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Achill Branch Communications



his branch was promoted in the early 1890’s in two sections. The Westport – Mallaranny (the spelling varied) portion was built under the auspices of the MGWR and the Board of Works financed the extension to Achill. The contractor, Robert Worthington, constructed both sections of the 26½ mile line, opening to TMallaranny on Wednesday 1 August 1894 and throughout to Achill on Monday 13 May 1895.

In February 1866, a telegraph had been run by the British & Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company from Castlebar to Westport for the MGWR, at the time the railway was opened. In 1873, a wire for the public telegraph service was erected by the Post Office (PO) from Westport to Newport and this was extended to Achill in early 1891. Also in 1873, the existing single-needle telegraph instruments on the main line circuit were substituted by Morse sounders. The Westport instrument was moved from the Parcels Office to the Ladies’ Waiting Room on 27 April 1876 at a cost of £1-9-1. Mallaranny was looped into the Achill circuit in March 1891.

The first contact between the PO and the new railway occurred in 1891, when the contractor’s representative, Mr Douglas Gray, telegraphed the PO on 23 March to have two poles moved near Newport. Mr A Raddin, the PO Engineer replied on 3 April:

“I beg to inform you that the poles were at once removed. An expense of 9/3 has been incurred by the lineman in doing so. Will you kindly inform me how the amount is to be recovered”.

The money was duly forwarded by Mr Gray and Mr Raddin sent it on to his Superintending Engineer, Mr W Louth. The latter’s reply reveals the procedure to be followed in dealing with contractors.

“In future when a work is being carried out by a railway or other company under an Act of Parliament and you are called on by the contractor or engineer to make any alteration to the Department’s wires, let him give you a letter undertaking to pay the cost and then refer it to me for instruction. Of course, where time presses, you should wire me. But in no case receive the money, as that should be done by the Accountant’s Branch. What is the exact title of the Railway in this case? I will have to supply it in getting the amount brought to account”.

Mr Raddin replied on the 10 April with an explanation of the circumstances of the case:

“Your instructions noted and shall have careful attention. In this case, the matter was urgent; the public road was diverted and at the junction with new and old portions of road, two of our poles were thus placed in centre of new road and being so dangerous, I thought it best to act at once in moving them. It will also be seen that I only asked Mr Gray for instructions as to who would pay the cost, the reply I got was the remittance. The title of the railway is Westport – Mulranny Railway”.

The contractor again asked for a pole to be moved in July and this was done at a cost of 6/7½. In sending his estimate for the job to Mr Louth, (after the work was completed), Mr Raddin explained the low cost;

“The Contractor supplied the lineman with labour assistance. The lineman also walked from Westport to Barley Hill. There is therefore no conveyance charge”.

The contractor sought further PO co-operation in moving poles, as Mr R Worthington mentioned in a letter of 16 March 1892 to the PO Secretary:

“On the Westport & Mulraney Railway there are 5 telegraph posts which require to be shifted; one at Barley Hill just beyond Westport, two at a place called Kilbride about a mile and a half on this side of Newport, one at a point where the railway crossed the Achill road a quarter of a mile beyond Newport and another a quarter of a mile further on. Will you be kind enough to have these posts shifted at once. I shall of course pay the cost, on your furnishing me with the bill. If you call at my office at Newport, the posts in question will be pointed out to you”.

The work was done by 24 March, except for one pole for which the contractor’s Travelling Ganger or Inspector, Mr Rice, requested that it not be shifted. The contractor supplied the labour and the only charge (for the lineman’s time and travelling expenses) was £1-12-1. The pole omitted was moved on 13 June, Mr B R Le Fanu of the contractor’s staff undertaking to pay the charge of 12/5½. Further poles were moved in July, at the request of Mr John Fisher, and in December, “as we are now laying our rails and the pole will be in our way”.

On the main line, block working was established in response to the Regulation of Railways Act 1889. This involved running a new wire from Ballyhaunis to Westport on the existing poles and this was accomplished by July 1892. Fitting of the Webb & Thompson ETS instruments in the sections Castlebar – Westport – Westport Quay was completed on 7 January 1893, from which date the annual maintenance charge of £4 per instrument commenced.

On 24 March 1893, Mr G W Green, the MGWR Secretary, wrote to the PO Secretary regarding wires on the branch:

“Westport & Mallaranny Railway. The above railway now in course of construction is expected to be completed about August next. We require the telegraph to be erected in the meantime and I shall be obliged by your sending me an estimate for putting up two wires from Westport to Mallaranny – one for the ETS and the other for speaking instruments – the poles and wires to be uniform with those in use on our existing lines. There will be an intermediate station at Newport”.

