Remembering when Muskerry train puffed through Cork city

Your memories of the old railway lines of Cork city and county continue to thrill Throwback Thursday readers, says JO KERRIGAN
Remembering when Muskerry train puffed through Cork city

The Muskerry train passing UCC in 1934 - the year the railway closed. Picture supplied by Christy Cahill

WELL, last week’s discussion in Throwback Thursday of the great old West Cork railway certainly brought a quick and strong response from readers everywhere.

It seems we were right in saying that, even with the passage of 63 years, memories are vivid and emotions still run high where the old lines are concerned.

One and all, you decridd the short-sightedness of closing these priceless networks which served such a wide region of Cork city and county, and would be of such inestimable value in today’s world, when we are being urged to leave the car at home and take public transport.

One of the first points raised by correspondents was that we were in error in listing only five railway stations in the city at one time - whereas there actually were six!

David Burkley was one of the first to come forward.

“You are wrong with your five stations in Cork. You have forgotten the Crosshaven line from Albert Road. The last of the station is at present being demolished, leaving only the station house on Albert Street.”

Well, clearly we were wrong in linking that one with the Albert Quay terminus. One on the quay, one on the road. OK, we will know for next time!

“My first job,” explains David, “was in Metal Products, which had its nut and bolt factory in what was the old Passage West, later Crosshaven railway station on Albert Road.

“The original purpose of the railway was to ferry some 800 workers from the city to the dockyards in Passage, and ferry goods from ships docked in Passage to the city, as the river channel up to city was too shallow to allow ships to go up all the way. This was before the channel was dredged and the ships could go further.”

Before the line was extended to Carrigaline and Crosshaven, he continues, the only way from Glenbrook to Monkstown was up over the hill.

“For the railway, they cut away the rock face and put a road over the railway. There was a similar arrangement at Ferry Point on the Lower Glanmire Road where the rock face went right down to the river. That is why the Old Youghal road is up on the hills behind.

“The Dublin station was out at Kilbarry in Blackpool before the tunnel was built.”

Mr Burkley had the pleasure of being on the very last passenger train to Youghal in 1980, well after the line was closed.

“The Pfizer sports and social club chartered a train for the day. I remember the overhanging trees scraped along the carriages. It was a great day. There are more details on the trains in the Passage West museum.”

David also recalls being amused when, a few years ago, a city councillor called for the reopening of the Ballincollig leg of the Macroom railway. “Did he not know that the South Ring Road is built on it?” asks David.

Sometimes, it is hard to see the past underneath all the concrete and Tarmac of today’s city and county, but the signs are still there to be read by those with eyes that look beyond the obvious.

The Link Road out to the airport roundabout, with its towering walls on either side, was once the West Cork railway line, and the garage at the start of that road still has much of the old architecture round at the back.

“At the risk of distressing some keen walkers, though, we should point out that the very popular footpath from Carrigaline into Crosshaven does not follow the line of the original railway. That came in much higher up, and if you look to the right at the sweeping curve before you reach the village, you will see the tall brick piers of the viaduct which brought it and its crowds of holidaymakers to the station.

The old Muskerry Railway bridge being demolished near Western Road in May, 1958
The old Muskerry Railway bridge being demolished near Western Road in May, 1958

Dermot O’Connor wrote to say it was a pleasure to read about the old days.

“As a young boy, I had to go to Scannell & Finnegans at the bottom of High Street for paint and other things, and your article brought back memories of a different time/era,” he said.

“I remember walking on the Bandon railway, or ‘the line’ as it was known to all of my pals in Turners Cross. We used to watch the steam trains going out to bring back the rails and the sleepers when it was being taken up. What a shame...”

But, Dermot points out, we didn’t mention the Cork to Crosshaven narrow gauge line (on Albert Road) “and its stations in Blackrock, Rochestown, Passage, Glenbrook, Monkstown, Raffeen, Carrigaline and Crosshaven. (This also served Currabinny and Whitegate.)

“All of these services, along with those in your article, and also the tram service that covered the city, were removed by our city fathers. And they now want us to change to electric vehicles, public transport and bicycles!

“I wonder what would our beautiful city be like if we had had people with vision and an interest in all those means of transport, rather than removing them forever?”

Too true, Dermot, sadly too true.

Donal Donovan also reminded us that that there was also a station at Albert Street, being the terminus for the Cork Blackrock and Passage narrow gauge railway. However, he says, it was highly unlikely all six stations were operated simultaneously.

