:45 Up, and it was apparently 14:35 before it dawned on them that the Down Mail had brought in an extra coach or two which would have to be detached to make room for the 14:45. So they were hastily pulled off, and as a result the 14:45 left 9 mins late, with G2 2-4-0 No. 653, two bogies, non-corridor but equipped with lavatories, and a goods van. This small train was well filled to start with, was full from Athenry, where a surprisingly large number joined, overfull from Athlone, and thereafter got steadily more crowded to Geashill, where the Stationmaster took 6½ mins to examine the tickets. It seemed a pity, seeing that this train was a new venture, that it should have been so uncomfortably crowded for the sake of attaching even one coach to such a light formation. However, the driver enjoyed himself and regained time on every section, ably assisted at most of the stations, so that we were down to 3 mins late leaving Athenry, before time at Woodlawn, and only 1 minute late into Athlone despite 2¾ mins over time at Ballinasloe checking tickets and a dead stand of over 2 mins at Athlone West. There are a lot of speed restrictions on the Athlone–Portarlington section, mainly between 25 and 40 mph, but even with due allowance for them, the schedule of 82 mins overall for 39½ miles, including only four stops, is on the liberal side, especially the first part from Athlone to Ballycumber, 12.7 miles in 25 mins, for which we took 20¼, including a p.w. slack towards the end. We were detrained at Portarlington with some haste, in order to clear the line for the Up Limerick express, which was running about 20 mins late and is not booked to stop. The booked Up line service to take passengers forward had not put in its appearance by the time I left at 18:21, and must also have been about 20 mins late, while the Up Mail, which I saw at Maryborough, was about half an hour behind time.

The 17:10 from Kingsbridge to Limerick, Thurles and Waterford (being the balance of the 08:15 from Waterford by which I had travelled the previous Thursday) was running in duplicate. The first part, by which I went forward from Portarlington, consisted of a third-brake and composite for Thurles (actually labelled to Clonmel, of which more anon) and seven for Limerick (including a tea car), hauled by B1 4-6-0 No. 501. As I wanted to get a meal before the Limerick portion left us at Ballybrophy, I got into that part, and on arrival at Ballybrophy walked along the platform to the Thurles portion. As they were in the middle of serving a tea, I had to wait until Maryborough, by which time I could not afford to wait for anything cooked, and had to content myself with a plain tea, hastily devoured. The engine did not shine and we were held for 3½ mins over time at Maryborough for no apparent reason. However, No. 501 blazed away with its load of 57 tons after dropping the Limerick portion off at Ballybrophy, with top speeds of 63 before Templemore and 61 – in the dip after Templemore – and we were right time into Thurles. Here the two coaches were emptied and set back into a siding, from which they emerged after the 18:15 from Dublin had been and gone, to form the 20:25 to Clonmel.

I had thought that my 40 mins wait at Thurles might have been enlivened by making a telephone call to my wife, but there was nobody in the Telegraph office, which lay open to the world, and after 10 minutes I got a porter to open the booking office and let me use the phone there. However, the local exchange said it was quite hopeless, as it would take at least three hours to get through, so I crossed back to the Down platform and got some melancholy amusement from watching the antics of the 18:15 from Dublin to Cork and Tralee. This arrived at 20:07, 5 mins early, with two engines (Nos. 330 and 402) and 12 bogies (7 Cork, 5 Tralee). The leading engine proceeded to take water; at 20:15, the pair of them hooked off and ran ahead for No. 402 to take water. This was done by 20:22, when they set back and vacuum was recreated by 20:25. I then expected them to draw the train up, as the rear 5 coaches had not been platformed, but they went right away, so it was to be hoped that the ticket collector had done his work properly. But even so, 18 mins, instead of 7 scheduled, seemed to be out of all reason just for two engines to take water. A load of 12 cannot be said to seriously tax two such engines, and one would have thought that one of the engines could have managed to run as far as Limerick Junction. After all, they are not afflicted with continuous blowdown on CIÉ.

