West Cork Railway

Model Railway Village, Clonakilty

Model Railway Village, Clonakilty

The year 2006 marked the 45th anniversary of the closure of the Cork, Bandon and South Coast section of C.I.E. and the 30th anniversary of the last trains on the Cork City Railway (It is also the 120th anniversary of the first trains on the Schull and Skibbereen narrow-gauge line). The line ran from Albert Quay in Cork City to Bantry in the West, Baltimore in the South and Kinsale in the East, with many stops along the way. The construction of the railways took place mainly in West Cork between 1851 and 1893. By 1961, all West Cork railway lines were closed. Most lines closed in 1961, with the exception of the Kinsale Junction to Kinsale (closed Sept. 1931) and Ballinnscarthy to Courtmacsherry (closed Jan. 1947). However the Ballinscarthy to Courtmacsherry Line was open to occasional seaside passenger excursions and Beet specials until the official closure in 1961.

The West Cork Railway officially closed on March 31st, 1961. This date marked the end of an era which lasted over a hundred years. However, the closure of the railways left behind some momentous pieces of work; these would include the Viaduct which crosses the Cork-Bandon road, the Ballydehob Viaduct, and the many train stations left across the county. Although there is less evidence to be found of the railway in West Cork, there are still many of the structures remaining, such as the train station in Ballineen.

Click on the map below to see a detailed diagram of the railway.

West Cork Railway

The Journey

Below is an excerpt from ‘The Cork, Bandon & West Cork Railway Vol 1’, describing the journey westbound from Bandon in 1899:

“Our traveller settles down for the next stage of the journey, as the train climbs the embankment and crosses over Shannon St. then around the back of the town and past the now abandoned West Cork Company’s station just beyond the long bridge under St. Patrick’s churchyard. Soon, the train is passing Castlebernard platform, closed for some years to passengers, but still open to goods, as evidenced by the rake of wagons in the siding, serving Lord Bandon’s estate. The main road runs parallel again for the next three miles to Clonakilty Junction. Here a good number alight for the branch train, waiting patiently in the bay platform. Our train now negotiates the crossover to the main line while the Clonakilty line goes straight on parallel to us under the bridge and veers sharply southwards. We cross a high embankment westbound, over what was once a trestle viaduct, continuing close to the Bandon River, and soon reaching Desert. Only one or two get off at this tiny station, and we see the mill siding going off at right angles on the up side. There are nice views along the river valley (which is now on the south side, having crossed it by a metal bridge just beyond Desert) as we speed along to Ballineen and Enniskeane, a new station opened in 1891 to serve the twin villages and sited mid-way between them. Originally there were separate stations, a little over a mile apart. Our traveller is now more relaxed as the train is less crowded, and he can cross to the opposite window as the train leaves to see the sidings and engine shed serving the ballast pit on the down side.

Now the train passes through a pleasant glade of trees for a few miles before passing Manch platform, closed to regular traffic since 1890, but still open for Baile Buidhe race traffic. Turning north-west, past Ballyboy level crossing and over the Bandon River by another girder bridge, the train soon reaches Dunmanway, quite a large station with up and down platforms and a busy goods yard. There is a lot of activity here as many more passengers alight, and a large number of parcels are unloaded. Soon the whistle blows and we are off again over the level crossing past the Railway Hotel, and Atkins Mill with it’s private siding on the up line.”

The Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway Vol. 1
An illustrated history by Colm Creedon

The Stations

There were a number of different railway lines in West Cork. The table below shows the different lines, the stops on those lines, and the date in which they were constructed.

Lines Built Stops
Cork to Bandon 1851 Albert Quay, Waterfall,
Ballinhassig, Crossbarry
(Kinsale Junction), Upton,
Innishannon, Bandon
Kinsale Junction to Kinsale 1863 Crossbarry, Ballymartle,
Farrangalway, Kinsale
Bandon to Dunmanway 1866 Bandon, Clonakilty Junction,
Desert, Enniskeane, Ballineen,
Dunmanway to Skibbereen 1877 Dunmanway, Knockbue,
Drimoleague, Madore,
Drimoleague to Bantry 1881 Aughaville, Durrus Road,
Clonakilty Junction to Clonakilty 1886 Ballinscarthy, Clonakilty
Skibbereen to Schull 1886 Skibbereen, Newcourt,
Hollyhill, Kilcoe,
Ballydehob, Woodlands,
Ballinscarthy to Timoleague 1890 Ballinscarthy, Skeaf,
Timoleague to Courtmacsherry 1891 Timoleague,
Skibbereen to Baltimore 1893 Skibbereen, Creagh,

