Castleisland Railway Closure 45 Years Ago Today


The old Castleisland Railway water tower on June 12-1982 and on Monday, January 10-2022 with an inset of a front view showing its state of disrepair due to neglect and vandalism. ©Photographs: John Reidy
A seat and a fridge dumped on the path of the old railway line outside the Kerry County Council materials yard at Cahereens West. ©Photograph: John Reidy

Today, Monday, January 10th marks the 45th anniversary of the final closure of the Castleisland to Gortatlea Railway line.

It was just over another decade before the lines and sleepers were lifted and shipped away.

Now there isn’t even a handful of reminders of Castleisland’s busy, glorious market town days and its association with the railway line that fed it in no uncertain terms.

There is the station house of course, but that’s mostly hidden behind a high wall between the car park and the back gardens of the Tralee Road houses.

Back the Tracks

A couple of hundred yards ‘back the tracks’ there is the once proud, now seriously endangered remains of the old water tower languishing in its redundancy.

It has been the subject of vandalism for years and the preservation order placed on it by Kerry County Council is in no way equipped to save it from that type of destructive behaviour and pure ignorance.

Then you have the magnificence of the structure of the bridge beside the tower in its current state of unappreciated craftsmanship of days gone by.

The Mulaghi River

It is still in use of sorts in that it supports the passage over the bridge to the barrier at the other side of the Mulaghi River.

The barrier was erected to cut off the line from the town during the ‘infamous’ ‘Railway Walk’ dispute between local landowners and town-dwellers in the early 1990s.

The area where the bridge and the water tower are situated is on the River Walk section from Herbert Bridge on the Killarney Road around the perimeter fence of the sewage treatment plant and out to the Killarney Road via the Cahereens West estate.

Material Storage Yard

Kerry County Council manages a fenced-off, material storage yard in this area and an open field where the left-overs of road works are stored.

The waste land along the route of the old railway line between the bridge and the rear of the civic offices / library has clearly become a target for indiscriminate dumping.

It is easy to see why it has become a less attractive section to the many walkers who enjoy the river walk along the loop from the top-of-the-town down to Church Street, Barrack Street and on to Killarney Road.

Financiers Balked

Before the Castleisland to Gortatlea line was ever spoken of there was an initial plan to cut Castleisland into the loop of the track between Tralee and Killarney and make it one of the stops with full station facilities.

However, the financiers balked at the additional costs of including Castleisland and they opted for the more direct Tralee to Killarney line.

This caused uproar and, eventually under threat of withholding of rates and rents, the Castleisland based landlords stepped in and decided on the branch line into Castleisland from Gortatlea – as much for their own benefit of course – but it worked for the greater good.

Irish Railway History

A full-gauge line was authorised and a four and a half mile branch line was soon constructed and the first train left Castleisland on September 6th 1875.

The line took its place in Irish railway history as it was the first ‘light’ or narrow gauge railway line in Ireland. A specially designed vehicle which combined both engine and coach was used in the early years.

It was capable of drawing up to 30 cattle trucks for the great fairs which were held in the town.

After the Great Southern and Western Railway Company took over the line in 1879 two more of these special vehicles were added.

Final Closure

The line finally closed on January 10th 1977 and the ‘railway yard’ was converted to a car park in 1994.

It’s in the realm of idle and pointless speculation now but when the history of the ‘Castleisland Railway’ is discussed, one question crops up regularly.It is often asked what the town would be like now if that original plan of including it on the line between Tralee and Killarney was carried through.

It would be different of course – even in the fact that it would have a railway link to two of the county’s major towns and beyond and the benefits that would have brought in the meantime.

Railway Yard Deathly Silent

However, we’ll never know as the railway yard in Castleisland fell deathly silent 45 years ago this week as the last train rolled out of the station after an association of 102 years with the town.

While the main structure of the water tower and the nearby bridge remain relatively intact and they do represent the best reminder of the town’s railway history. It would make a worthy restoration project in the light of the fact that there is, already, a preservation order on the tower.

A bit of attention for the overgrown river walk from Herbert Bridge to Cahereens West wouldn’t go astray either.

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