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Up to Drogheda

Following my summer jaunt along to Howth, the next leg of my journey follows the original Dublin-Drogheda route constructed by the eponymous railway company before being taken over by the Great Northern Railway. I’ll give some history here and then each future post will be about each station as we head up to Drogheda.
Front of Drogheda Station Photo: Josh Lim (2012)
The Dublin and Drogheda Railway Company (DDR for short – I don’t want to keep writing it in full!) was formed following advocacy in 1835 from Thomas Brodigan of Pilton House near Drogheda. He was made a Freeman of Drogheda in October 1836 following months of wrangling in the House of Lords, before the DDR was given Parliamentary approval on 13 August 1836. Brodigan was somewhat of an adventurer, undertaking his ‘Grand Tour’ travelling to Spain, Italy and the Middle East between 1845-6. But back to Leinster.

The route of the DDR was contested (hence the parliamentary wrangling) by a splinter group who wanted the line to run inland from Dublin to Navan and then north to Armagh. Parliament chose the coastal route which exists today, and explains why Navan had no direct line to Dublin, but was instead connected via Drogheda with a line that then headed westwards to Oldcastle. But I’ll get to that branch line later.
DDR Line, Historic Map 6 inch Colour (1837-1842)
The coastal route was surveyed by eminent Victorian engineer, William Cubitt. The son of a miller in Norfolk, he invented all manner of machinery, including the treadmills used in prions to power the grinding of corn (he was not aware of its future purpose for punishment!). His obituary in 1861 acclaimed that “few men laboured more honestly and uprightly to obtain well-deserved eminence”; the coastal route of the DDR was evidently in safe hands.

The original plan was to have the DDR’s Dublin terminus opposite the General Post Office on Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street. One wonders how this direct transport hub opposite the scene of the Easter Rising in 1916 would have affected historical events. The terminus was eventually located at Amiens Street, which was the first of the four major termini to be built in Dublin.
Amiens Street Station by William Deane Butler Image: Archiseek

This Italianate station with its central and flanking towers was designed by William Deane Butler and opened 1846. The line’s engineer, John Macneill, was probably responsible for designing the train shed. The frontage onto Amiens Street is built of Wicklow granite whilst the southern entrance, now the Luas tram stop, was originally a flight of steps, 22ft high. It was then made into a sloping road-ramp by the GNRI c.1882-1884. This is just to whet your appetite; the station will get its own post.

George Alexander Hamilton was the chairman of the DDR from its inception. Born in Downpatrick, County Down, Hamilton lived at Balbriggan and was heavily associated the Protestant cause as presented at a meeting on 14 January 1837, one year after the DDR was formed. A write up of the event stated that “the condition of the Protestants of Ireland was as alarming as it was in the year 1641” – the year of the Irish Rebellion.

Following this meeting the Earl of Roden, of County Louth, chaired a committee of inquiry: it was the Earl of Roden’s estate through which the Dublin & Belfast Junction Railway line ran, with the GNRI purchasing lands at Dundalk from the estate on 2 August 1889 to build the new station and Demesne Terrace. What this demonstrates is the political context of the ruling class, land ownership and railway development.

Despite his political bias, Hamilton chaired the Relief Committee in the Balrothery Union of parishes during the Great Famine which was a backdrop to the construction of the DDR. He developed Balbriggan’s industry for hosiery manufacturing; these factories still stand opposite the original railway station. He was also a keen archaeologist, and as the line to Belfast was constructed, he spearheaded the rescue of passage tombs near Gormanston amongst other finds, writing the discoveries in the Royal Dublin Society proceedings. 

From 1840 the DDR’s chief engineer was John Macneill, of County Louth, who had worked under the esteemed Thomas Telford in England, completing the construction of the A5 London-Holyhead road. This road would prove illustrious for shipping routes across to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire (then Kingstown), and then by rail, across Ireland. Macneill was the first Professor of Engineering at Trinity College Dublin, and was the first engineer to construct the iron lattice-girder style of bridges in the British Isles over the Royal Canal towards Clontarf for the DDR.
Clontarf's Skewed Bridge by Macneill for DDR 
Macneill will, I promise, be given his own blog post, but his bridges and viaducts up to and beyond Drogheda remain some of the outstanding engineering artefacts in Ireland. Examples along the DDR route include the rail bridge over Sherriff Street, Dublin; Balbriggan’s stone and brick-arched viaduct; and the skewed stone-arch bridge at Clontarf. The grandest of all on the DDR is the Boyne Viaduct, Drogheda, constructed between 1851-1855, and whose initial lattice-girder design followed that of Macneill’s instalment at the Royal Canal.

However, the designer of the Boyne Viaduct was contested between Macneill and his former pupil at Trinity College, James Barton. In 1852 Barton presented a paper at the British Association’s Belfast meeting, claiming Macneill had assigned him the task of “working out the detail” of the calculations for the lattice-girder design. Does this make him ultimately responsible for the design though? It is not that simple, as the master instigated the design, whilst the student himself then instructed his own assistants to revise the plans which were then again amended by Macneill before final approval and testing.
Original Boyne Viaduct Image: Engineers Journal
It is worth noting that the DDR was open and operational from 1844, and so before the Boyne Viaduct was completed passengers had to disembark at Drogheda railway station and cross the Boyne by road or boat to meet up with the train again at Ballymakenny for the onward journey to Belfast. And we think travelling today can be long-winded!

Stations from Dublin to Drogheda on the original DDR and GNRI route are: Dublin, Amiens Street; Clontarf Road; Killester; Raheny; Howth Junction; Portmarnock; Malahide; Donabate; Rush and Lusk; Skerries; Balbriggan; Gormanston; Laytown; and Drogheda. Clontarf to Howth Junction already have their own posts and now each stop up to Drogheda will get theirs, starting with Portmarnock.
Donabate Station
This brief introduction to the DDR already demonstrates the complexities of people, politics, design, construction, financing and use. Each station post will highlight the materials, histories and archival materials for each location.

So, in the words of Curtis Mayfield, “People get ready, there's a train a-coming, you don't need no ticket, you just get on board”.

Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal
Court of Queen's Bench Ireland: A Report of the Proceedings on an Indictment for a Conspiracy in the Case of the Queen V. Daniel O'Connell… in Michaelmas Term, 1843, and Hilary Term, 1844
Dictionary of Irish Architects
Dictionary of National Biography
Geohive Maps
Patterson, E. M., The Great Northern Railway (Ireland)
Louth County Council Archives
Murphy, H., Drogheda Independent, 20 June 2017
Obituary, Sir William Cubitt
The Modern Antiquarian