The challenge of Crusheen Bridge

Christmas Miscellany 2010

Not everything was wasted during the Celtic Tiger years. Galway has benefited greatly from the motorway to Dublin, as well as the Gort by-pass, which gives motorists a clear run to Limerick on the impressive M18. No one will be sorry to see the end of the Crusheen right-angled turn under an impossible railway bridge. Artics needed the whole road to make the turn, causing delays and gasps of incredulity at the narrowness and the danger of it all.

Just imagine what it must have been like for cyclists! In 1985 the travel writer Eric Newby, and his wife Wanda cycled round Ireland (a country he was very fond of ) and wrote an enjoyable book: Round Ireland in Low Gear (Collins, 1987 ). Here is an extract of their adventures at Crusheen, and again we can all thank our lucky stars, that the treacherous bend exists no more.....

From Round Ireland in Low Gear – Eric Newby

In the teeth of the gale, we set off on our bikes for the farm down the N18 in the direction of Ennis, as we had been told to do. It was not marked on the map, but no one I asked could read one anyway. 'It's only half a mile,' said someone, a bloody know-all if ever there was one. 'Sure, and you can't miss it, you make a roight after the railway bridge. There's a great soign.' And more in the same vein, which in Ireland usually means that you will never find what you are looking for and you yourself will probably never be seen again.

In London and Paris, the Elephant and Castle and the Place de la Concorde on a bicycle are for me the equivalent of St Lawrence's red hot griddle. In Rome the one-way sections of the Lungotevere are exactly as I imagine they would be for an early Christian mounted on a bicycle and taking part in a chariot race with charioteers, all of whom have received instructions to squash him flat. I have also been scared stiff in New York, pedalling flat-out on Seventh and St Nicholas' Avenue, Harlem, where everyone else is doing 50 m.p.h. with the windows wound up to escape being mugged. But nowhere have I been anywhere like as frightened as I was that night of my birthday on the four hundred yards or so of the N18 (it may have been shorter but it seemed much longer ) leading down from Crusheen to the bridge.

Looming high speed trucks

'I don't like this,' Wanda said as we pedalled off in line ahead, echoing my own thoughts on the subject with uncanny fidelity. 'I'm frightened, really frightened.' And she was right to be. This particular section of the N18 was a single carriageway; it was unilluminated, either due to a power failure or because someone had forgotten to switch on the street lights, or because there weren't any to switch on; and big container trucks, a lot of them with trailers that doubled their length, were hurtling down it at between 60 and 70 mph in both directions, with about fifty feet between them. Cars didn't constitute a problem: There were so few of them and their drivers were probably as scared as we were – if they weren't they needed their heads examined.[...]

All that we could see of the road ahead was illuminated by what was overtaking us.

When whatever it was actually did pass us I had the eerie impression of something huge and black looming up on my offside, rather as if a contractor was moving a section of the Berlin Wall to Ennis by road. This took place to the accompaniment of a terrible roaring sound and a blast of air, more like a shock wave really, the sort of thing one might expect to occur when one's neighbourhood munitions dump goes up.[...]


The bridge spanned the road downhill from the village at one of those sharp bends that were the pride and joy of the more perverse Victorian and Edwardian railway bridge builders, a bend which continued to curve away to the left for a considerable distance on the other side of the bridge before straightening out again. This meant that anyone or anything, in this case our two selves and our bikes, would be invisible to any following traffic until it was literally on top of us.

It was at this moment, as we emerged from beneath the arch that I heard Wanda cry out – her actual words were, 'They've killed us, the bastards!' – and the next thing I remember was being literally lifted off the road by what seemed like a giant hand and deposited, lying on my side but still on my bicycle, in something cold and nasty, which turned out to be a mud-filled expanse that had been churned up by vehicles such as this one taking the corner so fine that they had completely destroyed the hard shoulder. The same thing had happened to Wanda. By screwing my head round I could see the light from her bicycle headlamp, but I could see and hear nothing else because of the pandemonium on the road and I had a terrible feeling of panic, afraid that she might be either dead or badly injured.

'Are you alright?' I shouted and heard her shout back 'Yes' and something else extremely rude, and knew that she was. Like me, she was still on the bicycle, lying on her left side in the ditch, half-buried in mud, but miraculously alive and uninjured. If there had been any trees on the roadside for us to be hurled against we would have been goners.

The question was, how long could we continue to stay where we were and still remain alive? The trucks and trailers were still coming, their drivers changing down before the bridge on the downhill stretch, then screaming round the corner under it, hugging it close and blinding us with their headlights.

compiled by aoife lyons

and Ronnie o’Gorman


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