Four days later, Mr Green wrote again, asking that the PO supply the speaking instruments (Morse sounders). In his estimate for the work, Mr Raddin specified double stays on every pole and this was queried by Mr Louth. The former replied that “railway lines in this District are double stayed – in exposed bog districts this is most desirable”. Mr Louth did not agree, informing Mr Raddin:

“All railway main lines should have double stays on every pole, but I do not think we should put the Railway Company to such a cost on a light line like this. Only estimate for double staying every third pole and for stays for curves, at present”.

Mr Raddin’s estimate allowed for erecting 360 poles over the 18 miles of new line at a cost of £167-19-4. Laying out the poles along the course of the line needed a special train and providing the engine for this seemed to cause some trouble. Mr Louth requested a special engine from Mr J Tatlow, the MGWR Manager, on 27 June 1893 “as we are now ready to distribute the poles” and the Company replied that “the engine can be placed at your disposal by the Contractor, but it must be paid for”. Mr Louth reminded Mr Tatlow that the cost of the engine would ultimately be charged to his Company and “possibly therefore, you can make better terms with the Contractor than I can”. The MGWR apparently washed their hands of the matter, as Mr Tatlow replied on 8 July “I would rather not interfere in this matter. I should think that you can make as good terms with the Contractor as I could”. Mr C Burge, the PO Assistant Superintending Engineer, tried to negotiate with the contractor, as he reported to Mr Louth on 14 July:

“With a lot of waiting and watching, I caught Mr Fisher at his hotel as he was going away by train. He was not disposed to reduce the figure of £15. Said he would like to charge nothing, but it was not only wages, engine, etc, but dislocation of traffic arrangements, etc. I had to accept and have wired and written Mr Raddin”.

Meanwhile, Mr Raddin protested to Mr Louth on 5 July about the work being delayed:

“We have not yet received any instructions as to special engine for distributing poles on Westport – Mulrany Railway. The poles are lying at Westport (on wagons); the gang is hindered in the work. Please say if we can get the engine soon, otherwise it will be necessary to disband the gang for the present”.

In a further letter to Mr Louth on 11 July, he expressed annoyance at the frustration he was suffering at the hands of the contractor:

“We are still unable to get our poles laid out. We made application to the Contractor’s Engineer who informed us that the contractor Mr Worthington would arrange it with the MGWR Engineer, Mr O’Neill. Mr Worthington lives in Dublin and Mr O’Neill is at present in England. The second Engineer, Mr Prendergast has not received any instructions. We must therefore wait until Mr O’Neill returns. In the meantime, we have been getting on as best we could by taking out poles with our own men on trolley, a slow process, as it is only occasionally we can get a loan of it and then only when the railway milesmen are off work. Our men have either to start early between 3 and 4 AM or after 6 PM. We have got as far as we can go in this way without incurring great loss. If there is still further delay in getting engine, I suppose the gang must in the meantime be paid off”.

Mr Louth replied that he was hourly expecting a reply from the contractor and if a fair bargain could not be made for the use of the engine, arrangements would have to be made for carting by road. Someone – perhaps Mr Raddin – made a marginal note on the letter: “utterly impractical”. However, on 14 July, Mr Louth telegraphed Mr Raddin and confirmed it in a letter of the same date, that all was arranged:

“It has been arranged with Mr Worthington through Mr Fisher, to have the use of an engine to lay out the poles. The engine to be available for your purpose at 4 PM on Saturday July 15th. You to do the work between that time and Sunday evening. It is quite possible the work may not go on with the usual expedition on so new a line. Please report completion. The trucks will, of course, be returned to the depot from which they are taken”.

In the margin of the above letter, opposite to the reference to Sunday work, Mr Raddin wrote: “Never in the course of my career did I do such work on a Sabbath day and never will, I hope. AR”. He also made a marginal note on the reference to the new line: “Line bad enough and in many places yet highly dangerous”. The work was completed on the Saturday, thus sparing Mr Raddin a crisis of conscience. He reported to Mr Louth on 17 July:

“Poles, etc were all distributed on Saturday last. We got contractor’s engine at 4.15 PM and finished the distribution to Mulrany at 8 PM satisfactorily. I also had all empty trucks returned to Westport at 9.40 PM and verbally informed the Stationmaster, Westport, of having done so”.

