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The Sad Story of Thomas Moore


The Listowel & Ballybunion was one of the most eccentric companies of the Irish railway system. We perhaps forget that it was more successful than one might have expected, considering the utter failure of Lartigue lines elsewhere and its remoteness from large centres of population. Until 1921 it was covering its day to day expenses, although not paying a dividend to its shareholders on its working capital. The General Manager and Receiver, P McCarthy served from 1890 until his retirement in 1917 and had obviously learnt the art of careful management from the constantly impoverished W&LR with which he had worked before his appointment!

A file (2841 in the GS&WR Secretary's collection in the Society's archives) sheds some light on the L&BR in the period after McCarthy’s retirement. His successor was Thomas C Moore, who was recruited through the active involvement of the GS&WR. Moore, who was born in 1863, had served the GS&WR for 38 years, and had been stationmaster at Killorglin since 1899. On appointment to Listowel, the GS&WR allowed him to continue to make payments into their Superannuation Fund, although his salary was paid by the L&BR, and the appointment was a prestigious one for a stationmaster in a relatively unimportant station, who had otherwise relatively low chances of promotion. The GS&WR graded their stations by importance. Those who became stationmasters in the larger stations (Grades 1 to 3) such as Maryborough or Limerick Junction, usually began their careers as clerks in Dublin or Cork and came from a relatively prosperous and well-educated background, receiving substantially greater salaries befitting the prestige of the railway in the larger towns and cities. Most stationmasters in the smaller GS&WR stations of grades 4 to 7 generally began their railway career as porters and worked their way up, but hit a “glass ceiling”. On this basis the promotion prospects for a man in Moore's position were limited, and he must have jumped at the offer of a post where he was General Manager and Accountant; indeed he was the public face of the L&BR.

Thomas seems to have settled in well in Listowel, and soon was a much liked and highly regarded member of the local community until the Railways Act of 1924 which amalgamated all the Irish railways operating wholly within the Irish Free State, with three exceptions, the Dublin & Blessington, Dublin & Lucan and the Ballybunion. The first two were roadside tramways without connection to the main railway system. The L&BR was not only a unique monorail, but had been badly affected by the Civil War, which had seen widespread damage to its infrastructure, as well as the collapse of the summer tourist traffic, and the end came in October 1924.

Thomas Moore now found himself unexpectedly unemployed, and on 9 November appealed to Sir William Goulding, Chairman of the GS&WR Board, for reinstatement to the GS&WR staff. Unfortunately, they had no vacancies, as the rights given to all staff in the amalgamating companies had preference for jobs, and poor Moore found himself in an invidious position, receiving a pension from the GS&WR of £71.6s.8d per annum, which he would have received had he stayed on in Killorglin. His appeal for a job with his former employers was backed up by a friend of Sir William's, Thomas O’Donnell, a Dublin barrister who lived at the prestigious address of 27 Raglan Road, but to no avail. On 25 March, John Faley, who owned a timber business in Listowel also wrote asking that Moore be appointed as stationmaster in Listowel on the impending retirement of Thomas Sansom, who had been in post since 1925. Faley received a reply from CR Riley, Secretary of the newly formed GSR, which bluntly stated that Moore ‘severed his connection with this Company, save for an arrangement made that on his paying his contribution to the Superannuation Fund, he should be entitled to pension benefits based on his salary at the time of his leaving the Company,and added, ‘Owing to the present amalgamation and absorption schemes, there will be a large number of redundant Officials with the rank of Stationmasters and Inspectors … preference must be given to those actually in the service. Sansom's successor was John Twomey, stationmaster in Buttevant; in defence of the GSR, Twomey was a young man of 40, Moore was 62 and would probably have retired within a couple of years.

A petition in April 1925 from 16 leading citizens of the Listowel area, (including a TD, three solicitors and two bank managers), stating that ‘Of all the principal railway officials in the Free State, he is the only one who is cast adrift, without any fault of his own’, and describing Moore as ‘the one and only wreck which the unification of the Free State railways has produced’, also failed to move the GSR Board which replied regretting that the request cannot be conceded’.

But the matter didn’t rest there. The Marchioness of Headford (who was a force to be reckoned with, having started life as the singer Miss Rosie Boote), writing from her London home at 25 Cavendish Square, brought his case to the attention of Sir Walter Nugent, now Chairman of the GSR, mentioning also the case of Thomas Moore's brother, who was stationmaster at Thurles and , had died leaving his wife in difficult circumstances. Lady Headford's husband was at this time a member of the Free State Senate. As a result of the Headfords’ intervention, Thomas Moore’s pension was raised to £100pa for the rest of his life from 2 July 1926.

Unfortunately, he died on 29 July. A letter from Thomas O’Donnell to the GS&WR secretary, CE Riley, reported that ‘he died in very poor circumstances, and left his wife and two children in debt with nothing to realise. The exclusion of his line from the Amalgamation Scheme and its final shaping finished him’ and asked the GSR to help. On 1 October 1926, his widow, Hannah, was granted £30 a year for three years.

Why was Moore in difficult circumstances? There was no indication of alcohol or gambling, two frequently-found activities associated with destitution in the early 20 century. But by accident, I chanced upon another file in the General Manager's collection, No. 2616, which dealt with land leases at Killorglin station. It seems that not all of Moore transferred to Listowel! Since September 1906 he, with a local man, John Percy Wallace, had been leasing a shed at Killorglin for some business venture. In 1918, the GS&WR discovered that they had leased part of the building to someone else without their permission, and occupants were given orders to leave. Moore promised to never repeat the offence and the GS&WR relented and allowed them to stay on, but they gave up and surrendered the premises in September 1920. The economy was in a very poor state, with the aftermath of a war which had basically bankrupted the United Kingdom, made worse by the War of Independence and the Civil War, and if this was a business Moore was relying on to supplement his old age, he would have been left very exposed indeed. In addition, he and his wife Hannah were not young when their children were born in 1905 and 1907; Hannah was in her early forties and Thomas three years older. Indeed, the increase in salary must have been an added incentive to move from Killorglin.

When the three years were finished, the pension stopped, and the indomitable Thomas O’Donnell wrote again from Raglan Road, but this time the then Secretary replied that the Company were not prepared to continue the pension. We do not know what happened to Hannah Moore and her family from this juncture, but we need to remember that the 1920s were a time when many apparently comfortable, lower middle class families, such as the Moores, were in a precarious financial situation with nothing in reserve for bad times. Widows’ pensions were not generally provided in industrial and commercial life. It was all too easy to fall down the social scale into impoverishment and even destitution. Many such women found themselves facing their old age reliant on the support of their families or, if all else failed, a savagely means-tested widow’s pension. One could only hope that her well-connected friends were able to help out in her plight.


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Revised: May 17, 2018 .