As Michael O’Donohoe understood well, railways hold a wealth of history. His research papers include notes plotting the history of the Castleisland line from the incorporation of the Castleisland Railway Company in 1872 to the opening of the line in 1875, its suspension in 1947 and absolute closure in 1975.
Another document records the dates of railway construction in Kerry.
Monumental engineering project
The scale of the nineteenth century engineering project in Castleisland is illustrated in the notice of arrival in port in September 1874, on board the Lord Rollo and the Elizabeth, of 10,000 redwood sleepers for delivery ‘to Mr Collier, for Castleisland Railway’.1
Material includes a letter from the Irish Railway Record Society dated 7 June 1995 in which details of the Castleisland station masters were provided with a sketch of the line’s history:
Castleisland station: Mr Peter Rossney (sic) was the first stationmaster. He resigned on 15 Nov 1903. Michael Ambrose was appointed next day but died on 3 April 1904. Thomas Rosney was appointed on 22 April and moved on 1 July 1907 being replaced the same day by Thomas Carty. On 22 Nov 1909 he was replaced by Thomas Rosney, who moved again on 9 Jan 1912 when Denis O’Brien was appointed. He moved on 4 June 1924. He was replaced by Thomas O’Connor ... By the late 1920s Castleisland became a Class 4 station ... it had previously been a Class 2 station. Gortatlea became a halt under Castleisland on 16 Jan 1939, and subsequently came under Tralee. No date for this is extant, but 1947 might be a suitable guess as the branch lost its regular service then.
A number of dates were given for its closure:
Closure date is given variously as 27 Jan 1947 and 10 Mar 1947. The former is probably the date on which passenger services were suspended due to the fuel crisis, the latter the date on which the suspension was made permanent. After this time only monthly cattle specials ran for Castleisland Fair until 7 Jan 1957 when a regular daily goods was instituted ... the branch was not finally closed until October 1975.
‘Distressing and heartrending scenes’
The railway line holds a latent history but gentle enquiry opens up a wealth of stories. A news item from 1903 reminds of the pain of emigration:
An incident from 1886 recaptures the touring Gennett’s Circus. Peter Canty, a telegraphist at Gortatlea station, whose father was station-master there, and his brother signalman, was prosecuted for firing at a man in Castleisland during the circus festivities.2
A happier tale was that of Master John Haniver, the engine driver’s son, who earned himself a clerkship:
Just one more tale among many from Castleisland’s industrial past.
1 Tralee Chronicle and Killarney Echo, 15 September 1874. 2 Peter claimed his shot was in self defence. In court he stated that Gortatlea station had suffered attacks of vandalism and prosecutions had been brought against the perpetrators, for which the Canty family had been boycotted.