“One of the biggest mistakes of my life,” he says regretfully, “was that I never availed of an opportunity to travel on the Bandon Railway, and I had plenty of opportunities to do so as the family home was in Blackrock where I lived for more than 30 years.

“For example, in the summer of 1955, there were two trains daily in each direction between Cork and Bantry - 8.25am and 3pm from Bantry and 12.15pm and 6pm from Cork, obviously to facilitate Bantry people.

“I could therefore have availed of the 12.15pm from Cork and returned by the 3pm, but never gave it a thought.”

Well, none of us realised that history was passing out of our sight back in carefree childhood days, did we, Donal?

He does, however, have one memory of the abandoned line.

The aftermath of a Muskerry light railway collision with a steam roller on September 6, 1927
The aftermath of a Muskerry light railway collision with a steam roller on September 6, 1927

“Around 1990, a charity walk was organised through the Gogginshill tunnel (906 yards long) between Waterfall and Ballinhassig, exiting at the latter station. It was brilliantly managed - tractors accompanied the walkers with a view to providing light.

“What really impressed me was the brickwork, which was still in perfect condition - a tribute to the contractors.”

Kieran Wyse laments the passing of the old rail networks, and says the city tram system, which closed in the 1930s, should also be remembered. Indeed, given the discussions of a Luas-type transport system for Cork - didn’t we have it way back then?

Kieran also talks about the Cork, Blackrock and Passage line, and highlights a couple of interesting facts.

“First, it started life on the Irish Standard Gauge of 5’3”, but was converted to the 3’ gauge before the start of the 20th century (Crosshaven was reached in 1904).

“Secondly, the communities served on this line were mainly commuter, and to this day that is still the case, with large increases in population in the intervening years. But they are only served by omnibus.

“Of course, this line was not connected to the rest of the rail network. Any chance of that disappeared when the gauge conversion took place. If it hadn’t changed, there might have been a rail service on the western side of Cork Harbour, complementing the now flourishing one on the east side.

“Today, of course, most of the route to Crosshaven is a cycle/pedestrian greenway, much appreciated by those who use it. This system closed fully in September, 1932.”

One of the reasons for changing to the narrow gauge, says Kieran, was cost, and the availability of funding from the then British Government to do so.

On the old Summerhill station, he mentions that it closed when the present Kent (Lower Glanmire Road) was fully opened in 1893, but the track remained in situ until 1926 or 1927.

Christy Cahill sent us a lovely photograph of the old Muskerry train passing the gates of UCC in 1934 (above).

His family owned the very houses that the train is seen passing, although, with the inevitable progress of time and trends, these properties are guesthouses now.

This was another 3’ narrow gauge railway, built principally to exploit tourist traffic to Blarney Castle. The first part of the railway (very much a roadside tramway, and fitted with cowcatchers) opened in 1887 and closed in 1934.

It started from Western Road, very near the former Jury’s Hotel, and crossed the river on piers which might still be there.

One station (or halt, really) was at the end of the Straight Road at Carrigrohane, where there is still a slight inward curve where the platform stood. This could well have been for the convenience of the Big House on the cliff above as well as local residents.

A famous accident took place on this stretch of the road, when the train collided with a steamroller.

An 8.5 mile extension was built north-westerly from St Annes on the Blarney branch to Donoughmore and the site of the station can be seen at a sharp junction, known for some reason as New Tipperary. There is a pub there today.

It would have been a good trek uphill for Donoughmore locals carrying their heavy loads of shopping from the city!

St Anne’s, of course, was the station for the famed old Hydro, developed by Dr Barter in 1843 and in the 20th century run by Dr Quigley. The wealthy seeking cures for complaints, real or fancied, would arrive in Cork by main line train and then take the Cork and Muskerry out to St Anne’s, where, it is assumed, a carriage or later a limousine would take them on up to the Hydro with all its luxuries.

It does remind you how times have changed.

That picture above of Christy Cahill’s is an echo of the days when there were so many large houses in private ownership, now converted to innumerable apartments. And how about the dentists and doctors who had their premises on Wellington Road and Patrick’s Hill? Up to the 1950s, children going to school at St Angela’s or Scoil Mhuire would see the maids out assiduously polishing the brass doorplates every morning before 9am. Who polishes brass doorplates now?

Years ago, a dentist told me that the future of medical practice lay in shopping centres, not in private houses in city centres, and wasn’t he right? It’s the parking, it’s the parking... Wasn’t it easier when we had the trains?

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