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Journal 190

The Railway Press in 1916

A study and analysis


Much has already been published in this centenary year of the 1916 Rising and more is destined to find its way into print. This study examines what the railway press published in 1916, but to provide a more comprehensive account of the railways during the Rising and aftermath, and to fill gaps in the coverage, other periodicals and sources have also been used.

The railway press consisted of a number of weekly and monthly publications. The Railway Gazette (RG) was considered the unofficial organ of the railway companies and management. Proclaiming itself to be ‘British owned and British run’, it was read by railway directors, bankers, stockbrokers, Government departments and ‘wherever there are railways’. The Railway News (RN) catered mainly for investors in railway stocks and shares while the Railway Magazine (RM) was to become the enthusiasts’ magazine. That railway enthusiasts existed by 1916 is evidenced by the activities of the Railway Club, the Stephenson Locomotive Society[1], and a small correspondence circle in Ireland before the war. The Locomotive Magazine (LM) kept readers informed of locomotive developments and other periodicals like the Engineer and Engineering were also technical in content. There were in addition the in-house publications of railway companies and the organs of the railway trade unions. RG and RN were weekly, RM & LM monthly, publications. By 1916 the Railway Times (RT) and Herepath’s Journal had ceased publication.



Since the beginning of the Great War the railway press had given much coverage to the railways’ part in the war effort, troop trains, works war output, and railway workers who had joined the colours. In May 1916, RN published statistics of those who had joined and from these the following Irish figures have been abstracted:-

GS&WR: 689, 16 commissions (c), 19 killed (k), 32 wounded (w), 4 missing (m), 6 taken prisoner (p), one decorated.

GNR(I): 516, 9 k.

MGWR: 190, 5 c.

B&CDR: 89, 1 c, 2 k, 1 w.

CVR: 11, 1 m.

CB&SCR: 22.

CB&P: 9.

D&SER: 97, 2 c, 5 k, 5 w.

SL&NCR: 9, 3 c, 1 k.

WCR: 13, 1k, 1w.

Total enlisted: 1,636, 37 already killed, 46 wounded. The Irish figure is just 1.5% of over 110,000 enlisted railway workers in these islands, of whom 4,000 had already been killed. 10% of GNR(I) staff had enlisted.

The periodicals told how railway managers in Britain and Ireland made their workshops available for the manufacture of war materials. ‘In Ireland the railways have not been behind in “doing their bit” of war work. At Inchicore the well-equipped works of the Great Southern and Western Railway...under the direction of Mr. Watson assisted by many volunteers have done much good munitions work for the Government...the weekly output is now 3,000 fuse bodies...The Midland Great Western Railway was asked “to place a part of the Company’s works at their disposal for the manufacture of certain war materials...” (RM, April 1916).

The GS&WR turned out an ambulance train and ‘As soon as this had been completed an order was given...for 90 general purpose transport wagons and these had been delivered’ (ibid).

In the same issue, the RM reported that the GNR(I) had ‘at the request of the War Department fitted up and equipped an ambulance train, composed of nine bogie vehicles for the conveyance of wounded was our duty to do all that we could to facilitate the authorities in this crisis’. They also produced an armoured train but this is not mentioned in the railway press.

Sir William Goulding chairman of the GS&WR told the Railway Magazine: ‘During the past half told year they carried, in 172 special trains, 60,000 men, 10,000 horses, 200 trucks of baggage, and 1,100 trucks of guns etc. Although they had received no guarantee of subsidies, as the English Companies had had when taken over by the Government...everything possible was done by their company to assist and co-operate with the military authorities regardless of all other considerations’ (RM, April 1916).



And it would seem that ‘everything possible’ would be done. Although the railway press was silent on the matter at the time, Inchicore works hastily manufactured five armoured car bodies mounted on motor lorries provided by Messrs. Guinness to patrol the streets of Dublin during the Rising.

