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Journal 190

Between Drumcondra and Glasnevin – a reflection


As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I shall ever be grateful to my parents-in-law for buying a house within five minutes walk of the ‘iron bridge’, as it was known locally, a footbridge which spanned the Link Line a few hundred yards from the site of Glasnevin station and not much further from the headquarters of the Irish Railway Record Society, sited as it was then in the remains of Drumcondra station. The bridge also offered an excellent view of Mountjoy Gaol, North City Mills, Croke Park and the Dublin Mountains whilst one could also hear, but not see, as they were buried in a cutting between Whitworth Road and the Royal Canal, trains climbing up the Midland line from North Wall, and Connolly by way of Newcomen Junction. By 1968, when my acquaintance with the Iron Bridge began, steam had gone, at least as far as everyday workings were concerned, although, of course, steam has never entirely disappeared, and only in August 2013, I passed under it in the more than capable charge of No. 461 as we made our way from Connolly to Kilkenny in the Marble City railtour. Our train consisted of the rake of RPSI Cravens, which in one sense was the only unchanging, tangible rolling stock link with the late 1960s, for production of the Cravens was only completed in 1967 and they were to be found on CIÉ’s principal long distance workings.

Drumcondra and Glasnevin stations were long gone, opened in 1901 and taken out of use in 1910, being served in their brief heyday by a steam rail-motor from Kingsbridge, but put out of business by the competing trams, not helped by the failings of the rail-motor, which was no better nor any worse than its contemporaries on other railways but like them suffered from an uncomfortable ride and a schizophrenic personality, not being able to make up its mind whether it was a locomotive or a carriage. There was no discernable trace of Glasnevin station[1], but the main red brick building at Drumcondra survived and, as mentioned, was at that time the Society headquarters, although, of course, it is now a passenger station once again. One of the most memorable meetings I attended there was a talk by Mr J J Johnston, assistant CME, who had been intimately involved with the design of Maedhbh and her two sisters. Which brings me to my wife of the same name, who regularly passed under the Iron Bridge six times a year between 1957 and 1964 on her way to and from Kylemore Abbey school in Connemara. Despite her name, Maeve Finucane, as she was when we first met, could not recall, would you believe, whether the train had been steam or diesel hauled, but I guess it would always have been diesel. Seven Woolwich Moguls, the regular motive power for the Galway trains since the 1920s, had been overhauled as late as 1954-5, but by January 1957, delivery of the A class Co-Cos had been completed, while the AEC railcars were also in regular employment. Maeve does vividly recall the final part of her journey which was by the ‘Connemara Bus’, a most uncomfortable, seemingly endless journey, encompassing, just before reaching its destination the ‘most remote village in Ireland.’ Decades earlier the journey could have been done by train but the 49 mile long branch from Galway to Clifden had closed with effect from Monday 29 April, 1935. The MGWR and the GSR had put on through carriages from Dublin in an effort to popularise Connemara, using one of Paul Henry’s famous paintings of the stunning landscape as a poster, but the general public refused to desert Killarney, and the branch gave up the ghost, closure coming in early Spring, just before the holiday season, such as it was, got under way. Westland Row was then the terminus of Midland line trains, almost all long distance services to and from Sligo, Ballina, Westport, and Galway, apart from trains for the Meath Road and a sparse local service to Maynooth.

It’s probably true to say that passenger traffic, although significant, was not the principal business of the line through Drumcondra and Glasnevin then. Freight was its primary concern; today the picture is very different. Many of the freight workings were transfers between Heuston, as Kingsbridge had become in 1966, and beyond, and North Wall. Motive power could be just about anything, although the older classes tended to spend their final days so employed. Thus the two original Bo-Bos of 1950/1, Nos. 113 and 114, were regularly to be seen until their official withdrawal in December, 1977, although they had ceased work before that; No. 113 in 1975 and 114 four years earlier. Fortunately 113 has been preserved, and can be seen at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra. Then there were the twelve Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Company B101 A1A-A1As which entered service in 1956/7, although their power units had been delivered sometime earlier. I first travelled behind one in 1961 on the Rosslare to Cork boat train via Dungarvan and Mallow, but by the 1970s they were restricted to freight. As Dan Renehan recorded in Journal 181, four were still at work in 1977, the last active member of the class being B106.

Not surprisingly, the 001s were long a familiar sight, by virtue of there being sixty locomotive of this class. All had been re-engined by the end of 1971, to the great relief of all connected with them, and they were to be seen on Midland line passenger work as well as freight duties, which included liner trains. They ended their days on, inter alia, Tara Mines services until their demise in the mid-1990s. However their most glamorous duty in the 1970s was the Cork Mail. I once travelled in the cab of an 001 hauling this train from Heuston around the Link Line and on to Dún Laoghaire Pier. This, I guess, was the 1970s version of what had once been a through train between Cobh and Dun Laoghaire, or before that Queenstown and Kingstown, a key link in the fastest route for conveying mails from New York to London. The Up mail was just about the most impressive train on the CIÉ network, consisting of up to thirteen vehicles, including vans, whilst the meals were provided in one of the venerable 1915 vintage diners, Nos. 2092/3, modernized internally, but externally little changed from their original GS&WR appearance.