The Clonmel train then came out of the siding, with J15 0-6-0 No. 118 hauling the two coaches which had come from Dublin and a load of livestock for Fethard. Although the express had left at 20:25, it was 20:34 before we got away, owing to the volume of parcels traffic to be loaded, and I thought the booked margin of 6 mins between the two departures (20:19 and 20:25) was quite unworkable, if the traffic on this night was typical. As I was carrying out a somewhat unorthodox journey (Thurles to Limerick Junction via Clonmel), with a margin of only 10 mins at Clonmel, a departure 9 mins late from Thurles did not look too good. However, we got it down to 6 mins at Fethard, and as they came around for tickets there, I asked that the connection for Tipperary should be held. We were run into the Down platform at Clonmel; the 19:35 Mail, Passenger and Perishable from Waterford was already standing in the Up platform, with J15 0-6-0 No. 164, one bogie compo, three 6-wheeled passenger vans, an assortment of goods traffic, and a goods brake. The booking office was closed, but I was assured that the checker on the train would see to me, which he duly did, the first time I have ever exchanged a privilege order on a moving train! By now it was dark, and the gas lighting in the one coach was so so poor that I could not attempt to read, so it was not long before I was asleep. We came to rest in the bay at Limerick Junction within a minute or two of the booked 23:16, and I then made an assault on the refreshment room before they should get too busy. They had some excellent ham sandwiches, nicely wrapped in cellophane, with which I fed myself, and then put some in my bag for the long night watches. The Up mail was in to time, behind a 400 class. The Down train, however, was 20 late, with K1A 2-6-0 No. 397 and thirteen assorted vehicles – a bogie TPO, a 6-wheeled TPO, corridor compo, corridor third, four bogie vans, two 6-wheeled vans and three 4-wheelers, the vans being mixed up quite impartially. The subsequent proceedings interested me no more until 02:00, when it was time to get out at Mallow.

Tuesday, August 22

Here I was to wait for the 00:25 Cork–Limerick Goods, and was put to wait in the guards’ room, where there was a good fire. I had almost an hour to kill, for part of which I slept, as the heat was overpowering. I was eventually taken out to the south end of the station, where the train was ready to leave. This, and its balancing working, the 21:10 from Limerick, are the only booked trains over the Charleville–Patrickswell line, and this, of course, was the reason for my asking CIÉ for the privilege of riding with the train. Both trains are worked by Cork men throughout, lodging at Limerick, and they had evidently been in trouble already this night and lost some time by loco. We left at 03:15, 25 mins late, with J15 No. 152, and forty loaded wagons. I was interested to see, when daylight came, what traffic used this cross-country route. The majority was for the direction of Newcastle West, detached at Patrickswell, but there were a number of open trucks carrying Ford cars, assembled in Cork, to Sligo. The engine was loaded almost to capacity, and made very heavy weather of the bank out of Mallow, taking 45 mins to Buttevant instead of 31. I began to have fears for my connection at Limerick, as the freight was due in at 07:45 and I wanted to catch the 08:05 out to Roscrea, so I told the guard he had better do something about it[7]. The result was some smart station work, and once we got on the branch at Charleville Jc, the sparks began to fly. The branch here connects with the Up main line only, and trains in the Down direction run “wrong road” over the Up line to Charleville Station, from which box the points are motor-worked. It was now daylight (05:30) and I could take an interest in the country around me. Our stops at Bruree and Croom were cut by 9 and 21 mins respectively, there being no work at all at the latter, and we ran into Patrickswell 20 mins early. The layout here is interesting as the two single lines, from Charleville and Newcastle West, run side by side into the station without any connections, the physical junction being some distance on the Limerick side. Here we put off all the wagons for the Newcastle direction and with a much reduced load ran gaily forward to Limerick. My last acquaintance with this section was in May 1939, when I spent the last afternoon of my tour down the Foynes branch and on return found there was an electric staff failure between Patrickswell and Limerick. On that occasion, we were seriously delayed while pilot working was put into operation, and I had been afraid they might let the Waterford train, by which I was bound for Rosslare and home, go without us. However, it was held, but I got no food, while the boat eventually sailed late as a direct result of the delay in reaching Limerick! On this August morning, however, things were very different as we ran gently along, and to my surprise and pleasure on reaching the old Foynes Junction, at the outskirts of Limerick, we swung away to the right and ran over the old WL&W line, past the engine shed, and out on to the main line at the Check Cabin, as though heading for Limerick Junction or Ennis. Once clear on the main line we stopped, set back about ¼ mile, and the journey was over. The train engine moved off to the shed, leaving the train dead on the Down main line to be removed at its leisure by the local shunting engine. It was not yet 07:30, so I had ample time to walk down the line to the terminus, have a wash, and settle myself in the 08:05 Dublin train.