One year later the Locomotive Magazine published Goulding’s description of these vehicles given to the shareholders’ meeting. Having described their modus operandi, he told the proprietors: ‘These cars materially minimised the casualties and reflects great credit on the ingenuity of those responsible for the work.’ (LM, 26 April 1917). This begs the question – who was responsible? Perhaps they were Mr. Watson’s volunteers already mentioned?

In operation, the vehicles resembled the legendary wooden horse of Troy. They were filled with some 12-15 soldiers and driven to the scenes of action and used to storm houses where volunteer snipers were ensconced (ibid).

The Irish Independent of 10 May 1916 said that it took eight hours to build each car. This same paper on 3 October saw them as the precursor of tank warfare on the western front ‘from the day when a handful of soldiers, snugly installed inside a boiler on wheels, pushed the rebels from some of the worst corners of the Dublin slums’. General Maxwell described them as ‘roughly armoured with boiler plates’. During and after the Rising, they were also used to transport money to the banks and to the post offices, so that the Old Age Pension and Separation payments (allowances paid to wives/mothers of enlisted men) could be made.

The “Home-made Armoured Train for Enniscorthy” reported on by RG on Friday 5 May 1916 (and copied from the Daily Mail) is now regarded as a piece of creative journalism. The existence of this train may be little more than romantic fiction (see: Journal Vol. 5, No. 26, Spring 1960, p277)



Readers of the railway press before the Rising were led, by the pens of correspondents, to believe that all Ireland was at peace.

At the present time Irish railways are in a different position from other lines in the kingdom, inasmuch as they are not under Government control. Ireland has made great strides towards prosperity and although emigration has not ceased altogether, it has decreased considerably, and there is no doubt that the general body of people are far more satisfied with their present conditions.

But The Railway Clerk (RC), journal of the Railway Clerks’ Association, painted a different picture: ‘The suggestion that the country is prosperous is no palliative for station masters, clerks and porters. In that prosperity they have no share’ (RC, July 1916). Under ‘The Rising in Ireland – The Causes and the Remedies’, we read: ‘We are far from assuming that the recent troubles have been solely the outcome of the desire of the majority of the Irish people for Republican or National Independence. Any student of the labour movement could have suspected that a crisis was near at hand’ (ibid, May 1916).

Just two days before the Rising, the RN of 22 April told its readers:- ‘the prosperity of Irish railways depends on the agricultural industry and the absence of political troubles, and if the latter can be avoided the future is very promising.

The context was railway investments which had remained stable since 1913. Dividends paid in 1915 were: GNR(I) 5.5%, GS&WR 5%, MGWR 2%. The railway press appraised as follows, ‘The Great Northern of Ireland are justly regarded as one of the most reliable of dividend earners...the Great Southern and Western did very well during the last year, the gross receipts totalling £1.8 million or half a million more than in 13...the Midland Great Western pay quite a small dividend, but at the present price the return is almost 7 per cent.’ (RN, 22 April 1916)

Early in 1914 and before the outbreak of the Great War itself, the effect of political unrest on railway investments was signalled by the Railway Times in respect of the Ulster Volunteers. ‘The Ulster question has occupied so prominent a position in the daily newspapers, and has been dressed up in such sensational form, that perhaps is not surprising that it has become a predominant influence in the Stock Exchange, and that it has in particular affected high class Home securities and Home rails’ (RT, 21 March 1914). In its issue of the following week (28 March) under “Politics, the Army and Railway Strikes”, the prospects of rebellion, strikes or civil war and the possible use of the army to suppress such actions was mooted.

In a post-mortem just a week after the Rising, the RG of 5 May 1916 had this to say: ‘The stock markets have suffered from the disturbed feelings created by the Irish rebellion, the recruiting muddle, and the unfortunate surrender of Kut, all three events causing buyers to hold their hands for the time being...but the Irish situation is re-established it is probable there may be a recovery in business’.



