My thanks to Pat Jameson for sending me a link to a pure gem of local history at the weekend. It’s of an Irish Railway Society special trail which left Tralee and came through our old link at Gortatlea Station and onto Castleisland on Sunday, September 3rd 1967. People may admire cars and boats and planes but we adore trains.
That old Gortatlea to Castleisland train often had me late for school as I awaited to see its arrival into the station from one of the gaps into the fields on the Tralee Road. It ran parallel to the road and about two handy fields away. It was a time of bustling activity in that and all areas of the town. I can still hear the music of the train’s whistle as it neared the station and the sound of brakes and shunting when it got there.
All Hands on Deck
It may be hard for young people now to imagine the place with all that activity. But it really was a case of all hands on deck as the mounds of goods on the train had to be unloaded and distributed to traders throughout the town.
That the line came to a dead-end in Castleisland would prove its undoing in the long run. Even so it had its funny moments. A stranger on an incoming train one evening asked a local and fellow passenger: “Does this train stop in Castleisland,” to which came the reply: “If it doesn’t I hope there’s no-one inside in Donal Cronin’s.”
Donal Cronin’s was another of those wonderful little pubs in the Market House block – and a great Ballymac house.
I have two recurring dreams. One is that Monny Mac’s Market Bar is open again and the other is that the lines are intact on the railway and I’m part of a crowd waiting to welcome the return of the train; the latter will never happen – but I can dream.
With the launch of their 2008 calendar, Denis and John Divane unleashed an avalanche of memories as they dwelt on the history of the Castleisland to Gortatlea Railway.
The inspiration for this drew heavily on an eclectic photographic collection which focused on the town’s lost and long lamented railway line and buildings. Local collector and photographer, Timothy Murphy also put his archive at their disposal at the time.
Many locals will remember the old Parcel Depot on the Killarney Road side of the yard. But how many will recall the Passenger Terminal on the Tralee Road side?
A photograph of the terminal was included in the much sought after edition – copies of which have found their way to many corners of this round globe of ours. There is a brief history of the beginnings of the rail link to the town on the calendar and this outlines the formation of the Castleisland Railway Company on May 13-1872. The line from Gortalea was the first ‘Light Railway’ to be built in Ireland.
The line opened on August 30 1875 and the first train travelled to Tralee at 8.15 on the morning of September 6 of the same year. The historic locomotive No. 90 was built at Inchicore in the early months of 1875 at a cost of £1,584-11s-8d. Both engine and carriage were on one frame and accommodated first and second-class passengers.
Peter Rosney from Kildare
One of the early stationmasters to be appointed in 1886 was Peter Rosney from Kildare. Along with his wife Mary Graham from Dublin, he took up his post here. He died in 1918 and is buried in Caherciveen. Their grandson, Ned Broderick held the position of Halt Keeper from 1916 to 1963 and is still remembered today.
John O’Sullivan – known locally as ‘John CIE’ – was the last stationmaster and he bore the sadness of the announcement of the closure in November 1976 and witnessing the last train out of Castleisland and the closure of the railway in January 1977 after a few months with 101 years in operation.
Passenger trains ceased to run in January 1947, but excursion trains continued up to the early 1960s. These Sunday excursion trains went to both Fenit and Glenbeigh.
In his book, A Popular History of East Kerry, TM Donovan wrote of the arrival of the railway and its impact on the area as a whole:
The First Railway Train
“I saw the telegraph poles being put up in Castleisland in 1871 and the arrival of the first railway train a few years later. Now, the fixing of the electricity poles has set me thinking of times past and I resolved to add a few extra chapters to the ‘Reminiscences’ which I contributed to The Kerryman a few years ago.
As a matter of historical interest I might mention that the first passenger to arrive by train was the late Mr. J K O’Connor, who so ably represented East Kerry in the County Council for many years. He happened to be in Dublin when our neat little engine, that had a first-class compartment attached to the tender, was despatched to Kerry. After the advent of the railway train to Castleisland, the town threw off the swaddling clothes of a village and commenced to grow upwards and outwards rapidly and with great vigour. Take for example the old mill then erected by the late Redmond Roche of Tubbermaing , who, when I was a boy, was the leading businessman in the town, and a great employer of labour. It is now the property of a man who, like Mr. Roche, is full of business energy and commercial enterprise, Mr. W H O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor is at present our greatest employer and he has added many fine buildings to the mill and is now engaged in putting up another huge building of city factory proportions which probably will be ready for Shannon current power as soon as it is available.”
To see the Irish Railway Society film of the train coming into Castleisland in 1967 just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smDDzskkJrk