The coming of the railway line from Dublin to Galway was one of the most significant events in the history of our city in the 19th century. It opened up the city and its environs in a commercial and in a tourist sense, making Galway accessible to the rest of the world. It was a major engineering achievement, regarded as the first indication of Galway’s future greatness both as a mercantile and manufacturing city.
The plan originally was to have the terminus at Renmore but a number of citizens, including Father Daly, convinced the authorities to build a bridge across Lough Athalia and extend the line into the heart of Galway.
A local newspaper of May 1851 reported on the forthcoming opening of the new line as follows... “Forthill has at last been cut through, and wagons are running across Lough Athalia Bridge with building stuff for the space beyond. The terminus will soon be ready to receive the iron roof which is landed on our wharf, and every portion of the work is in such a state of forwardness that we may certainly calculate on the opening of the entire line against the 1st of August. This is glorious news for Galway”.
Some weeks later, the Galway Vindicator stated: “On Monday evening at 6 o’clock, the first passenger train arrived at our terminus direct from Dublin having made the journey from Athlone to Galway in two hours, an average of 30 miles per hour. In noticing completion of the work, we would like to take this opportunity of directing attention to the magnificent cast iron bridge which spans the road at Lough Athalia. This splendid specimen of Irish workmanship was manufactured by Mr Stephens at his foundry on Merchant’s Road and reflects the highest credit upon the enterprise and skill of our respected townsman. The bridge is of 40 feet ten inches in span and 98 feet in width, consisting of 20 girders, 7.5 tons each, and connected by three wrought iron tie bars. It is to be finished with a wrought iron cornice and cast iron pallisading at each end. It is also right to state that it was designed by CW Hemans, engineer in chief of the Midland Great Western Railway”.
The original viaduct had to be a swivel bridge because of Admiralty regulations. The central swivelling span was supplied by Fairbairns of Northumberland. The castings were a remarkable size. A plate on the Lough Athalia side of the bridge says “James Stephens Iron Works, Galway 1851. CW Stephens, engineer”.
The original bridge was replaced by the current one in 1936. It still functions perfectly but the increasing size and height of haulage trucks means that many of them can no longer fit under the bridge, so work will begin in the New Year on lowering the road under the bridge to facilitate these trucks.