Railway weekly circulars had already been compiled and printed before the Rising broke out. From manuscript notes in a volume of GS&WR circulars preserved in the Society’s library, we get a first-hand account of the railway events of Monday, 24 April 1916. Two clerks on duty in the Traffic Managers Office at Kingsbridge recorded as follows:- ‘Monday 24 April, date of rising. 12 noon Hurley and self on duty when order came from military authorities to provide trains. Curragh siding to Kingsbridge 4 troop trains conveying 2,000 troops. Order received from military at 1.00pm. Empty trains left 1.10pm 1.40pm 1.55pm 2.10pm. No trains left Kingsbridge after 12.20pm. 9.45 only train that came to Kingsbridge after 10.53am...’

The RG of 28 April recalled what the Marquis of Landsdowne told the House of Lords on Wednesday 26 April about the Dublin outbreak: ‘The Railway Stations and the Sinn Feiners – the rebels made a half-hearted attack on Dublin Castle which was not pressed through. They occupied St. Stephen’s Green and held up troops on their way from the barracks...The City Hall, Post Office, the Four Courts, Westland Row Station and...Broadstone Station were occupied by the Sinn Feiners, and telegraphic communication was at first completely interrupted’.

From the Post Office Electrical Engineers Journal for July 1916, we learn that communications were quickly restored. ‘Simultaneously with the Rising in Dublin the lines had been cut down at a large number of places...a light engine with improvised protection was used in searching for faults on important wires where firing was proceeding...a few men on special trains travelled towards Dublin picking up and repairing broken wires...block and electric train staff instruments, telephone and Telegraph apparatus in signal boxes were battered and destroyed’. A temporary telegraph instrument room was set up in the GNR(I) drawing room (sic) at Amiens Street, and as the railway telegraph office remained in operation, a military telegraph line was obtained to London. (ibid.)  The telegraph office at Kingsbridge was also under military control.

Difficulties in communication with England were recounted to the House of Commons by Sir Edward Carson on 27 April. ‘There are very few people who have not near and dear relatives on the very scene of the action. This is a matter which has caused many of us very grave anxiety, and at the same time we can get no news from Ireland-practically no news...’ (RN, 29 April).

Cross channel boat services were suspended and questions were raised in the Lords and Commons on Wednesday 26 April. Having reported on these, the RN said ‘The Irish Mail train left Euston on Thursday (27th) at 8.45pm for Holyhead to meet the 2.15am mail boat, and on Friday the Irish mail from Dublin reached Euston at 6.10am. Large numbers of passengers also came through... the only ports open for cross-channel traffic for the time being were Dublin, Kingstown, Belfast and Greenore, and passengers must have military passes’. (RN, 29 April). From the same issue we learn ‘During the past week train services have been gradually restored, but the police examine prospective passengers at the stations’.

No account of the disruption of the Dublin Trams appeared in the railway press, but we know that by 2.00pm on Easter Monday, all tram services had ceased and some vehicles were seized, burnt or destroyed. The Dublin & Lucan tram located to the west of the city and removed from the scenes of action continued to operate.

The railway press did not at any stage give an account of the casualties in the Rising in which British soldiers, policemen, volunteers and civilians alike (including children) were killed. Casualties included two GNR(I) management staff who were wounded and William Moore, Limerick district auditor of the GS&WR ‘accidentally shot during the Sinn Fein Rebellion’. He was at a friend’s house in Fairview, Dublin, when killed by a stray sniper’s bullet. The GS&WR staff records tell of a Capt. A E Warmington, office assistant at Maryborough since 1913, who had “enlisted during the emergency” (sic) and was “Killed during the Sinn Fein rebellion April 1916".



The railway press did, however, outline the extent of the damage and destruction caused to property and compensation arrangements.

Arising out of the recent Sinn Fein rebellion in Ireland and the huge destruction of property, which is estimated at between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000, the Government has appointed Sir William Goulding, Bart., DL, to be chairman of the Tribunal which will deal with claims.’ Having briefly outlined his career, the RN went on to say: ‘Very few men are better fitted for the position...owing to his long practical experience, and the success of the great enterprise of which he is head.’ (RN, 17 June 1916).