This had seven corridors (off the previous night’s 17:10 Down) and D2 4-4-0 No. 322, but very few passengers indeed. At Birdhill, when we had been going about 25 minutes, and I was very hungry indeed, I went through to see what they were doing about breakfast. As on the Westport train, I found the dining car staff thoroughly enjoying their own! The Conductor stared, as well he might, for he had last seen me some 13 hours previously getting out of his car at Ballybrophy to go to Thurles, and I don’t suppose he would have guessed what route I had taken to catch up with him in this way, had he tried a dozen times. It appears to be an article of faith with these dining car men to feed themselves first and the public afterwards, for it was another 10 minutes before we were summoned, and then they served the magnificent total of five breakfasts. However, I certainly enjoyed mine as we wound through a very green countryside. I noticed that the rails of the Birdhill to Killaloe branch were still down, but I don’t think they have been used for a very long time. Up to Roscrea, where I alighted, it had managed to keep fine, but the rain started there, and instead of going out to explore the town, I retired to the waiting room and was writing solidly from 09:30 until 12:00. The Birr branch trains are apparently intended to cater for passengers to and from Dublin only, as the first train from Roscrea runs at 12:15, off the 10:00 from Kingsbridge. This came in a few minutes late, and our 12:15 (mixed, with three 6-wheeled coaches, fourteen wagons and a brake) was 4 mins late away. However, the driver of J15 0-6-0 No. 191 apparently lived in Birr and wanted his dinner, for the 12 miles, scheduled to take 45 mins, were run in 26½, including a minute standing at Brosna, and we ran into Birr 15 mins before time, at 12:45! It will be obvious from the figures that the overall speed limit of 25 mph was not observed! As we ran into Birr, I saw the overgrown remains of the Parsonstown and Portumna Railway, but had I not read Mr T R Perkins on the subject, some years ago in the Railway Magazine, I should certainly not have noticed it.

The station is about a mile from the town, and fortunately there was a lull in the rain which enabled me to get there dry. But I was soon driven into Dooly’s Hotel by a heavy shower, where I enjoyed a substantial lunch and sat for an hour reading, in the hope that it would turn fine again for me to walk back to the station. In this I was lucky, as I got within 100 yards of the station before another shower began. In this direction the schedule is only 35 mins, and we took all of it, with the same engine and coaches but only eleven wagons. Why this train leaves as early as 15:45 is not obvious, as one has 25 mins to wait at Roscrea for the Up train to Dublin. This again had seven corridors with D11 4-4-0 No. 303. At Ballybrophy, a 12-wheeled brake compo from Thurles was attached, and we left on time behind D2 4-4-0 No. 321. But it was soon apparent that all was not well in front, for as soon as we reached the top of each little bank, the engine was obviously eased and we coasted down as far as possible. We stood 5 mins at Mountrath raising steam, and took 15½ mins to run from there to Maryborough, instead of 12. The driver had evidently decided to take what Maryborough could offer, and in 7 minutes, No. 321 had been detached and we went forward behind No. 64, a little 4-4-0 of Class D14, built by Aspinall sometime back in the 1880s. Need one remark that all Aspinall’s engines built for the L&YR, passenger tender types at least, have been gone for some time now!

