Over Slieve Mish By Rail To Dingle

An article by James A Whelan in the Cork Weekly Examiner 1 May 1975

The recent meeting of the London Area of the Irish Railway Record Society had Mr David Rowlands of Iver, Bucks, as its guest speaker and his subject was Kerry's much-loved narrow gauge railway, the Tralee and Dingle (1891-1953).

This was one of the most enthusiastic meetings of the branch for a long time. Amongst those present were Rev Fr Davitt, CM, and at least two of those (Victor Goldberg and John C Gillham) who had taken part in the memorable Light Railway Transport League outing over the line in 1953.

A feature of the meeting was the screening of P B Whitehouse's cine film "Fair Days Only", and amongst illustrations on view were those of J Jarvis, I Peters, W McGrath, R N Clements, W A Camwell, C L Fry, A J Powell and others.

Mr Rowlands told his London audience that one had only to read Joseph O'Connor's account in his spirited book "Hostage to Fortune" on the rigours of the coach journey (in the 1980s) with horse changes at Camp and Annascaul, to realise what a relief to travellers the coming of the Tralee and Dingle Railway was at least initially, O'Connor was the son of the first stationmaster at Dingle.

When Maurice O'Sullivan made his trip from Dingle to Tralee in 1926 as chronicled in his classic "Twenty Years A Growing", he was seeing the line at the peak of his fortunes. To this gauche young man from the Blasket, his first rail trip ought to have been a memorable experience. Yet only the interminably slow progress of the journey seems to have impressed him.

Even when there was no road competition, the railway was a permanent hole-in-the-pocket to the baronial ratepayers, and remained so until the Great Southern amalgamation of 1925.

Huge Subsidies

In 1893. only two years after opening the people of Kerry were so angry at the abysmal service that there was a board of trade inquiry. This revealed a number of malpractices at all levels which were duly pointed out, but could do little to right an inevitable situation, for the line had been built on the cheap with insufficient capital to maintain equipment or to employ reliable staff.

After successively heavy financial losses each year, the County Council took over the line.

In the event, this resulted in merely a reshuffle of personnel and no remedy. So that in 1897, for example, the ratepayers subsidised the Tralee and Dingle to the tune of £7,000 (about a quarter of a million pounds by today’s reckoning) - a fantastic sum for such an impoverished area to find.

"Most of the inclines on the T and D were troublesome and particularly hair-raising in latter years with near-derelict stock on the dew-soaked grassy track, went on Mr Rowlands.

Once the roads were re-metalled and re-surfaced in the late 30s, it was only a matter of time before the passenger service expired. The journey times imposed by the gradients and bends were excessive compared with motor bus or car.

1893 Disaster

Dealing with the gruesome disaster of 1893 Mr Rowlands said that on Whit Monday a special train (Dingle-Tralee) worked by loco no 1 (in poor state) hauling seven wagons of pigs, a carriage with about 38 passengers - mainly pig buyers - and a guard's van with nine or more illegal passengers in it, ran away while descending Glenagalt Bank with insufficient vacuum reserve, trying to keep ahead of the regular passenger train that was following in the same section.

The runaway crashed at the elbow curve on the Curraduff Bridge, struck the parapet and engine and pig wagons plunged into the river 50ft below. Fortunately the passenger coach remained precariously hung on the slope. The three men on the engine (crew and inspector) were killed and some 13 passengers injured. Others were badly shaken and shocked. About 100 pigs were killed. One passenger tersely summed it up accurately enough in the words "It was a bad hill, a bad line, a bad engine and a bad driver". Not until 1908 could the company afford a proper diversion, easing the curve over a new bridge and then only through a windfall of a cash grant.

Descending the bank was an ordeal at any time, even after the diversion and many a train ran through the crossing gates at Driscoll's Cottage (Skylough), before the keeper could open them. In the later years, a red flag above the rear lamp on outgoing trains denoted that they would return the same day. Statutory stops were laid down at Glenagalt Bridge platform, and Camp, to ascertain that there was sufficient vacuum maintained, and for pinning down wagon brakes.

These are just a few of the highlights from Mr Rowlands' fascinating talk.

With many thanks to Martin Curran for providing a copy of the page from the Cork Weekly Examiner