Fifteen years before the Galway-Clifden railway started, the first light-rail track laid in Galway was the tram service to Salthill. For more than 39 years a series of horse-drawn trams ran from the depot in Forster Street, along the east and south sides of Eyre Square, heading west through Shop Street and Dominick Street, over the bridge, and along the Salthill road. Then it was in the countryside with open fields and thatched cottages. The line came to an end at the Eglinton Hotel (now a hostel ), where the horse was switched to the other end of the tram for the return journey. The Eglinton became Europe’s most westerly tram terminus.
In 1877 the Galway and Salthill Tramway Co. was established, supported by many of the leading business men of the day. It was immensely popular with citizens and visitors alike who could climb aboard at only a stone’s-throw from the railway station. But, interestingly, it had an ulterior motive. The tracks were laid deeply in well-constructed limestone setts, more suited to the heavier traffic associated with a light railway. It was hoped that it would eventually be the start of the coastal route to Clifden, which was much talked about at the time.
In its heyday five trams ran on the line, which was a single line throughout. To cope with heavy traffic it had eight passing loops spaced 250 yards (228m ) apart. The overall cost of the entire tramway was £15,990. Apart from one very short, but steep gradient at Kingshill, an extra horse was usually needed to assist the uphill climb, the line was level.
However, all went well until World War I when the company’s best horses were commandeered by the military authorities to accompany the British army to the battle fields of Flanders, leaving the company in a perilous state, and it was gradually wound down.
In the current debate about cars parking along the promenade, inhibiting cyclists having safe access, a light rail system could greatly relieve the congestion there. The Salthill tramway is to be admired for its foresight, but the service is also part of Galway folklore for including among its investors, a Michael Joyce, the father of William Joyce, the eldest of three sons, who became one of the most hated symbols of Nazi propaganda during World War II; but in Galway, when the identity of the voice was known, was regarded with utter amazement.
Joyce, the son of a small farmer near Ballinrobe, emigrated to America, married Gertrude Brooke, and they became American citizens. Their son William was born in Brooklyn in April 1906. The family returned to Ireland, bought a pub in Westport, and came to live at No 2 Ruttledge Terrace, Salthill. Joyce, who obviously made money in the US, invested in the tram company. His son William was educated at the Convent of Mercy and at the Jes, St Ignatius College. He was always grateful for his Jesuit education.
The Joyces were unionists and taught their children fervent imperialism. Joyce acquired the distinctive nasal tone of his voice after having his nose broken in a school fight over politics.
As a teenager, during the War of Independence, he openly associated with the Black and Tans, and was seen sitting in their hated Crossley tenders as they went about their business around the town and county.
Joyce suddenly left the Galway scene, possibly as a result of a threat to his life, and reappeared in London, followed by the rest of his family.
He began to study English and history at Birkbeck College, and graduated BA with first-class honours. He became involved with Oswald Mosley’s national fascists; participated in anti Jewish thuggery, receiving a deep razor slash on his face at one fierce fracas in London’s East End.
Just before the war he married Margaret Cairns White and having somehow secured British passports, they left for Germany.
At a loose end in Berlin he was persuaded to become a radio-announcer with the English language service of Reichsrundfunk from Hamburg. He made his first broadcast on September 6 1939, and clearly delighted in the early years of the war in recounting Nazi victories. His performances were admired by Goebbels, whom Joyce, to his regret, never met. ‘He worked compulsively, drank hard, and dined in restaurants’. In September 1940 he acquired German citizenship.
A gloating delivery
Joyce’s nightly news programme began with: ‘Germany calling Germany calling’ but his nasal voice made it sound like ‘Gairmany calling’. He reported the progress of the German armed forces, and greatly exaggerated its success. Strict censorship limited war information to the British people, so Joyce became compulsory listening. ‘He was very well informed, and often came out with extraordinary local details. Some German planes returning to base, were running low on fuel. Thinking they were still over the sea, offloaded their bombs over fields in west Mayo’. Joyce apologised for the incident, actually named the townlands affected.
On one occasion he caused a sensation in Galway when he said the war was going so well for Germany, that none other than Adolf Hitler ‘would be in the stand at Ballybrit at the next Galway races’.
He was initially a figure of fun, imitated by comedians, but there were sinister undercurrents of terrifying omnipotence, intensified by his sneering and gloating delivery. The Daily Express gave him the sobriquet ‘Lord Haw Haw’.
A former classmate of Joyce at the Jes, was the late Billy Naughton. Billy instantly recognised Joyce’s voice, and word soon spread boosting the Hamburg listenership in Galway greatly. Billy described him as a precocious and boastful boy, who had an untidy appearance. ‘He had a strong and an aggressive voice, and breathed nasally, almost snorting. He was a member of the Holy Angels Sodality, and was known as Willy. He was very pro British, and when the Great War was on he had frequent rows with boys who had Sinn Féin sympathies’.
As the war progressed, and the Allies clearly gained the upper hand, the invasion of Germany was imminent. Joyce’s broadcasts became more defensive, focusing on the Soviet threat, often sounding slurred as if he was drunk.
After an unsuccessful attempt to escape to Sweden, the Joyces hid at Flensburg, near the Danish border. On May 28 1945, he was shot and captured while gathering firewood. He was taken to London, and tried for high treason. Despite his American citizenship, the court held that his illegally acquired British passport incurred duties of allegiance. He was hanged at Wandsworth prison on January 3 1946.
The historian AJP Taylor maintained that Joyce was executed for making a false declaration to obtain a passport, ‘a misdemeanour that normally incurred a £2. fine’.
But the story did not quite end there. In 1976 Joyce’s daughter Heather Landolo, had a vision that her father’s soul was restless, and wished to be reburied in Galway.
Somehow the various permissions were granted; and the body was brought to Galway. After a Latin Mass it was interred in the New Cemetery. There were fears that Joyce would become some kind of Nazi martyr, and a large contingent of British press photographers were there, expecting some flag-waving or shouts of neo-Nazi slogans. In the event, nothing happened. But it was a strange day.
After the tramway closed, a new company, the Galway General Omnibus Co, was registered (August 1919 ) which commenced bus services over the same route. Its initial stock was nine busses, ranging from 20 to 49 seaters. Some years later the company would be absorbed into the Great Southern Railway’s road service; and today’s bus service is in the hands of the GSR’s successor Bus Éireann.The old trams were scrapped, except for two of the ‘bodies’ which were sold as fishing lodges on the shore of Lough Corrib.
Michael Joyce (William’s father ), had a house in Mayo rented to the RIC which was burnt in 1920. He received only partial compensation for his loss. His finances declined, and at the time of his death in 1941, from a heart-attack during the blitz, he was a door-to-door salesman.
NOTES: I am indebted to Jonathan Beaumont’s Rails Through Connemara - The Galway-Clifden Railway, published by The Oakwood Press, on sale €19.50. Also Patrick Maume’s essay on William Joyce, Dictionary of Irish Biography, and The Jes - 150 years of the Jesuits in Galway 1862- 2012.
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