This railway line was built under the auspices of the Congested Districts Board and was of enormous importance to the people of all of Connemara. It was a great feat of engineering from the point of departure westwards from Galway station with the necessary building of bridges and tunnels by Bohermore and across the Corrib itself.
In the age before the internal combustion engine and motorised traffic, it promised very good economics for tourist development and meant that local Connemara produce could find a much wider market.
Clifden fishermen who landed their catch early in the morning could put it on the train, and through the railway system, it could be on sale in London fishmarkets the following morning.
The line was just over forty eight miles long and must have been one of the most spectacular in the country, running initially along part of Lough Corrib, and then through the hugely varied picturesque landscape of Connemara. It wound its way past mountains, rivers, lakes, and bogs. The stations on the route were Moycullen, Ross, Oughterard, Maam Cross, Recess, Ballinahinch, and finally, Clifden.
It was intended that the construction of the line would be relief work. Within a few months of starting, some 500 men were employed. This number peaked at 1,500 in November 1893, but the project was not without its problems.
There were a few changes of management and a strike, but eventually, on January 1 1895, the first part of the line was opened. This involved the stretch from Galway to Oughterard, and the rest of the line began to carry traffic from July 1 the same year.
It was a single line with a broad gauge, run by the Midland and Great Western Railway Company. They put a lot of effort into developing Connemara as a tourist attraction. A train taking two hours from Galway to Clifden was a big improvement on the seven hours taken by the horse drawn coach. The Great Southern Railway Company eventually took over the line but after a number of years they decided it was uneconomic, parts of it were in urgent need of repair, and it was a heavy drain on their resources, so they announced they were going to close the line.
Determined efforts were made to get them to rescind their decision, but sadly on April 27, the last passenger train pulled out of Clifden.
Two days later a special train came into Galway from Clifden bringing the company’s moveable stock, and on the same day a fleet of passenger buses and lorries were placed on the road to serve the area previously served by the railway.
Our photograph today shows engine no. 583 of class J18 arriving at Galway Station from Clifden. It was originally taken by H.C. Casserley. The Clifden train ran in opposite the signal box and had to reverse into the station. This is one of the illustrations in a booklet entitled “Irish Railways in Pictures, No 2, The Midland Great Western Line”. It was published in 1990 by the Irish Railway Record Society, London area.
An Taisce are organizing a coach tour of Kilconnel Abbey and the Battle of Aughrim site on Sunday next, July 13, leaving the bus station at 10am. The leader will be Luke Nolan. You can book by calling Martin Byrnes at 091 794 435.