January 15th, 1885 was a red letter day in the lives of the people of Killorglin, for on that day , over one hundred years ago, the first Great Southern and Western railway train pulled into the newly constructed station building. From a newspaper of the day we read that the local dignitaries were present, together with most of the town’s people and many from the parish to witness their “Iron Horse” and its wagons arrive in style. This steam train, with driver Dalton at the wheel, was cheered as it entered the station; and many of those present liked to boast in later years that they were there on that historic day when the train came puffin’ in.
Down through the years much has been written about the Farranfore-Valentia Railway, but we will refrain from giving a long-winded account of its construction and history. instead, we would like to recall some of the part it played in the social and economic life of our parish and its people.
As already stated, the railway was opened on January 15th, 1885, only as far as Killorglin. Here the company built a Station Master’s House, a goods store. Cattle sidings, water tower, turn table, signal cabin, plus the station building itself complete with waiting rooms, toilets and offices.
The work was commenced in August 1882 by Messrs. Faulkner and Stanford, contractors of London and Dublin, having been contracted by the Great Southern and Western Railway, and was carried on without interruption by them. It was not until the 1940s that the national railway – CIE – was established which absorbed all the private railway groups. The entire length was twelve-and-a-half miles, and it ran through comparatively level country. The difficulties of construction were not considerable apart from delays by bad weather. General Hutchinson, the Board of Trade inspector examined the line and found everything to be in order for opening day.
The station buildings at Farranfore, Molahife, Castlemaine and Milltown were constructed by the eminent Tralee firm Healy Brothers. The station at Killorglin was particularly worthy of note for the substantial character of its structure. The most important feature on the line is the Viaduct (Bridge) over the river Laune close to the town (please visit the information plaque on the Bridge).
The water tower, as its name implies, held clear water. Here the engine’s boilers were filled as it hissed and noised like an angry gander, impatient to be back on its way back to base once more. The layout of the local station buildings was extensive. The turntable, situated where the playground is at present, was necessary as the engine had to be reversed for the return run to Tralee. The biggest revenue earner for the company was that of livestock transported from the local fairs, when anything from seventy to one hundred wagons might be required to move the stock by rail.
Of course, the railway station in Killorglin witnessed the emigration of countless numbers of Killorglin’s people to Britain, America and many other countries. The nearby stone monument and the “Railway Lady” tree sculpture commemorate this sad phase of the town’s history.
A recent poem, lamenting the emigration of a local woman, is shown below.
Mary Joy of Bansha
Alone upon the lonely platform
The woman stood. No! More a girl
Scarcely out of childhood’s golden years.
Alone she stood and full of fears
A battered cardboard suitcase at her feet
A look of sorrow and sad defeat
Upon that face as yet unworn.
Today she leaves the land where she was born
Joining the road emigrants all must walk,
The well-worn trail to Boston or New York
Or Birmingham or London town.
What waits her there she cannot know,
Her hopes are sometimes high, sometimes low.
She’s heard the tales that have filtered home
What is to come she must face alone
As emigrants have always done
And this is often Ireland’s story
And what those lonely emigrants achieved
Has been the country’s fame and glory.
FEXCO – a very successful Killorglin-based financial services company – is headquartered in the former station building
The extension to Renard Point, the most westerly railhead in Europe, was opened on September 20th, 1893. This was a great triumph for the engineers and workers who surmounted all obstacles of terrain: boring through rock and mountain to bore tunnels and spanning the chasm of Gleesk to construct the viaduct – an outstanding engineering feat and still a proud monument to the craft and skill of the men who built it.
Following years of declining economics, the Farranfore to Renard branch line was closed down on January 30th, 1960 – an occasion of great sadness for the people of Killorglin and its environs.
On a happier note, the stretch of the former railway line from Glenbeigh to Renard Point is going to be redeveloped as The South Kerry Greenway – which will provide a welcome boost to the local tourism industry.