But claimants were faced with a legal conundrum as the Irish Law Times for 13 May pointed out. ‘All damage done by the rebels in the recent revolt is clearly an indictable malicious injury on which a claim can be founded. But where the damage has been done by the troops who put down the revolt, then no offence is committed, and, presumably, no compensation is payable’.

The GS&WR claimed £3,000 arising out of ‘damages for injury to the company’s line of rails between Abbeyleix and Maryborough on the morning of April 24’ where a locomotive and carriage were damaged. However the Chief Secretary for Ireland was ‘unable to hold out much hope that compensation can be provided from public funds’. (RG, 2 June 1916). Claims for loss of revenue during the Rising were made by the railways against the Government and the railway press recorded how these dragged on through 1917 and 1918, bedevilled by technicalities.



Other pertinent matters occupied the pages of the railway press in the latter half of 1916. The Whit bank holiday was postponed until 8 August in Ireland and England due to the exigencies of the war. (RN, 10 June). In August, the Irish Trades Unions held their annual congress in Sligo. But ‘The decision to hold the Congress was received with some dubiety because of doubts as to whether the atmosphere of calm reason – in so far as such can ever be attained in Ireland – could be expected in view of the catastrophe of the recent insurrection.’(RC, October 1916). Notwithstanding that some intending delegates had been killed and others were in prison because of the rebellion, topical resolutions on railway nationalisation, the war bonus grievance, and the dismissals on the D&SER were passed (ibid). The July issue had advocated that ‘The Government should no longer withhold from the railway workers of Ireland a war allowance which is given to all cross-channel railway employees whose annual income does not exceed £200.

In its December issue, this same publication told us about the low wages of lady railway clerks stating that ‘...(she) cannot embellish herself on 10/- or 12/- per week ...and forced to live on a wage far less than it takes to support an inmate in a workhouse’.

After the Rising, the time difference between Britain and Ireland was considered inconvenient for telegraphic communication, and the Time (Ireland) Act, 1916 provided that Irish time would be the same as British time, from 2.00am Dublin Mean Time on Sunday 1 October, 1916. The RM for October stated: ‘...the clocks in the Emerald Isle will on Sunday, October 1st be put forward 35 minutes so that Irish time and Greenwich Time will be the same. It is estimated that the change has necessitated 2,000 alterations in the October railway time-tables.’ Some 215 alterations are recorded against the GS&WR Working Timetable for October 1916 alone. The Irish Times of 30 September foresaw ‘a small increase in revenue to the railway is a fact that trains from the provinces which used to reach Dublin in comfortable time for dinner will now run at an hour which means a virtual compulsion to dine on the train’.

On 3 December, the RN reported on the Government prohibition of excursion traffic in Ireland. The GAA had sent a deputation to Westminster in connection with special trains for the All Ireland Football Final to be held on 17 December, but the answer was unfavourable. When the match took place, the pitch was frozen over, Wexford beat Mayo, and the poor attendance (3,000) was put down to the lack of excursion trains following the rising.

GS&WR staff threatened to strike over war bonuses and the impending Government control from January 1917. On 14 December, a deputation of engine drivers met with Sir William Goulding and other officers at Kingsbridge. Goulding told the men: ‘I cannot believe that you as Irishmen are really in earnest in your notice that you would cause a strike at the present moment, when by doing so, you might inflict injury on your fellow countrymen at the front fighting for the existence of the nation by partially holding up of the military and munitions traffic, and also causing very severe loss to the traders throughout Ireland’ (RN, 23 December 1916).

Some readers may find this quite an extraordinary statement and exhortation. Were not the volunteers of 1916 also “fighting for the existence of the nation”? Goulding’s concept of the ‘nation’ apparently differed from that of the volunteers which included some of his own staff. An internal GS&WR memo of 9 May gives the names of three including John (Seán) Heuston , who absented themselves from duty and joined the volunteers. Others were arrested, suspended or dismissed as the RC for July noted:- ‘At the early stages of the outbreak...railway companies acted hastily in suspending men who held strong views on Irish Politics before the war, but had nothing whatsoever to do with the is not surprising that men engaged in transit should fall into the hands of the military who were making wholesale arrests on suspicion’. And again ‘It is a great hardship on railway be dismissed because they believe that Ireland should have her liberty and independence’. From an internal GS&WR memo, some six month after the Rising, we learn of 29 workers from Inchicore works who had been imprisoned and had requested reinstatement.