Mr J W Fisher of the contractor’s staff lost no time in demanding repayment of the cost of the special engine; he wrote to Mr C Burge on the 15 July:

“Kindly remit me cheque £15 in payment for use of our engine in distributing telegraph poles per arrangement”.

Presumably Mr Fisher received payment shortly afterwards. In November 1893, Mr Louth inquired of Mr Raddin regarding the progress of the work and the latter replied on 22 November:

“The work as far as erection of poles and wires is concerned is completed from Westport to Malranny. No apparatus yet fixed; neither train staffs or sounders, owing to huts not being ready to receive them. The Westport and Newport huts are erected, but no battery accommodation is yet provided. At Mulrany nothing was done in the erection of either hut or station when our men left on completing the line to the point where the station is to be erected. In the meantime, the gang is disbanded”.

Mr Tatlow wrote to Mr Louth on 7 July 1894 to say that “Mallaranny station will open for business on Monday 16th inst” and asking to have the ETS and sounder instruments connected up and ready for use by then. However, Mallaranny station was not ready and the local lineman reported on 14 July that the instruments had to be placed in a temporary hut, which was 80 yards from the station and 30 yards from the site of the signal cabin, the foundations of which were not even “cut out”. Signals were exchanged with Newport and the apparatus was “working well”.

In March 1894, Mr Tatlow requested that the sounder apparatus be transferred from the signal cabin to the Stationmaster’s office at Newport and this was done on 29 March.

On 19 October 1894, some months after the line opened to Mallaranny, Mr Tatlow requested that the ETS and sounder be transferred to the Stationmaster’s office there (the signal cabin was still not ready). Mr Raddin visited the station on 27 October and found that no provision had been made for the instruments or batteries in the office, which was very small, only 12 x 10 feet and “is already fitted with the requirements of the office, including desk, etc”. He thought that “we may be able to cram the ETS and sounder in the office”, but the batteries would have to be placed in a new compartment at the signal cabin. This was done shortly afterwards.

The railway was at this time being extended to Achill but the poles and wires for a telegraph circuit were not erected by the PO, as Mr Raddin mentioned in a note to Mr Louth on 25 March 1895:

“The line of two wires has been erected by the telephone company. The poles are fitted with an arm, but not in accordance with PO Regulations; a 24 inch arm is fixed instead of 33 inch. The line is completed thus Mulrany to Achill Sound. On one wire is fixed a single needle instrument at each end”

It is not clear if the “telephone company” mentioned was the National Telephone Company or the contractor for the railway signals. About this time, the MGWR requested the PO to maintain the pole route (the letter is not extant) and Mr Raddin duly reported on the condition of the route on 8 April 1895 and provided an estimate of the cost of putting it into “Post Office order”.

“Line of two wires supported by 170 poles well creosoted and of sufficient length and scantling. The poles, which are mounted with 24 inch arms, unseasoned and unpainted, are on the whole – with a few exceptions – well placed as regards proximity to the rails and altitude for public crossings. They are however, very badly secured, little or no attempt being made to firm them by stones, the soil being nearly altogether bog. The poles are consequently very loose and shaky and will require to be carefully stoned.

Pole roofs are plain galvanised, but of a thinner substance than what are used by the PO. They are fastened with thin wire nails, not galvanised, 2¼ inches long, but of a very inferior quality; the heads very thin and easily detached, many already off leaving the pole roofs insecure. There are in most cases only two nails on each pole roof and for about a mile, the pole roofs are fastened with straps; the workmen having evidently run short of nails. All these pole roofs require to be overhauled and secured with proper nails.

Insulators are Buller’s DSB glazed screw and are of a very superior quality. The wires are however, very badly bound to the insulators, with two laps only and of inferior binding wire. All must be rebound with 60 lb binding wire of good quality”.

The estimate for overhauling the line came to £22-17-9. By August 1895, the MGWR apparently were complaining of delays in the work (the letter is not extant) and Mr Louth replied to Mr W P O’Neill, the MGWR Engineer on the 16th:

“The sole reason for delay in putting [the line] in Post Office order has been to save your Company money and see how far the Contractor could go in remedying defects. I expect to deal with the residue immediately and of course, no charge for maintenance of wire will accrue until the line is put in order to my satisfaction”.

The work was completed by the end of the year and the annual maintenance charge of 60/- for the poles and first wire and 10/- for the second wire commenced on 1 January 1896.

In the meantime, Mr Tatlow had written to the PO on 22 March 1895 asking to have the ETS instruments at Mallaranny and Achill connected up by 1 April. This work was completed on 9 May and the annual maintenance charge commenced on the 13 May. The single needle instruments fitted by the contractor were replaced by Morse sounders at the same time.

