Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Athy Wolfhill Railway Line (1)

Work on the building of the railway line from Athy to Wolfhill colliery started in April 1917.  It was first proposed in June 1912 when the colliery owner, Mr. Parkinson, came before the members of Kildare County Council seeking sanction for the project insofar as it related to the southern part of County Kildare.  At a subsequent meeting of Athy Urban District Council, chaired by James Deegan, Mr. Thomas Reddy Manager of the Gracefield colliery explained that it was intended to run the line beside the road from Wolfhill to Athy.  The mining company he said was prepared to run the trains early in the morning or late at night and so avoid any possible danger to the public.  The company was also willing to drop off passengers outside the town of Athy on market and fair days.  The money to build the railway was to come from the promoters of the scheme.  In return the Urban Council were asked to provide housing accommodation in the town for between 300 and 500 miners.  Both the proposal and the request met with the unanimous approval of the Council members with John Duncan J.P. proposing acceptance, seconded by Thomas Plewman J.P. who claimed that 95% of the people of Athy favoured the project.

The Kildare Observer in a subsequent editorial praised the Urban District Council stating “the time has come for the making of a steady and determined endeavour towards our industrial regeneration.”  The editor expressed the hope “that this new enterprise will bring to Athy and the surrounding country all the advantages of an extensive industrial development.”

The meeting of Kildare County Council saw legal representatives of the colliery owner, the County Council and the Great Southern and Western Railway Company make detailed submissions in connection with the railway project.  The Councillors were informed that the proposed light railway between Athy and the collieries at Gracefield and Modubeagh would extend for 10 miles, 1 furlong and 1.4 chains with 3 miles, 4 furlongs and 6 chains in County Kildare.  It was proposed to have the rail lines laid on a raised track placed on the left hand side of the road going from Athy to Ballylinan, the level of the rails to be 6 inches over the level of the centre of the road.  The county surveyor, Edward Glover, pointed out where work on railways had been commenced but not completed and while not expecting anything of that kind to occur in relation to the Wolfhill line, nevertheless he advised that in the case of abandonment the County Council should seek reinstatement of all roads and public services affected by the work.

The colliery owner, James Parkinson, advised the Council that he had purchased the mining rights of 10,500 acres for £20,000 and hoped in the near future to increase coal productivity each day to 1,000 tonnes in Modubeagh and 500 tonnes in Gracefield.  He pointed out that Modubeagh coalfield had coal supplies for about 60 years and confirmed that the estimated cost of laying the railway line was £70,725.  When asked if he anticipated any difficulty employing labourers when work was started, Mr. Parkinson replied “None whatever, we can easily get Connemara labourers.”

Despite the unanimous support of Kildare County Council and Athy Urban District Council an application had to be submitted to, and approved by, the Lord Lieutenant under the Tramways Acts to allow the construction work to proceed.  By the time war was declared in August 1914 no progress had been made in relation to the Athy Wolfhill railway line.

During the winter of 1916/17 the Chief Secretary travelled from Dublin Castle to Wolfhill to investigate the railway proposal and John O’Connor M.P. made a submission outlining how and why the railway line could be provided as a war measure.  Coal became scarce and very expensive during the war and he claimed that an increased quantity could be secured in Wolfhill and shipped to England if the railway line was put in place.  Mr. O’Connor went so far as the suggest that 1,000 soldiers out of the 4,000 based in the Curragh camp could be employed in building the railway line in three to four weeks.

The Board of Works eventually approved the scheme and J.J. Bergin by then Manager of the Wolfhill colliery, indicated to the local press on the 31s of March 1917 that “fourteen engineers are marking out the course.”  The same newspaper reported “work in connection with the new railway commenced this week when a good deal of local labour was engaged under the engineers attached to the Great Southern and Western Railway Company”.  To discourage farm labourers from applying to work on the railway project where a weekly wage of twenty seven shillings was paid, only men engaged in national service and registered for such work were employed.

To be continued…

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