A NEW book, The North Kerry Line, telling the story of the Limerick to Tralee railway and its branches to Foynes and Fenit, will have a double launch , the first in Listowel this Sunday with Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan and the second, with Eamon O’Cuív TD in Newcastle West library next Tuesday.
It is a fascinating and multi-faceted story which dips into far more than the building of the railway line and offers up delightful cameos and interesting insights into Irish social history for the reader.
In 1871, for example, four years after the line to Newcastle West was opened, the Sisters of Mercy were granted a first class rail pass at third class fares from Limerick with permission for breaks of journey at either Adare or Rathkeale. But this concession was to last for only one month. Again, as early as 1870, the Earl of Dunraven, a board member of and significant shareholder in the Limerick and Foynes Railway, had volunteered Adare Manor and grounds as a tourist attraction to boost traffic on the line.
These initial excursions were successful and up to a thousand people travelled. However, “one party conducted themselves so badly, trespassing on his demesne, that further trips were cancelled. The earl complained to the [railway] company, but they said they were not accountable for the behaviour of their patrons!”
The North Kerry Line runs to more than 270 pages and is the product of half a lifetime of dedicated research by Dr Alan O’Rourke, a lecturer in public health at the University of Sheffield but whose interest in Irish railways was sparked by visits to relatives in Galway, Roscommon and Offaly.
The book opens with a very valuable look at the state of the region at the termination of the famine and at the sudden and continuing depopulation of even the cities. It also gives a seamless narrative of the various attempts at the restoration of the economy and tells how Ireland, and especiallly the south-west, had a genuine world outlook at a time when it might otherwise have had reason to abandon all hope. It also explains how the Shannon Estuary was regarded as the engine of this recovery but.
Dr O’Rourke’s book gives an exhaustive account of the fact that elements of the line were built by four separate railway companies and manages to unravel the often bewildering relationships between and within each.
But the opening of the North Kerry Line, did confer one immediate benefit: speed. Travel from Limerick to Tralee was generally by water to Tarbert and overland thereafter.
But when the railway opened, it took just three hours and 45 minutes to get from Limerick to Tralee and, because of the gradient of Barnagh bank, slightly less to come back. Newcastle West was an hour and 45 minutes from Limerick. Fares were by no means cheap. To Limerick from Newcastle West, first class, cost five shillings. That was fully a week’s wages for a porter or clerk on the selfsame railway. Third class was half of that—still beyond the purse of the common man.
The railway did, in fact, regenerate the economy and major livestock fairs were held in all the principal towns along the route.
The book is published by the Great Southern Trail group, which has spearheaded the transformation of the Limerick section of the line into a walking and cycling greenway.
The launch of the book has also prompted a further project. Maria Leahy, a student of oral history at UL, is commencing a compilation of recordings of the lives and recollections of the railway families and of those who lived along the line.