On 7 April 1896, Mr Worthington inquired of Mr Louth the date some extra stays were added to the line between Westport and Mallaranny. For some reason, Mr Louth gave a date – 1 January 1896 – for work done on stays on the Mallaranny – Achill section, causing an annoyed Mr Worthington to again request the information he needed, Westport - Mallaranny being heavily underlined in the letter. Mr Louth replied in a firm tone on the 14th:

“I beg to say that I do not feel called upon to furnish any information about the Westport – Mulranny line, except to say that any stays thereon are necessary to its safety. The same remark applies to the present condition of the Mulranny – Achill section”.

Why Mr Worthington needed the date is not clear, but he got no further information from Mr Louth.

In May 1904, Mr O’Neill requested that the sounders at Westport, Newport, Mallaranny and Achill be ceased and replaced by telephones. At Westport, the telephone was fixed in the signal cabin, but in the Stationmaster’s office at the other locations. The four instruments were brought into service on 13 February 1905. The annual maintenance charge of 30/- per instrument also commenced on that date.

About March 1905, Mr O’Neill requested that telephones be fixed on the block wire between Westport and Westport Quay. The existing telephone at Westport, working on the Achill line, was utilised, a switch being fitted to select either the Quay or the Achill circuit as required. The system was brought into service on 18 August 1905, the long delay being caused by having to cater for the possibility of interference with existing Post Office circuits on the same pole route.

In December 1907 a landslip occurred between Westport and Newport, which involved resetting some poles and stays. The damage cannot have been too serious, as it only cost £1-5-0 to rectify.

On 20 November 1912, Mr O’Neill requested that the ETS instruments at Mallaranny be moved from the stationmaster’s office to the signal cabin. This was to facilitate a night mail service on the branch and the work was carried out on 14 February 1913 at an estimated cost of £9.

Mr A W Bretland, the MGWR Chief Engineer, made a similar request on 20 November 1919 regarding the ETS at Achill and this was done on the following 9 March at a cost of £16-5-0.

During the Civil War, the line between Mallaranny and Achill was closed from 3 February 1923 (a Friday). On 11 April 1923, Mr Bretland wrote to the PO Engineer in Chief:

“My Company propose reopening the line at an early date between Mallaranny and Achill. I shall be obliged, therefore, if you would arrange for the ETS instruments, wires, etc, to be put in order at the earliest possible moment and to replace any telephones which may be required. The batteries will also require attention”.

The restoration work cost £25 and block working was reintroduced on 4 May 1923 (also a Friday) in the section.

On 30 May 1923, Mr Bretland requested that the telephone at Mallaranny be moved from the Stationmaster’s office to the signal cabin, as “on account of the Military using the telephone night and day, the Stationmaster and his family can get very little sleep”. This act of kindness cost the Company £2-15-0.

Mr J H Nicholson, the GSR Signalling Engineer, on 25 October 1928, asked to have the ETS instruments at Newport transferred to the Stationmaster’s office. This was not a straightforward job, as the PO Engineer explained in his reply on 28 November:

“I have to inform you that the cost of transferring the ETS instruments at Newport is estimated at £16. If you decide to have the removal effected it will be necessary for you to provide accommodation for the batteries and it is suggested that the existing press in the Stationmaster’s office might be made use of by fitting four doors with locks and one additional shelf. Two brackets will also be required on the wall behind each block instrument to carry the ETS bells”.

Mr Nicholson’s staff made the necessary alterations by 25 February and the PO made the transfer of the instruments on 2 April.

The PO public telegraph circuit between Westport and Achill was transferred from a road route to the railway poles in February 1931. On 8 August in the same year, ETS working was ceased between Westport and the Quay, when the instruments were recovered.

Closure of the branch loomed in 1934 and a Works Order was issued to recover the ETS and telephone circuits. Closure took place with effect from Tuesday 1 January 1935 and in August the Works Order was cancelled, as the branch reopened on Monday 20 April 1936. This was but a temporary reprieve to allow the roads in the locality to be improved and final closure came with effect from Friday 1 October 1937. The ETS and telephone circuits were dismantled by the PO between January and March 1938.


E Shepherd: “The Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland”

Post Office Engineering Branch Works Order records in National Archives

Currency values are £-shillings-pence and shillings/pence.

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 192, published February 2017

Copyright © 2017 by Irish Railway Record Society Ltd.
Revised: August 20, 2017 .