Saturday, August 7, 2010

Athenry Railway Station 1851 -1860 by Ronan Killeen (Revised 2014)

The Athenry railway station has been an important junction of  19th and 20th century history linking between Sligo and Limerick. It was also an important part for industry as the sugar beet factories had required one million sacks for pulp and another million for sugar. The government could induce the sugar companies to give orders for the sacks to the Athenry Western Sack & Bag factory. It was apart of the Claremorris to Limerick line which closed on the 8 April 1976.

The Midland Great Western Railway 
The Midland Great Western Railway Act of 1845 authorised the company to raise £1 million to build a line from Dublin to Mullingar and Longford. In a moment of inspiration, the company bought the Royal Canal and built its railway alongside it.[1]
The Midland Great Western Railway got parliament approval to extend its tracks from Mullingar to Galway to Athlone, and by August 1850 over a thousand men were at work on the line to Athlone.[2]
In 1849 the Midland Great Western Railway, argued that the railway construction could be used to help relieve the distress of the Great Famine, obtained a government loan of half a million pounds to assist in the building of the Galway line. The company appointed William Dargan as the contractor for the whole route from Mullingar to Galway, and in September 1850 the company reported 9000 men were engaged on the works.[3]
The line was completed when the great bridge over the Shannon at Athlone was finished in July 1851, and trains began running between Dublin and Galway in August 1851, five months ahed of schedule.[4]

William Dargan
William Dargan, who was born in Carlow town on the 28 February 1799, is an important key player when it comes to the Irish railways. He was a great engineer in the 19th century of railway, canal and harbour construction, as well as many other philanthropic projects throughout Ireland. Even when he was alive he had a statue of himself unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant (A British monarch’s official representative)  in 1864 in honour of his work. Dargan was a modest man who even turned down the opportunity of Queen Victoria to make him a baronet but he politely declined the honour.[5]
Dargan began his work in April 1833 when his men began ‘To cut down the cliffs at salthill’. As was his practise, he made haste to get work going at a number of places along the line, but not without initial difficulties with landowners and labourers.[6]
Dargan was also a generous man towards his workers according to Brian Mac Aonghusa’s article on him: ‘Thanks to Dargan’s determination to continue to finance the building of the railways throughout the Famine period and its aftermath, many an Irish family survived to bless the great William Dargan fondly known in the west of Ireland as An Fear Traenach [The Train Man?]. It is recorded that when recruiting workers for his schemes in those terrible years, Dargan would pay those selected a full week’s wages in advance and tell them he did not except  any work until they had got some nourishment and their strength back.[7]
In 1866 Dargan fell of a horse and was severely injured which soon deteriorated his health. On the 7 February 1867 the great engineer of the 19th century died. His funeral took place at 9 a.m. on Monday 11th 1867. There was a cortege of 700 railwaymen.[8]

Athenry Railway Station
On the 1 August 1851 the Athenry railway station opened under the MGWR.[9] According to Griffith’s Valuation (a 19th century land valuation) the station master was Michael Tierney who was tenant to his landlord Timothy Kinneen.[10]
A new company, the Athenry and Ennis Junction railway [A & EJR], was incorporated to continue the route north to make a junction at Athenry with the MGWR Galway to Dublin line. Incorporated in 1860, it did not open its thirty-six-mile long line until 1869, once again with the help from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. The A & EJR was also worked by the Waterford and Limerick line into which it was eventually absorbed.[11]
A line had been opened to Tuam by the Athenry and Tuam railway in 1860. This was worked initially by the MGWR but later by the Waterford Limerick line, which used it as a springboard for further expansion to the North.[12]

[1] Tom Ferris, Gleam of the Lines: An Illustrated History of Irish Railways, (Gill & McMillian, 2011) P42
[1]Ibid P43
[1] Ibid p66-67
[1] Ibid P67
[1] Ibid
[1] Ibid
[1] James Scannell, The Funeral of William Dargan, Vol.46, No.1., Spring 1993
[1] Griffith’s Valuation p5
[1] Tom Ferris  p73

[1] Ibid p73

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