Of course the various GMs were to be seen right from the introduction of the 121s in 1960 until the withdrawal of the last 141/181s a few years ago. Looking back I had forgotten how much heavy passenger and freight work the single cab 121s had been expected to cope with and keep time on, their use on Midland line mail trains for instance being a regular duty in the 1970s. My first meeting with one was at Dundalk in 1961, when the Jeep 2-6-4T behind which I had travelled from Belfast, handed over to what struck me as a typical American switcher and surely never intended to haul a main line express. But I had underestimated the little Bo-Bo’s capabilities, and although in later years they usually worked in multiple with other GMs, they proved one of the best investments an Irish Railway ever made. Real diesel shunters appeared in 1947/8 with the Inchicore-built D301 class. It was anticipated they might be used on trip working, like their steam locomotive predecessors, but if this did happen I never observed it. What I did see, occasionally, was one of their successors, the E 401/421s, out on the main line, banking a heavy freight from North Wall up the incline through Drumcondra.

My father-in-law, who retired from the Land Commission in 1968 at the age of 65 and died 38 years later, cycled into his office in Merrion Square every day, coming home for lunch, no doubt one of the reasons he remained remarkably fit until past his 100th birthday, with an astonishing, encyclopaedic memory. I can’t claim he was a railway enthusiast, although in his 100th year we took him to have a ride on the replica Lartigue monorail, the original of which he had known as a boy. The press turned up and he, spritely as ever, was delighted to reminiscence. He had said that the monorail was, ‘a dreadful old thing which gave everyone a headache and was easily overtaken on the bank out of Listowel’ by he and his brothers on their bikes. For his troubles he was told off by Maeve’s mother who scolded him, ‘you shouldn’t have said that.’ Their Dublin house, in a quiet Glasnevin cul de sac, was on the edge of the country when he bought it shortly after the end of the Emergency (the Second World War). The Drumcondra/Glasnevin area through which the Link Line passes is now pure suburbia, a largely middle class area of terraced houses, schools, churches, and convents, now some distance from the country. It is fairly densely populated, one of the relatively sparse areas of green being the sides of the track between the Iron Bridge and the site of Glasnevin station, on which, rather remarkably, there were allotments until the end of the 1970s. Were these cultivated by railwaymen? It seems unlikely that access by the general public to these trackside oases would have been permitted. Passing under the Brian Boru public house which stands just beyond the site of Glasnevin station, the line suddenly takes on a distinctly rural ambience with the Botanic Gardens and Glasnevin Cemetery to the north. At Glasnevin Junction, trains can either continue on the Link Line, swinging through Cabra and through the Phoenix Park Tunnel to Islandbridge Junction, or join the Midland line and head past the site of Liffey Junction and the line from Broadstone, to hug the banks of the Royal Canal almost all the way out beyond the suburbs, to Maynooth and Mullingar, and then onward to the River Shannon at Athlone.

Canals, perhaps even more than railways, bring something of the countryside deep into towns and cities, and this is certainly true of the Royal Canal. Beyond the Brian Boru, the tow path takes dog walkers, walkers without dogs, and anyone else, out for a stroll past the North City Mills, which were still operating in 1970. The official date of closure of the long siding which served it is 1967, but this can’t be correct, for I took a picture of a C class shunting there in 1970. Today the mill has been converted into rather distinctive residential apartments. Back then, there were a number of derelict barges half submerged in the canal and the whole area had a very neglected air. Three cottages dating from the opening of the canal offered equally distinctive, if very different, accommodation on the opposite bank; two still do with well cared for gardens looking for all the world as though in the depths of the countryside rather than within walking distance of O’Connell Street.

Some few hundred yards further on, having crossed over the barely visible Link Line deep below as it heads towards Cabra, we arrive at Liffey Junction, the Midland main line crossing the canal immediately before the junction. I used to find this an utterly fascinating place, a real time warp, for the station, although long disused, was still practically intact, as was the line down to Broadstone, which still saw the occasional visit by oil tankers with supplies for the buses and coaches based there. The track bed remains, of course, a perfect haven for flora and fauna, deep down in the inner city suburbs, which will be rudely disturbed when the LUAS cross-city line is constructed. The handsome Liffey Junction signal box with its accompanying semaphores was still operating and more than once I was invited inside, whilst the sidings were stocked with ancient wagons awaiting a final journey to oblivion at Mullingar, although it may be some were actually broken up at the Junction. All that has now gone, although Broombridge station, opened in 1990 and not exactly an architectural gem, now serves the area.

There have, not surprisingly, been considerable changes over the last 45 years. Freight traffic is but a pale shadow of what it once was, whilst mail has disappeared entirely. There is still plenty of movement of various kinds, for this is the only practical connection between Connolly and the south, Inchicore, Heuston and beyond. Long distance passenger traffic through Drumcondra and Glasnevin is much less than it once was, only that to and from Sligo remaining. However suburban traffic, which then didn’t exist, is now a huge factor in keeping the city of Dublin on the move. Back then standing on the Iron Bridge, one would occasionally be frustrated by the sound of a train labouring its way out of sight along the Midland line, but this was a very minor irritation for hours would pass with no movement of any sort. Now, with the opening of Spencer Dock station in what was the Midland yard at North Wall and the easing of the curve out of Connolly station to Newcomen Bridge Junction, the Midland line is far busier than it has ever been. The canal and its surroundings have been tidied up to great effect, encouraging walkers along the tow paths, although there does not as yet appear to be much traffic on the canal itself. There is even a statue of Brendan Behan sitting on a bench at Drumcondra, no doubt within sight of one of his favourite hostelries.


[1] Not correct; the station building at Glasnevin survives on the grounds of Charleville Tennis Club.

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Revised: January 18, 2017 .