Restoring its rail link is better than a Greenway for Youghal

Once the Midleton to Youghal walking and cycling track opens later this year, it’s a cast-iron certainty that never again will a train run along that route into Youghal, so says John Arnold
Restoring its rail link is better than a Greenway for Youghal

A Cork schoolchildren’s excursion to Youghal in July, 1931. John Arnold’s family used to drive there from Bartlemy in the summer

DURING the summer months, Paddy Geary, who worked here on our farm for 40 years, would milk the cows every second Sunday evening.

Of a normal week, he’d work six days and have Sunday off. The Sunday that Paddy was milking we nearly always headed for the seaside in Youghal. Well, maybe not every Sunday, but certainly all my memories of glorious warm Sunday afternoons before I was ten years of age seemed to be linked with the seaside in East Cork.

Long ago, when my father used take greyhounds down to Youghal track, he’d always go by Aghern, Conna and Tallow, and then on that long road that criss-crossed the Cork Waterford border.

After he died, for the decade that we still kept the racing dogs, that was our route - mainly, I suppose, because in Aghern we picked up Jack Leahy, who trained many of our best dogs.

Going to the seaside in the Volkswagen Beetle in the mid-’60s, we often went through Killeagh - we might call to see our cousin Maureen Cotter in Ballyvergin on the way to the strand.

Like Mam, Maureen was a widow running a farm - they both had a great devotion to Lourdes. In actual fact, ‘twas Maureen’s late husband and my father that were the cousins, but Mam and Maureen were like two peas in a pod.

Back then, with five small children in tow, going to Youghal was a big adventure but Mam organised everything and we really loved it.

Do you know, I have no real memory of bringing sandwiches - but I suppose we did. As a little boy, I was amazed at the idea of buying boiling water to make the tea! Many houses along by Claycastle had a little sign up, and for two shillings or half a crown, Mam would hand in the teapot with the tea leaves in situ - no tea-bags in those far off days!

With our big green Foxford rug spread out on the sand, we had our picnic with piping hot tea and milk in a bottle brought from home. It might have been at Youghal I first tasted chips - what a novelty they were 60 years ago and more!

Oft times we reached the sandy beach by dinner time - maybe around one o’clock - and if we were lucky we might see a massive load of day- trippers coming on the train from Cork. It was an amazing sight to see literally hundreds and hundreds make the weekly Sunday pilgrimage from the city for a day on the beach.

It’s just over 60 years since the last regular passenger train from Cork to Youghal ran. On Saturday, February 2, 1963, the Cork-Youghal-Cork passenger train travelled for the last time.

The Examiner reported on Monday morning, February 4, 1963: “Fog signal detonators crackled on the tracks as the last regular passenger train made its round Cork-Youghal-Cork trip on Saturday night.

“There was no formal close down, nor farewell, but crowds gathered at the intermediate stations, particularly at Killeagh, to cheer the four carriage diesel train, its driver Mr J. Noel Maher and its guard Mr George Kiely.

“Leaving Cork at 6.15pm, the train had close on 100 passengers, but fewer than a third of them travelled as far as Youghal. About a dozen re-entered the station at Cork at 8.45pm. No passenger made a sentimental last round trip.”

Since May, 1860, the Youghal to Cork line had been a vital part of travel infrastructure in East Cork -linking the Southern Capitol to the shimmering sand and sea.

That was the era when the ‘Train Map’ of Ireland was decimated. On that same weekend, the Banteer to Newmarket line, the Limerick to Tralee line, and the Kilfree to Ballaghadereen line, near Sligo, all closed.

I just barely remember the Mallow to Fermoy to Dungarvan line which closed in 1967. It is stunning to think that a century ago places like Glanworth, Mogeely, Bantry, Mitchelstown, Fermoy, Tallow, Ballyhooley, Killeagh and Ballyduff Upper were all served by trains, ‘twas the same all over the country.

Of course, as lines began losing money and passenger numbers fell, closure decisions were made. The Sunday Excursions from Cork to Youghal kept going until the early 1980s and then the line went silent.

Unlike the Fermoy line that was whipped up straight away, the Midleton to Youghal ‘track’ was left intact, thus ensuring the possibility of reopening, and in fairness the ‘new’ Cork to Carrigtwohill to Midleton revival has been a brilliant success.

Personally, I have reservations about the proliferation of ‘Greenways’ all over the country. Now, don’t get me wrong, walking and cycling are absolutely brilliant and open-air tourism is huge all over the world and certainly can be the same in Ireland.

What saddens me though is the absolute certainty now unfolding that once the Midleton to Youghal walking and cycling track opens later this year, it’s a cast-iron certainty that never again will a train run along that route into Youghal.

Why, oh why, couldn’t provision have been made for a fully fenced walking route and a mono rail or light rail line to run side by side? No good crying over spilt milk now, I suppose, so let’s hope that this Greenway will boost the economy of Youghal’s tourism industry.

To make this happen, I presume there will be a constant free shuttle bus going every few minutes from the Old Railway Station into the historic heart of Youghal. If not, the danger is that walkers and cyclists will use the route, then avail of parking and catering facilities close by the old Station and never set foot in the town itself.

The tourism potential of the town is vast - where else can one see houses dating from the 1600s and 1700s still lived in - Walter Raleigh, Richard Boyle, Moby Dick, the Collegiate Church, ancient town walls, the Greyhound Track - Youghal has it all, but the Greenway users must get to see the real town with it’s ‘olde world’ charm.

I always assumed that, as the Greater Cork City continued to grow, a spiral of light rail connections would reappear - to places like Blarney, Fermoy, Carrigaline and Youghal. The experts tell us the future will see fewer and fewer private cars on the road.

Imagine when Cork has close to a million people in its hinterland - imagine having a direct rail connection for that population to golden, sandy, safe beaches - stop dreaming, John, it ain’t going to happen now or ever!

Sixty years ago. as the regular passenger train from Cork to Youghal became a memory, the ‘new’ Youghal Bridge costing £214,600 was opened -closing one door and opening another and all that.

Even if the sand did get into our sandwiches, the tea never tasted as nice as when we bought the boiled water on Claycastle, and of course we spent our pennies and tanners in the slot-machines at Perks.

Ah yes, they were glorious, sunny, summer days, when city people tasted the salty air and the sun seemed to shine forever.

Oh for one of those hours of gladness

Gone alas like our youth too soon.

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