Tuesday, June 9, 2020
The Railway comes to Athy 
John Lord Solicitor in his letter to the Railway Company on 30th May 1846 wrote:- ‘The Town Commissioners hereby require you to make or construct the high road which runs over the railroad in Athy through Leinster Street ..... in a straight line on or over the high road ..... without any diversion or curve from the original line of the said high road ..... and take notice that if you refuse to comply with the terms of this notice or persist in or attempt to raise, sink, embank, obstruct or stop up or divert so much of the high road as leads through the said town and borough of Athy or alter the levels of the same otherwise than as the said plans and specifications allows such proceedings will be taken against the directors and others concerned in the said railway or branches as counsel may advise.’ The Minute books of the Town Commissioners do not indicate how the matter was resolved but the present twin level approach roads separated by a wall at the top of Leinster Street apparently satisfied the Commissioners who wrote to the Railway Company on 5th March 1849 expressing satisfaction with ‘the permanent useful and ornamental wall’. Several local land owners were handsomely compensated by the Railway Company, including Edward Dillon who received £460 and a Mr. Bradley who was paid £600. Bothair Bui, the area through which the railway line passed, had cottages on both sides of the road and these cottages had to be demolished. Local lore claims that the families whose cottages were removed to accommodate the railway line and the bridge emigrated to America where they named the area they settled as Bothair Bui. The Athy resident, Michael Carey, noted on 18th July 1846: ‘Row between railway people and the townspeople at the Convent’. The reference to ‘the Convent’ was to the Dominican Convent then located at one end of Bothair Bui and would appear to confirm difficulties between the Railway company and the Bothar Bui householders whose cottages would eventually be demolished in May 1849 almost three years after the first train travelled through Athy. Railway stations were built at Clondalkin, Lucan, Hazelhatch, Straffan, Sallins, Newbridge, Kildare, Athy, Maganey and Carlow to plans submitted to the Railway Company Board by MacNeill. The Athy station like all the other stations on the Dublin Carlow line was designed in the Elizabethan style. Denis Cogan, former Kildare County Architect, described Athy’s railway station ‘as a good example of the Elizabethan building style and marks the civic spirit of the Railway Company in giving to Athy a well designed building of quality and presence meeting the Vitruvian commandments for good architecture – firmness, commodity and delight.’ Praise for the Elizabethan style railway stations was not universal as evidenced by the Carlow Sentinel which described them as ‘gloomy looking edifices’ in which ‘the taste partook of barbarity’. The first train journey on the new railway line took place on Monday 3rd August 1846 when the Railway Company directors and guests took two first class carriages on the 56½ mile trip to Carlow. There is no indication that the train party which included amongst others the engineer John MacNeill, William Dargan the contractor and Alfred Haughton of Carlow stopped at Athy. Three years later Alfred Haughton was to begin work on building Ardreigh House, Athy from where I am writing this article. Later that month John MacNeill, who had previously worked with the renowned English engineer, William Telford, was knighted by Queen Victoria. The Dublin Carlow railway line was opened for public traffic on the following day, Tuesday 4th August 1846 to facilitate race goers travelling to the first day of the Carlow races at Ballybar. There were two trains a day each way. From Dublin at 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. and from Carlow at 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. The first train to stop at Athy Railway Station was the 9.30 a.m. train from Carlow which was scheduled to arrive in Athy at 10.08 a.m. The train fares from Dublin in 1846 were six shillings and six pence for first class, five shillings for second class and two shillings ten pence for third class. Early third class carriages on the Dublin Carlow line were roofed unlike similar class carriages on other railway lines where the passengers had no protection from the elements. Third class carriages were finally removed from service in 1956, while first class travel on the current Waterford Dublin line was abolished in more recent years. The original railway line to Carlow was double tracked but in September 1918 was single tracked from Cherryville junction to Athy to provide rails for the railway line between Castlecomer and Kilkenny. The double line from Carlow to Athy had earlier been reduced to a single line and the lifted rail used in the construction of a new branch line which opened on 24th September 1918 to serve Wolfhill colliery. Today rail travel is more popular than ever before with rail users at Athy Station served by a station staff of one where sixty years ago upwards of 44 men were employed.