It was to be almost forty years before Seán Heuston’s part in the Rising was recalled by the railway press. In 1953, on the occasion of a staff commemoration at the Heuston monument (erected 1943) in the Peoples’ Gardens, Phoenix Park, the CIÉ in-house magazine outlined his input through the medium of the Irish language and indicated that railway workers fought on both sides in the Rising:-

‘...Do stríoc Seán an foirgneamh* don Lieut. Wilson, fear a bhí ina chomhchléireach leis í Staisiún Droichead an Rí agus a bhí anois mar oifigeach in arm Rí Shasana...’ (The Link, 8 May 1953)

(Seán surrendered the building[2] to Lieut. Wilson, a former fellow-clerical officer in Kingsbridge, who was now an officer in the British army...)



Among the issues immediately facing the railways after the Rising, apart from the restoration of services and repair of damage, was the payment of wages for periods of enforced absence, and the re-instatement of those who had joined the volunteers. Initially the GS&WR ordered, but later relented, that “no wages be paid to men who were not at work during any period of the insurrection”. But they declined to re-employ three firemen, ‘their places having been filled up’. The MGWR directors resolved that those who desired re-employment give a satisfactory explanation for their absence plus a statement from the military authorities. The D&SER paid its drivers, firemen and cleaners half-pay during stoppage. The RC contended that ‘the recent rebellion added to the work and worries of staff. During Easter Week Station Masters had to remain on duty at night as well as day...recognition ought to take some tangible form, and the companies...(should) relieve the burdens which press so heavily on their servants at the present time.’ (RC, July 1916).

Bonuses were paid to railway staff for exceptional efforts during the Rising. One or two pounds were typical payments. The GNR(I) had to replace some 4,000 yards of staff uniform cloth held by the Dublin Clothing Company and destroyed when its premises at Usher’s Quay burned down during the Rising.

One knock-on effect of the Rising was signalled by the LM for August 1916 when publishing a photograph and description of the first of the 400 class locomotives built at Inchicore. Describing it as: ‘an express engine of dimensions greatly exceeding those of any yet placed on an Irish railway...the design of Mr. EA Watson...’ – it went on to say ‘ had been arranged to complete this engine much earlier. The construction...was...delayed owing to the partial dislocation of the shops due to munitions work, the difficulty in getting materials across the Irish Channel, and finally by the deplorable rebellion, which interrupted all work in Dublin for several weeks’.

With 1916 and the war behind them, public opinion began to change, and Ireland and its railways faced an uncertain future. There followed the War of Independence, the Black and Tans, the Irish Free State, and its ensuing Civil War, all accompanied by damage to railway property. Some of what was in store was outlined by the RG on March 18 1918. Under “Threat to destroy Irish railway bridges” we read: ‘Major Newman asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether he was aware that a party of 28 men were recently discovered at a house in Dublin receiving instruction on the method of blowing up railway bridges...and that in defence it was stated that as soldiers of the Irish Republic the accused were entitled to train themselves in the use of arms, and that they intended to throw the invader out of their country’.

Reflecting on the Irish situation at the end of 1920 the Railway Service Journal (formerly The Railway Clerk) had this to say under “Irish National Situation”: ‘Unless the present Irish political situation changes for the better, it is feared that the coming Christmas will be a sad one...we sincerely hope that the coming season of peace and goodwill will inspire the parties to the present terrible conflict with a spirit of reasonableness and conciliation, which will eventually result in a satisfactory settlement of this thorny question on a basis acceptable to both democracies’. For some of those party to one of the alluded-to democracies, the result was to be civil war!