The driver went warily out of Maryborough, attaining only 53½ mph in the dip at MP 43¼, and taking 14¾ mins to cover the 9 miles to passing Portarlington, though one must admit that the schedule of 11 mins for this section is too tight. However, he must then have decided that whatever the limitations of his engine, she would at least steam, and he took us up the 11¼ miles to Kildare in 15¾ mins (the schedule again being a tight one of 13 mins), speed falling to 31 mph at the summit. From there, it looked as though we should maintain a steady 56/57 mph down the bank all the way to Inchicore, but unfortunately someone had taken advantage of our uncertain progress to run a freight in front of us, which had to be split to get inside at Hazelhatch, so that we were stopped dead for a minute at Straffan. He ran gamely enough after that and could call it quite a fair performance to be no more than 25 mins late into Kingsbridge. This train, and the Up mail, have only 6 minutes for the 4.4 miles from passing Clondalkin to stopping in Kingsbridge, and this is clearly not possible if the necessary caution is to be observed at Islandbridge. Both trains, however, appear to have a spare minute from Sallins to Straffan.

I had been looking forward to spending an evening in conversation with Macartney Robbins, but Clements met me at the station to say that he was laid up and couldn’t come out, so I went to my hotel – the Four Courts for convenience – and after dinner wrote up some of my notes, whilst again waiting nearly three hours for a phone call to Liverpool.

Wednesday, August 23

This was my last day, and I had a full programme in prospect before catching the Fishguard boat that night. My route lay through Carlow to Waterford, and then to Rosslare via Macmine, with a deviation up the D&SE as far as Bray and back, that being as far as I had ever gone south from Dublin previously on that line. I went to Kingsbridge in good time for the 09:15, which is primarily a Cork train of six vehicles, including an ex-Pullman dining car, and two coaches for Kilkenny, via Carlow, detached at Kildare. Before leaving I went into the CIÉ offices to return the permit given me for the freight train journeys, but they evidently don’t start work as early as we do! We had B1 No. 502 on the 09:15, but the climb out of Kingsbridge was awful, the 6.8 miles to Lucan taking 19¼ mins, and on the easy timing of 45 mins to Kildare (only 40 mph average, with a light load for such an engine), we lost over 3 minutes. Here little No. 64, my heroine of the previous night, backed onto the two Kilkenny coaches, with a 6-wheeled van as well. The 50¾ miles were booked to take 100 minutes, including seven stops, but we were waiting for time all over the place and finished up 3 mins early, without exceeding 55 mph.

At Kilkenny, I joined the train which had left Kingsbridge at 09:35 via Maryborough, and took my seat in a steel Third at the front, rather than in an old First, for the sake of the better view out. The Waterford travelling collector, who evidently remembered me from my journey on the 08:15 the previous week, was quite concerned that I should have preferred to travel 3rd class, though he quite saw the point when I explained the position. This was a most energetic and spirited run, with D10 4-4-0 No. 314 hauling four corridors (one of them a buffet car) and two 6-wheeled vans. The 31 miles, over a hilly road, were covered in 57½ mins including five stops and a long p.w. slack, the schedule being 61 mins. We tackled the banks in fine style, and touched, but never exceeded, 60 mph.

