This photograph of the Galway-Clifden railway bridge over the river was taken from the west side, looking towards Bohermore. It was built in 1894 and consisted of three spans of 150 feet with a 21 feet span in the centre. This centre one was a lifting one on the bascule principle to allow for navigation of boats and steamers from the sea and canal to the lake.
The pillars which carried the bridge were each of wrought iron cylinders which were riveted on a staging over the position they were to occupy when lowered. It was very difficult laying the foundations for the pillars owing to the presence of large boulders on the river bed which moved, thus causing the canting of the piers. The builders had a lot of difficulty in bringing them to a level bearing all round. The cylinders were then faced in stone. It took fine engineering to put them in place properly.
The bridge was protected by home and distant signals and was electrically locked from the Galway Signal Cabin but it also had a cabin of its own with five levers. This cabin was at the Newcastle end, close to where the photographer stood. By an ingenious arrangement, the bar which locked the opening span of the bridge, once it had been withdrawn and the bascule had been lifted, even the smallest distance, could not be shot back again until the bridge had been fully closed.
The bridge, knWown locally as ‘The White Bridge’, was a beautiful elegant structure, finely constructed, and had wonderful views of the river on either side. There was a bend in the line on the Bohermore side and the local children used to wait at the end of the bridge for the train to appear at the bend, then run like hell along the bridge and roll down the sides at the near end as the poor unfortunate driver drove past. It was a useful spot for laying halfpennies on the line in the hope of converting them into pennies. In the pre-Blackrock days, it was used by many for diving practice. Some would dive or jump from the level of the track, others from the top of the metal sides, and though there was plenty of water there, many a bloodied nose surfaced.
The Clifden Railway line was 48 miles and 550 yards long and had the same gauge as the Midland & Western Railway. The track went through some spectacular landscapes in Conamara. The line closed in 1935, and three years later this bridge was sold as scrap to the Hammond Lane Foundry for £10. As they were dismantling it, two of the workmen were very lucky not to be killed when part of it collapsed.
The title on our photograph is interesting, “The new ‘way to the west’, Balfour’s Bridge over the Corrib at Galway”. The photographer was Robert Welch who took it c1895 and we show it courtesy of the Ulster Museum.