The railway periodicals examined were edited and published in England and could be expected to be pro-establishment and the British status quo in Ireland. So unencumbered to a great extent by Irish politics, Home Rule and freedom aspirations, they could afford to be economical about events of the Rising. Railway management was war supportive and the periodicals reflected this while being more concerned about the effects of the Rising on the railway stock markets. With much rhetoric, trade union publications championed the workers’ cause and outlined the consequences of the Rising for Irish railway workers.

In terms of quantity, the railway press coverage of the Rising was small by comparison with its other news. The RM gave five column inches “Railways and the Irish Rebellion” on p445 of its July issue. ‘Irish Mails and the rebellion’ occupied five inches in the RN of 29 April followed by four on ‘The Irish Rebellion and Railway Property’ on 6 May. RG gave just 2.5 inches - “Rebel attacks on Irish railways” on 5 May plus four on the Enniscorthy armoured train. The Locomotive Magazine gave 4.5 inches to “Armoured Cars in the Irish Rebellion” in April 1917.

 The figure of Sir William Goulding, chairman of the GS&WR, champion and upholder of the establishment and status quo, stands out in the railway press coverage for 1916. He is complimented and indeed compliments himself on his company’s war effort and its co-operation with the authorities in the rebellion. He is appointed chairman of the compensation tribunal. He exhorts the striking train drivers and he is praised for “the success of the great enterprise of which he is head”.

 As mentioned, the executed volunteer leader Seán Heuston, clerk in the GS&WR Traffic Manager’s office, is accorded no mention in the contemporary railway press. But both he and Goulding are remembered to this day by the Irish railways. The latter’s portrait, by war artist Sir William Orpen, hangs in the CIÉ boardroom, while in 1966 Kingsbridge was renamed Heuston station. (See: Journal 40, June 1966 p298).

It will be observed that in common with contemporary publications, the railway press, when printing the nomenclature “Sinn Féin” or “Sinn Féiners”, (in translation “we ourselves”/ “ourselves alone”) invariably omitted the síne fada (long accent) on the ‘e’ of “Féin”. Although the Rising came during a Gaelic cultural revival, it seems that neither editors nor correspondents nor typesetters had any knowledge of or interest in the Irish language.

Were it not for the railways, the 1916 Rising might well have been prolonged, albeit with more casualties, disruption of services, and destruction of property. British troops would certainly have arrived in Dublin, even if they had had to march from the Curragh or Belfast. For the time being at least, both the Rising and the aspirations of its leaders had gone the way of previous rebellions in Irish history, when there were no railways to look to. And it may be surmised that the railway press in 1916 published what it wanted its readers to read and think. It is unlikely that many Sinn Féiners were among its readership.


Sources (additional to those cited in the text):

Balfour, G, The Armoured Train, London, 1981

Barry, Michael B: Courage Boys, We are Winning, an Illustrated History of the 1916 Rising, Dublin, 2015.

Dublin Newspapers, 1916.

Ferguson, Stephen, GPO Staff in 1916, Cork, 2012.

Gibney and Collins, Sean Heuston 16 lives, Dublin, 2013

GS&WR: General Manager’s File No. 2659

Irish Times, Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, Dublin, 1917

Ó Broin, Inchicore Kilmainham and District, Dublin, 1999.

Rigney, Peter: The Great Southern and Western Railway and the 1916 rising, Irish Railway News No. 34.

-----. Railway workers fought and died on both sides during the Rising, Liberty, Vol. 15. No. 2, March 2016.

The Times History and Encyclopaedia of the War: Vol. 8, Part 102, London, August,1916.

Various: Railway Board and Committee Minutes, 1916.

(Based on a lecture given to the society by the writer in December 2015. Research assistance was provided by Greg Ryan, Oliver Doyle, Tom Wall, Richard McLaughlin and Tom Moriarty)

[1] Founded as the “Stephenson Society” in 1909, the SLS took its present name in 1911.

[2] The Mendicity Institution in Usher’s Island which was under his command during the Rising

Copyright © 2017 by Irish Railway Record Society Ltd.
Revised: January 18, 2017 .