The Closure

Good Friday, March 31st, 1961, is a date which will be remembered by many in West Cork. It was on that day that the government of the day, despite the greatest civil protest since the foundation of the State, closed the West Cork railways and the area lost a lifeline to the outside world. The closure was a sad day that marked the end of an historic era that had lasted over one hundred years.
The West Cork Railway was never a big financial success; the reason for its closure being that it had accumulated losses of £56,000. It nevertheless provided a link for the people of the area with the rest of civilization at a time when there were very few cars, buses or lorries. The local railway station was the place where tearful fathers and mothers said goodbye to their sons and daughters as they left for the emigrant ship, and it was also the scene of many a joyous homecoming. The train had brought the good news and the bad news at a time when there were very few radios and no television, and it also brought the mail and the newspapers. All the commercial life of West Cork passed through the railway stations.

It was on June 30th, 1849 that West Cork’s first train ran from Ballinhassig to Bandon, a distance of ten miles. This was four months before the main Dublin to Cork railway opened. On December 8 th, 1851 the section from Ballinhassig to Cork was opened. 300 men were engaged in the construction of the massive tunnel at Goggin’s Hill, Ballinhassig, which was 900 yards long. The biggest task was the construction of the huge Chetwynd Viaduct, which can be seen today on the Cork/Bandon road. One thousand tons of steel was raised by special machinery to a dizzy height, and when completed, the huge bridge was 90 feet high and 440 feet long. It was indeed a great undertaking at that time.

The railway reached Dunmanway on May 1st, 1866, and the first train reached Skibbereen on July 22nd, 1877. Thousands had gathered at Skibbereen station from as far away as Mizen Head to catch their first glimpse of this mighty wonder. In 1881 the line was extended to Bantry from Drimoleague, and in 1886 it reached Clonakilty from Ballinascarthy. The final task was the extension from Skibbereen to Baltimore, which was opened on May 2nd, 1893. With the building of Baltimore Pier, the line was extended right on to the pier, and it brought a great measure of prosperity to the area.

Baltimore assumed a new importance. At the turn of the century there were three direct trains from Cork each day to Balitmore. The Mail Train which left at 5.15 a.m. and arrived at 6.15 a.m., the 9.20 a.m. which arrived at 12.30 p.m., and the 3.00 p.m. which arrived at 5.55 p.m. On Sundays there were two trains each way, and very soon these attracted day excursionists at cheap fares. Baltimore ’s annual Regatta on August Bank Holiday Monday attracted the greatest crowds of all. Even in the late 1950’s as many as 1,800 people traveled by special trains to the regatta. The shock decision to close all rail services to West Cork was reportedly carried by a single vote at a meeting of the board of CIE on September 26th, 1960.

As soon as the news became known, the ‘Save Our Railways Association’ was formed, spearheaded in Clonakilty by Mr. James P. O’Regan, the well-known businessman who died recently, and, in Skibbereen by Mr. Michael O’Driscoll, UDC. During the winter of 1960/61, practically every organization in West Cork met to protest and several public meetings were held. Dozens of resolutions were passed and sent to Dr. Tod Andrews, CIE chairman, and to the Minister, Mr. Childers, making both fully aware of the strong feelings of the people of the area. Despite mounting anger, the response from both CIE and the Government was negative and unbending. Their decision on the closure was final and irrevocable and they refused to discuss any scaling down of deferment of the decision. Some 37,000 signatures against the closing were collected at church gates. High Court action was commenced against the closure but had to be dropped when the plaintiff, Mr. James P. O’Regan, was informed that he would be held personally liable for all costs if his action failed.

So, on March 31st, 1961, the West Cork Railway was steam-rolled into oblivion.

Courtesy of Southern Star, March 31st, 2001