The recent news that the Arrow service will not be extended to Athy for a number of years yet was disappointing. The railways have long played an important role in the life of the town and with the increasing number of people commuting to Dublin everyday will continue to do so.
Athy was first linked by rail to the outside world in 1846. The following extract is taken from James Cunneen’s History of Athy Parish -
“Apart from a few minor alterations the present Athy Station was the original one. It was designed by a man named Woods, the Architect of many of the Great Southern and Western Railway stations. The siding at Kilberry was built by a Mr. Hodgson who carried out turf production in the area. This siding was later reconstructed for the Bord na Mona factory. Maganey was one of the original stations, while the Kildangan Halt dates from the early years of this century; both are now closed.
On August 4th, 1846 the line between Kingsbridge and Carlow was opened to the public. The first runs were trial trips and they left Dublin at 9.00am and 5.00pm and Carlow at 9.30am and 5.00pm. The first public train to arrive at Athy station was the Carlow/Dublin morning train due in Athy at 10.08am, the train from Dublin was due at 11.46am. The fares at the time of opening were Single - Dublin to Athy 1st Class 6/6; 2nd Class 5/- and 3rd Class 2/10.
In those early days return fares were not available. There were no dining cars or their equivalent in those trains to Athy - not until the arrival of the diesel trains in more recent years. However, in pre-1914 days, breakfast and luncheon baskets at 3/- each and tea baskets at 1/- each could be bought at Kingsbridge and Waterford stations.
Only two trains each way were run at first, as there were not sufficient carriages for more. The third-class carriages on the Athy line, although plain enough inside, were at least covered; such carriages on other lines had no roof at all and sometimes were open to the elements at the sides and often they had no seats. For quite a number of years the second-class carriages had no seat cushions and in fact were little better than the third-class carriages. It is not surprising then that in 1847 the Chairman of the Company complained that members of the middle classes were travelling third-class instead of second, although the third-class intended only for “the poorer classes”. He even complained that “the upper classes” sometimes travelled third-class! Third-class carriages were not completely dispensed with until May 1956.
The first carriages used on the line to Athy were built by a coach builder named Hutton at Summerhill, Dublin. Later, carriages were obtained from other Dublin builders and from England until such time as the Inchicore Works started to build their own. The engines at the time were relatively small, with no cab for the protection of the crew and no brakes except wooden ones working on the wheels and operated by hand. Indeed, stopping the train was a very “tricky business” which had to be helped by another hand-brake in the Guard’s van. Those engines, like many of our engines today, were named - rejoicing in such colourful names as Antelope, Buffalo, Leopard and Pheasant!
At the beginning the line to Carlow was double-track. At the end of the First World War it was singled from Cherryville Junction to Athy in order to provide rails for the Castlecomer branch. Later it was singled from Athy to Carlow to provide rails for the Athy-Wolfhill line.”
A permanent reminder of the difficulties facing the Great Southern and Western Railway Company in laying tracks to Athy remains to this day in the twin level approach road from the town to the railway bridge. This part of Bothair Bui was extensively built on with cottages on both sides of the road. Apparently those living on the north side of the road resisted the Railway Company’s attempts to raise the level of the roadway in front of their houses so a compromise was reached resulting in the raising of the road level on one side only. Indeed the Town Commissioners were somewhat at sea in relation to the erection of the railway bridge and sought the Duke of Leinster’s opinion as to how they should act with regard to the approach to the railway.
The advice offered is lost in time but on 7th May, 1846 the Commissioners were sufficiently assertive to write to the Railway Company.
At a special meeting of the Athy Town Commissioners held this day pursuant to notice it was unanimously resolved that I should communicate to your Board the decided disapprobation of said Commissioners relative to the approach that is now being made from the railway bridge to the town. The Commissioners now see what is intended to be done and are of opinion that it is the worst plan that could be adopted in as much as it injures the property on the opposite side of the street and entirely disfigures the principal entrance to the town. The Commissioners are aware that they cannot prevent the company from building on their own property, but they will not accept the intended line of road in lieu of the one they had. Trusting that your Board will give this matter due consideration prior to your proceeding further with the works.
I have the honour to be your obedient Servant
Patrick Commins - Chairman.”
The Company’s response is unknown but ultimately the road was constructed on two levels and the Town Commissioners noted with approval on 5th March 1849 that the Railway Company had built “a permanent, useful and ornamental wall adjoining the public road at the Railway Bridge”.