It was raining at Waterford, but as I had important shopping to do in the way of foodstuffs, I dismissed the temptation to keep dry and have lunch at the station, and sallied forth into the town. Returning in due course, much wetter, I went for the 14:35 to Macmine, which was a curious collection of old stock. To begin with, No. 58, a very old 4-4-0 of class D17, this hauling a goods van for New Ross, a 6-wheeled van, a 6-wheeled third, a bogie lavatory compo (a curious vehicle with a centre corridor, presumably of DW&W origin), and a 6-wheeled third brake. The 33 miles from Waterford to Macmine, over one of the hilliest roads in Ireland, are booked to take 77 mins, including five stops totalling 8 mins. Time was kept, but not with ease, as our progress up the banks was very slow (18 mph at MP 114½) and it was mainly by running at 50-55 mph downhill that we recovered the time lost in detaching at New Ross. The mileposts on this section are rather curious, being a continuation of the Harcourt St–Wexford series, apparently reversing at the centre of Macmine Station (not at the physical junction) so that mile posts 83¼ going in and 83½ coming out stand about two yards apart at the north end of the station!

At Macmine, I formally broke my journey from Dublin to Rosslare, and demanded a PT return to Bray, which was produced after a long delay. An interesting point – does anyone ever write out a blank card ticket to stations by their Irish names? Possibly, Dún Laoghaire, but I doubt the rest. Until the 14:40 from Rosslare ran in, I had forgotten that the DW&W boasts a TPO, but there it was - a little 6-wheeled affair next to the engine. Behind this came five bogies and two 6-wheeled vans, hauled by D4 4-4-0 No. 337. We were 6 mins late away from Macmine, and in rainy weather we toiled along wearily. Conditional stops at Camolin and Inch were both made, and by Arklow we were 13 mins late. Up the Vale of Avoca, we went slowly enough to appreciate the scenery, falling finally to 21 mph, and at Rathdrum, I thought we were going to stay all night taking water. 17 mins late from there, 18 from Wicklow, and 20 from Greystones. It was a weary performance, enlivened only by the sight of a calm sea which boded well for the coming night. I alighted at Bray, and was sorry to see the enginemen doing the same – clearly their back working was the same as mine!

The 18:40 from Harcourt Street came in 2 mins late, on the tail of suburban trains, with D10 4-4-0 No. 310 and six corridors. We crawled along the coast from Greystones to Wicklow even more slowly than on the previous trip, taking 19 mins for the 11.2 miles, with a top speed of 40 mph (the schedule is 15 mins). At Woodenbridge, where the Shillelagh branch appears to have gone forever, we were held for 3 mins to cross a half-day excursion returning to Dublin from Arklow. Only two of the four conditional stops were made, but we finished up 10 mins late into Wexford, where No. 310 came off. However, my time had not been wasted, as I enjoyed an excellent high tea, the replica, at 20:00, of what I had consumed on the Westport–Dublin car at 13:30! In this case, however, there was no crowding, and a sympathetic Conductor who appreciated that the Englishman’s final meal in Ireland is something to linger over! I should have liked to see Wexford in daylight –maybe I shall someday – though I was not entirely unprepared for the spectacle of our 0-6-0 No. 144 crawling along the quayside at a walking pace, with a man trudging in front carrying a red handlamp. Once freed from his restraining influence, we ran quite fast and altogether picked up 4½ mins from Wexford to Rosslare Harbour. The rain which had dogged me throughout the week was still coming down heavily as I went aboard the “St David”, one of the new boats, and as the Cork train was late and running behind us, I had settled comfortably below before any more passengers made their appearance. We sailed 7 mins late, and berthed at Fishguard the same, the crossing being dead calm, and the complement of passengers small. Remembering what happened two years ago, when we were kept standing on the boat deck waiting to disembark at Fishguard in pouring rain, I didn’t hurry to go ashore. When I did leave the ship, the rain was as heavy as ever, but there was no queue, and I walked through the Customs to the train with the greatest ease. And so concluded the Irish part of my travels. However, I still had some more journeys to make in South Wales, and a full day lay between Fishguard and my next night’s rest in Gloucester.

And so we take final leave of Aston. His diary of his August 1950 travels continues however, with details of journeys in South Wales, London and the Eastern Counties.

