The Galway to Clifden Railway

The Galway to Clifden railway was in operation for forty years from 1895 to 1935, it was a single line of standard gauge, 5 feet 3 inches, with a total length of 48 miles 550 feet. The line ran through central Connemara and had seven stations, Moycullen, Ross, Oughterard, Maam Cross, Recess, Ballynahinch and Clifden. It took five years to construct and cost over £9,000 per mile.

Work started on the line in the winter of 1890, during a time of severe hardship in Connemara. A period of distress prevailed throughout the region due to bad weather, crop failure and falling agriculture prices. The people were in need of urgent assistance and the government considered the construction of a railway line was the ideal way of offered large-scale employment over a wide area. Up until this, railways were built by private enterprise and several attempts to construct a railway linking Galway with Clifden had failed due to lack of funds. However, by 1888, the government had decided that, in order to advance the rail network throughout the country it would offer grants for the construction of railways in remote, thinly populated districts that were considered commercially non-viable by the railway companies.

The Galway to Clifden line was constructed by the Midland Great Western Railway Company at a cost of £410,000, with an additional £40,000 going towards rolling stock. A large portion of the cost, £264,000, was granted as a free gift by government, under the Light Railway Act (1889). The company was to build, maintain and operate the line.

There were two engineers and three contractors involved in the construction of the line. The engineers, John Henry Ryan and Professor Edward Townsend, were both graduates of Trinity College Dublin and Townsend was Professor of Civil Engineering at Queen’s College Galway. The contractors were Robert Worthington, Charles Braddock and Travers H. Falkiner.

In order to bring employment quickly to the people, a provisional contract was entered into with Robert Worthington and preparatory works were started in autumn 1890. By January 1891 there were 500 men working along the line, at an average wage of twelve shillings a week. Over 200 of these took up lodgings in Clifden to avail of the work, while others were accommodated in wooden huts along the route. Each hut contained ten beds and a stove, and in some huts there were two men to a bed.

As the work progressed, the engineers became unhappy with the standard of Worthington’s work and he failed in his bid to win the final contract. The contract instead went to Charles Braddock. In April 1891, Braddock had notices in place along the line offering employment to all who would apply; by May he was employing almost a thousand men and boys. However, a year later, Braddock was running up serious debts throughout the county and failing to pay his workforce. There was a strike along the line that was only resolved with the promise of more regular wages. This, however, proved false and when Braddock was eventually declared bankrupt the MGWR Company was forced to take back the works in July 1892.

The contract was then passed to Travers H. Falkiner, who went on to complete the major part of the work. Under Falkiner, at the height of construction, over one thousand men were given regular employment along the line and the number rose to one thousand five hundred on occasion. Skilled men were brought in from the outside but the local workforce carried out the majority of the labouring work. Supply huts were erected in Ballinafad to serve the need of the workforce and shebeen houses were opened along the line. Falkiner, with the support of the local priest, tried to have the shebeens closed down, but failed.

By far the most interesting feature on the line was the viaduct across the Corrib River, the stacks of which can still be seen today. This was made up of three spans, each of 150 feet, with a lifting span of 21 feet, to allow for navigation of the river. There was just one tunnel on the line; this was a ‘cut and cover’ that carried Prospect Hill roadway over the railway. In all there were twenty-eight bridges, thirteen small accommodation bridges (bridges under 12 feet span) and numerous culverts to facilitate the sudden increase of water following heavy rainfall.

The seven stations all had passing places or loops, with up and down platforms, except at Ross and Clifden. Those stations situated close to Galway were faced with limestone taken from local quarries, while others further west were of red brick and roofed with red tiles. There were 18 gatekeeper cottages, situated at level crossings on public road.

The line from Galway to Oughterard was opened on 1 January 1895 and the rest of the line came into operation in July. As had been hoped, the opening of the line assisted the development of agriculture and fisheries in the region and contributed greatly to the economic stability of the area, particularly through its role in helping to establish Connemara as a tourist destination. The route was never profitable and in a bid to improve traffic on the line, the company embarked on a determined marketing campaign, advertising widely and offering packages that included tickets from many destinations in England with accommodation at their hotels at Recess and Clifden. For the home market, during the years 1903 to 1906, there were special tourist trains laid on during the summer months, offering day trips from the east coast to the west.

The world war and local wars brought a decline in tourism in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1924 a merger of railway companies brought the Galway to Clifden Railway into the hands of the Great Southern Railway Company and the line was reported to be in need of a good deal of repair. Traffic had dropped due to competition from private haulage companies and an increase in private car ownership. Despite local protests, the Great Southern Railway Company took the decision to close the line and the last train left Clifden on 27 April 1935.

 

By Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill
image courtesy of Albert Bridge

21 Comments

  1. As a Galway Man and have always been interested in the Clifden Line . I have never seen photographs of the bridges that spanned College Road or the Headford/Dyke Roads.
    As a boy I could walk from Distillery Road, Newcastle right to the edge of the Corrib Viaduct before they extended the Galway University. Now all gone.

