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Welcome to Irish Railway Architecture

Irish Railway Architecture is a collection of images, histories, stories and discoveries of Ireland's railway architecture.

Posted one stop at a time, it is part of doctoral research into the architecture of the Great Northern Railway in Ireland. Find out more

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Pringles, skittles and a ham sambo: check. Camera, phone, pen and notepad: check. Steely determination: let's see.

This August bank holiday weekend marked the official start of my station spotting. Or, for the sake of sounding like a researcher proper, industrial archaeological fieldwork. There is more to my journey of discovery than nipping out of the carriage for a few moments to snap the front and side elevations of a railway station.

For sometimes the station doesn’t actually exist. It’s been demolished, replaced by a metallic non-entity as per the DART stations which provided my modus transportus (sorry), or perhaps the original station is located at a completely different location than at the one which currently operates, albeit serving the same locality under the same moniker. Then there are the railway cottages, station masters’ houses, train sheds, engine sheds, electricity generating stations (yes, actually) and of course, beloved signal boxes. The majority of these are …

Mooving On

As I sat eating a Solero outside Mullen's bar in Cootehill, Co. Cavan, my mind wandering to the potential architectural treasure I was about to encounter, a cry from a discernible gentleman in a passing car of ‘gevas a lek!’ shattered me back to reality. Time to move on.
Taking the road to Bailieborough I stopped after a five minute march, seeing the high-speed road curve ahead of me and the pavement disappear. “I’m not risking my life for a bloody stat-” and there it was to the left of me, tucked away discretely with the later addition of the manure-soaked aptly-named Station Road Mart plonked where the tracks used to be. Cootehill railway station.

 Designed by William G. Murray and built for the Dundalk & Enniskillen Railway Company in 1860, the station closed to passengers and goods in 1947, finally closing forever in 1955. The station’s gothic splendour lifts its small stature to higher levels (perhaps it’s growing to escape the neighbouring cow pats), with exquisite ha…

Trains and Boats and Planes

Burt Bacharach provided the soundtrack, industrial technology provided the means. For I now have my car in Ireland, thanks to the wonders of transport (and an obliging father who drove the eight hours to Holyhead, myself providing the much required navigational assistance. And Haribo).

My first leg required a coach from Dublin to the airport and an even shorter flight on Ryanair to lovely Luton. Thameslink shuttled me (via the blasted Luton Parkway shuttle bus – don’t even get me started) to my home town, with footpower completing stage one. 
For stage two, the wheels on my car went round and round, nearly all day long, following the A5 road built by Thomas Telford, who designed the London to Holyhead, and Howth to Dublin roads respectively (steam ships used to dock at Howth). Irish engineer, John Macneill, worked with Telford on this road for ten years and upon Telford’s death was appointed the engineer-in-chief for this project: unfortunately Macneill’s contribution is often overlook…

Magic Miles

The search for ‘GNRI’ on eBay has become an addiction. Postcards, books, pamphlets, posters; all have become must-haves in my quest for railway smarty-pants-ness.

My current favourite is a 1935 travel guide written by J B Stephens entitled, Magic Miles in Ireland, Great Northern Railway. I’m imagining myself as the hard-working colleen Deco-esquely depicted on the front cover, arms akimbo, ready for action. Except she was probably patronisingly expected to peel potatoes, whereas I have my own crops to harvest in the form of endangered railway paraphernalia.
Indeed, being a female in a largely male-dominated field of railway enthusiasm provides me with an interesting perspective, one which wishes to challenge the notion of woolly-headed trainspotters, and not only through my presence but for the men themselves.

I have been honoured to meet civil and mechanical engineers, financial directors, librarians, project managers, train drivers, station managers, heritage officers, professors, w…

Statues of Empire

Last Sunday I attended a symposium at Dublin Castle about the life and works of John Henry Foley, the sculptor responsible for the omnificent statue of Daniel O’Connell, as well as many other salutes to British military accomplishments. I learned a lot. Including that the last vestiges of this Empire have not been totally eradicated from these shores, and no, I don’t mean Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately the after-taste of the day was not one of Foley’s achievements but rather that of the Empire, and in particular Ireland’s, and I quote, “pettiness” at their destruction and removal.

The IRA blew up Foley’s equine statue of Gough in Pheonix Park in 1957. Sighs of dismay and tuts of disapproval at republican plebeianism emanated around the room, as too did a proud announcement that Gough, the man decapitated, was in fact... dramatic pause… related to an attendee's family’s inherited estate! Guffaws of joy erupted and I wondered which century I had been transported back into. I was re…

Preparations and Presentations

My journey of discovery into Irish railway architecture started in Dundalk. From my initial alighting at the station to wanderings around the residential streets and former GNRI engineering works, I was captivated by the clear architectural communality one railway company had managed to create.

Writing my master’s dissertation about this architecture, I was then honoured to receive the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s Dissertation award in 2017. Here’s a geeky picture taken after the industrial archaeologists’ conference dinner – home by 11pm, what a party!

Becky Haslam (L) Dr Marilyn Palmer (C) Siobhan Osgood (R)
Heartened by this I was determined to take my research further. I feel like there is so much of railway architecture in Ireland that is undiscovered, forgotten or undocumented – and I’m talking at a national level here, local enthusiasts have really made up for the shocking shortfall in national appreciation for this area of Irish industrial history. This actually ma…

You Don’t Stop Talking…

On Thursday 12 April I gave a guest lecture to members of the Irish Railway Record Society (IRRS) at Heuston Station, Dublin, about the architecture of the Great Northern Railway as demonstrated at Dundalk. This was followed by another hour of questions and discussion with the audience after a much-needed tea break!

Buildings featured included Dundalk Station, houses at Demesne Terrace, Ardee Terrace and Brook Street, as well as key buildings at the old engineering works: the boiler shop, works offices and goods stores. Each showcase the core architectural features used by the GNRI: black, red and yellow brick-accenting – I call it ‘brick-branding’ – arched and curved window frames and ocular pediments.

One very interesting development was following my suggestion using evidence from the IRRS archives that the original ‘old station’ at Dundalk was to the east of the Dublin-Belfast line. Ciaran Cooney followed this up with a digitised OS map in University College Dublin archives clear…