A final word from Michael Davies

As observed above, it is quite sad to have to leave Aston and his wonderful descriptions of Irish railway travel in the 1930s and 40s.

It would seem I'm missing a Diary for late 1948. He tells us in paragraph 3 of this 1950 diary that in 1948,  ‘later in the year’, he was 'able to fill one or two of the smaller gaps - Larne and Ballyclare narrow gauge, the GN Ardee branch, Oldcastle, and the MGW main line to Athlone'.

In fact, neither do I recollect his travelling on any of the following lines in the Province of Ulster, which is surprising:

Ballyclare broad gauge,

Goraghwood to Markethill,

Ballyhaise to Cavan,

Tooban Junc to Buncrana.

Aston also does not appear to have covered any of the following CIÉ lines:

Cavan to Inny Junc and the Killeshandra branch,

Clonsilla to Kingscourt and the Athboy branch,

the Edenderry, Horseleap and Banagher branches,

the Tullow line and the Mountmellick branch,

Bagenalstown to Palace East,

the Cashel, Mitchelstown, and Newmarket branches,

the Fenit and Castleisland branches,

The Castlecomer and Ballylinan branches,

the Castlegregory branch,

the Schull & Skibbereen,

and Westport to Westport Quay, although he did of course walk the line during his 1950 trip, as described above.

I recollect Gerald talking of his son and daughter. I have often wondered if they are still alive and possibly still retain his papers - including the missing second visit in late 1948!

 Perhaps some diligent reader might be able to provide a map of Gerald Aston’s Irish travels during the four visits recorded in Journals 183, 185, 189 and the present issue 190? We would be happy to consider such a map for future publication.

 Also, if any readers have knowledge of the possible whereabouts of further Irish Railway diaries of Gerald Aston, we would be glad to hear from them.

As previously recorded in Journal 184, the Railway Performance Society has over 16,000 of Gerald Aston's logs in its Archive, including those from Irish main line journeys.

Given the contribution of Gerald Aston’s Irish diaries to our understanding of the Irish railway of 60 to 70 years ago, it would be wonderful to be able to read more of his word pictures of the railways of Britain at that time. The short fragments of his Welsh trips that we have been able to include as preludes or postscripts to his Irish travels, suggest that his British diaries would be every bit as insightful and enjoyable. So any information about the whereabouts of these diaries also would no doubt be of interest to the wider enthusiast world. Ed.


[1] At the time of Aston’s visit, the railway spelling of the terminus of this branch was “Valentia Harbour”. This seems always to have been the station’s name, right from its opening in 1893, and it appears thus in Bradshaw for December 1895. However, “Valencia” was used on pre- and post-Independence OS maps for “Valencia Island”, the sound between the island and the mainland - “Valencia Harbour”, and the station, although “Valentia” appears to have been used by everyone else. On the OSI map viewer, http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/, “Valencia” is still applied to the island and the sound. The small community near the old station is no longer named, but remarkably, the viewer shows a short section of track extending for a short distance just east of the former station as of June 2016..

[2] Aston’s spelling is here rather out of date. At the time of his visit, the village was called “Brynmenyn”, having been so renamed in the 19th century.

[3] 27M was a 54ft First class bogie, with accommodation for 26 passengers, built at Broadstone in 1902.

[4] Again Aston’s spelling. The correct version was “Portlaoghaise”, later shortened to “Portlaoise”. In the CIÉ Working Timetable of 24 September 1951, the station was shown as “Maryboro”, but in that of 14 September 1952, it had become “Portlaoise”.

[5] Perhaps surprisingly, on this route, the Working Timetables show the Sligo to LImerick direction as “Down”, and Limerick to Sligo as “Up”.

[6] In fact, a Summer-only passenger service continued to run to Westport Quay until at least 1913.

[7] Surely a rather assertive approach by an overseas visitor travelling at his own request on an overnight goods train? Ed.

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