    Surely somebody must have taken some pictures of these bridges before they were foolishly dismantled (along with the Corrib Viaduct which should have been turned into a pedestrian bridge from the university campus) Do these photographs exist?
    I could not find any on Google.

    Yours,

    Des Grant.

    • I too am interested in the Connemara railway from Galway and am trying to find old maps that would show its route *within Galway town*. I only know of the Corrib viaduct that shows traces. Do you know where it joined the main line and what streets it crossed before getting to the Corrib?

      • It went off to the north side of the existing station under the two bridges that remain there. Then it set off across where there is now the coach station and Hyne’s Mace, and on towards the Corrib viaduct. It crossed everything in its way, but almost all of the area has been extensively redeveloped since (unlike most of the rest of the city centre), so the route from the station to the Corrib is obliterated entirely.

    • Cathal Fleming says:

      Hi there is a picture or the corrib viaduct in the reception area in the peacock hotel at maams cross

    • There’s a book about to be published giving a comprehensive history of the line. It contains many photos, though most have been published before.

      Manuscript currently with the publisher.

      • Margaret says:

        Would you know the title of this book please? My Grandfather was the railway porter at Recess for @30 years and lived in the Gatekeeper’s Cottage there so this publication is of particular interest to me.

  2. Check for Maurice Semple’s Reflections on Lough Corrib 1974

  3. Paul Hoskins says:

    Galway to Clifden railway should never have closed.
    Should be reopened for local and tourist use. Local people along the line would use it as a great change to driving on a bad main road to Galway with its congestion.
    Days out for locals to Galway with a connection to most areas of Ireland. Weekend breaks away. Visiting families. Travel to work in Galway instead of driving. Students from areas along railway with no transport can travel by train. Irish Government should undo their blinkered vision and put hands in pockets to rebuild this wonderful railway — it would be a great change to see the government do the decent move and support the people of Connemara.
    Do not waste money on a cycle track — that is the wrong direction to go.
    I work on The Welsh Highland Railway,North Wales. If we could reopen this railway,then so can you!

  4. i have a photo of the bridge over Forster street, and there is another one iv seen taken from the bridge over foster street looking down at the funeral of Fr Griffin

  5. steve sellers says:

    one of the connellys married a Hill of the railroad…………john and marry connelly……….i heard from my mother mary connelly, jhons wife was a cousen of deloris costello, the move actress back in the beginning of talky movies……….she was called the queen of the silver screen

  6. J Seagrove says:

    Can someone confirm that the Clifden to Donegal railway carried local oysters destined for London [via Galway, Dun Laoghaire, and Holyhead] – in the period 1890 to 1930. In particular oysters originating in Ballinikill Bay area.

    My research into the Fox family of Essex, England is suggesting that one William Fox of Alston Oysters, Billingsgate traded at this time with the oyster farms of Ballinikill [and possibly in other local areas]. I’m now thinking that the old Clifden to Galway railway might have been involved in this activity so would be grateful for any information, help, guidance or otherwise in this.

    • It could well have carried them, yes, as there were dedicated fish vans on the railway. Some photographs show trains with fish vans attached. Fishery traffic, however, never reached expectations and would remain uneconomic.

      I presume “Clifden to Donegal” is a typo? The line went to Galway, from where connections to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire went.

  7. Bill Casey says:

    Did the Clifden railway come into Galway City and link with the line to Dublin?

  8. Patrick Joseph Mc Hale says:

    A Keane/Kane businessman fell between the train and platform does anyone know of him and year he had accident as my grandmother was married to him and her name was Connolly and she, in turn, married my grandfather pat mc hale from Carraroe and she died in childbirth and he married a Walsh lady, as I do not know relations now i would like some assistance in finding my relations.

  9. There was a man who was killed at Oughterard in circumstances like that, though I don’t recall the name.

    He was crossing the tracks to jump onto the train, as he was late for it. The driver didn’t see him, as he was on the track instead of going over the footbridge. I wonder was that him?

  10. For a brief overview of the history of the Galway to Clifden Railway see my booklet, The Connemara Railway, reviews and purchase details available at

    http://connemaragirlpublications.com/connemara_railway.htm

    Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill

    • Margaret Reynolds says:

      Would you know the title of this book please? My Grandfather was the railway porter at Recess for @30 years and lived in the Gatekeeper’s Cottage there so this publication is of particular interest to me. Also could Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill kindly message me privately as I have some information about the line which isn’t referred to in her excellent book. Thank you

  11. Margaret Reynolds says:

    Would you know the title of this book please? My Grandfather was the railway porter at Recess for @30 years and lived in the Gatekeeper’s Cottage there so this publication is of particular interest to me. Also could Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill kindly message me privately as I have some information about the line which isn’t referred to in her excellent book. Thank you

  12. David Hewson says:

    Please could you tell me if this book has yet been published, its title and where I might obtain a copy? I have been interested in this railway line for over 50 years, since finding a copy of the timetable in a drawer of the sitting room of Peacocke’s Hotel at Maam Cross when staying there during the 1950’s. I always what became of that timetable.

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