The coming of the railway in the 19th century created employment for many in the vicinity of Athenry which was then connected to Tuam, Ennis and Limerick. In 2010 the link to Ennis and Limerick re-opened with plans for the Athenry -Tuam link to follow.
While the railway brought prosperity to Athenry town it also had a dark side to it. The following series of anecdotes has been compiled by Ronan Killeen and is the first of a series of historical commentaries from that era.
In 1860 a lady from the neighbourhood of Athenry was returning by rail from Dublin, and failing to find accommodation for the night at Athenry decided to walk home to Ryehill four miles from the town. After a time she noticed that two men were following behind her and as she was alone she became alarmed. Deciding to run along the road as fast as she could she found that she was being pursued by the men. She hid in a potato furrow which belonged to the plantations of General Hall, Knockbrack with her two pursuers passing several times within a few feet of her. Hearing the noise of a vehicle passing the road she screamed at the top of her voice. Fortunately, the driver was the rector of Athenry, Rev. Mark Perrin, who stopped and helped the woman into his car. The Irish Times reported that; 'This is not the only occurrence of the like nature which has lately taken place in the neighbourhood, owing entirely to the number of bad and lawless characters employed, or hanging about the works of our Tuam and Athenry Railway'.
8 February 1861
A trader named Mr. Reilly sued the Midland Great Western Railway (now the Galway-Dublin route) for false imprisonment. Reilly was a trader on Abbey street. On 13 August 1860 he took the Galway excursion train, which stopped at Athenry and other places. According to the excursion bill of this era which 'allowed the person on to return on any train'. Reilly was to return on the Galway train and was then to return to Dublin on 14 August and according to class up to 27 August.
On the 11th of August the plaintiff decided to return to Dublin and got into one of the company’s carriages. The train was fairly crammed and he was obliged to kneel on the floor as he could not get a seat. After the train stopped at Athenry he stepped out in order to find a better seat. He then thought that he lost his ticket until one of the porters told him that the ticket was in the band of his hat. However the train had just pulled off. The stationmaster then told Reilly that he had broken his journey and should give up his ticket for the 'sum of one shilling'.
The plaintiff was then obliged to go along with one of the M.G.W.R. porters before a Magistrate where the case was dismissed. Following the Magistrate’s inquiry he was brought back to the stationmaster where the his name and address was taken and he was informed that the solicitor of the railway company would deal with him. Reilly did not make it to Dublin that night so he was forced to stay in Athenry overnight. Before he returned he was informed that 'The defence which was but partially gone into when the court rose, was that the party, by getting out, broke the journey and violated the bye-laws of the company'.
21 October 1873
An express train collided with an ordinary passenger train at Ballyglunin station. Although there were no deaths a number of people were injured.
19 December 1873
Thomas Burke, who was a navvy on repairing the Athenry & Tuam line of the railway was killed near Ballyglunin station. 'Returning on an empty lorry to Tuam after completing the day’s work, a sudden jolt having occurred he was thrown forward on the rails under the wheels and when taken up was found quite dead'.
28 January 1888
The M. P. Mr. Cox on his Dublin-Ennis journey was greeted with enthusiasm at Athenry station with the Athenry brass band playing national airs. Suddenly the police (R.I.C.) started attacking the people. Thanks to the efforts of Canon Thomas and his curate the Rev. F. Colgan most of the people were 'induced to retire'. Many people had injuries. One woman had been thrown down onto the railway platform and had been badly trampled on. Mr. Cox was arrested and the empty carriages were filled by the brass band serenading the prisoner all the way to the next station!
29 March 1904
A goods clerk employed in the company of the Midland Great Western Railway, Seamus O'Grady was charged at the Southern Police Court by Detective Officers Lonegran and McKeogh for embezzlement £2 0s and 5d (two pounds no shillings and five pence), the property of the company.
The prosecutor was Mr. Gerald Byrnes. The then station master of Athenry, Mr. William Smith, stated in court that the prisoner was employed under him as a goods clerk, and his business was to take in goods and receive the money. He should enter the amount of money given into the cash book and hand it up to the witness at night. On Saturday night at 9 o'clock he came to the witness’s office, with the cashbook and handed in the sum £57 3s as the money received.
On looking through the book the witness found that £2 0s and 3d was not accounted for by the prisoner. The prisoner had said he would make it up later, but he did not do so. The witness had not seen him since he was not arrested that morning.
Bryne stated that another clerk had been arrested at the same time, and although the charges were separate he asked that the other prisoner now be brought forward. Mr. John Doble was brought forward and charged with having embezzled £5 1d the property of the Great Southern and Western Railway company. Mr. Smith the Athenry station master deposed that the duty of the accused was to receive small parcels and the money for the carriage. He was to enter the amounts in the cash book and there was a sum of 5s 1d for which he could not account.
Detetective Officer McKeogh stated that on the previous morning at Kingstown he arrested O'Grady as he was about to embark on the mail boat. He said his name was not O'Grady but that it was John Walsh of Castlebar, and that he was of no business. On being searched there was £16 8s 0 1/2 found on the accused.
Detective Lonegran stated that he arrested Doble on the same occasion. He gave the name of Stephen O'Grady, but subsequently he stated his real name was Doble. A sum of £11 7s 0 1/2 was found in his possession.' The Irish Times report concludes: 'The prisoners were remanded until Wednesday, when an application would be made to send them to the Athenry Petty Sessions.'
30 November 1907
Five miles from Athenry a shooting occurred at Craughwell Railway Station. A Mrs. Ryan had just got off on her return journey from Athenry when two shots were fired in her direction from behind a thicket close to the station. Two policemen were very near Mrs. Ryan at the time. A possible reason for the shooting was that Mrs. Ryan had bought land from which tenants had recently been evicted.