Tag Archives: railway

The Ballina pontoon

That’s Ballina, Co Tipperary, on the Shannon, opposite Killaloe.

Killaloe 20160101 14_resize

Looking upstream

Killaloe 20160101 15_resize

The ramp

Killaloe 20160101 20_resize

Looking downstream

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From the railway footbridge

Photos taken on 1 January 2016.

The pontoon seems to be more severely affected than it was in the last big floods, on 22 November 2009.

New Ballina pontoon in floods 20091122 1_resize

From across the river

New Ballina pontoon in floods 20091122 2_resize

From the bridge


Grand Canal passage-boat

Here is an account, published in 1862, of what it was like to travel from Portobello, in Dublin, to Ballinasloe by the Grand Canal Company’s passage-boats — and of why rail travel was much to be preferred.

Navigations under threat

Limerick City & County Council [why don’t they shorten it to Limerick Council?] is examining options for an improved road from Limerick to Foynes, which is the main port on the Shannon Estuary. The options are set out on this website and you can download a PDF map that makes it easier to see the details.

The Red Route would cross the Deel Navigation just below Askeaton: the existing route does the same so there might not be any extra interference with the navigation. But the Red Route would also cross the Maigue and the Blue Route would do so just below the new quay at Adare. No doubt the Adarians would welcome a bypass but I imagine that some will be watching to ensure that navigation on the Maigue is not impeded.

Meanwhile we learn that some folk and some other folk want the railway line from Foynes to be reinstated. I have no idea why they think that’s a good idea: it’s not as if there were vast piles of incoming freight piled up at Foynes, unable to be shifted by road. Rip up the tracks and make a greenway, that’s what I say.

A concession to new technology

It appears that these new-fangled railways are here to stay, displacing the passage-boat and the mail-coach, the Scotch cart and the lumber boat.

Accordingly, I have rearranged my small number of railway-related pages under a top-level heading of their own.

I have added a new railway page, about the Lundy Island Railway and Colonization Company, from the Dublin Evening Mail of 2 May 1845. Gerald M King has produced stamps for Lundy, including Railway Parcel Stamps, but it is not clear whether they depict any of the engines or rolling stock described in the Mail and there are few other sources of information about the railway.

I have tried to explain as many of the references as I could, but some are still obscure to me and I would welcome comments from those expert in Irish religious conflicts of the 1840s (as well as those knowledgeable about railways and other technology of the period).


Fuel consumption

The Dublin Monitor of 3 December 1839 quoted the celebrated Dublin-born adulterer and polymath Dionysius Lardner [who said that Victorians were prudish?] as saying

A train of coaches, about eighty tons, and transporting 230 passengers, with their luggage, has been taken from Liverpool to Birmingham, and from Birmingham to Liverpool, the trip each way taking about four hours, stoppages included. The distance between these places by the railway is ninety-five miles.

This double journey of 190 miles is effected by the mechanical force produced in the combustion of a quarter of a ton of coke, the value of which is 6s.

To carry the same number of passengers daily between the same places by stage coaches, on a common road, would require twenty coaches, and an establishment of 3,800 horses, with which the journey in each direction would be performed in about twelve hours, stoppages included.

Dr Lardner on the Steam Engine

The fuel consumption figure seemed odd to me, because I had recently read about the fuel consumed by a steamer on the Shannon in 1851. This was evidently one of the two screw steamers put to work by the Grand Canal Company in 1851, on which Sir John MacNeill conducted the experiments described here.

A luggage boat propelled by steam, on the screw principle, has been for the first time placed on the waters of the Shannon between Shannon Harbour and Limerick, taking in Portumna, Dromineer, Williamstown [probably Hollands], Killaloe, and the river and canal, to the terminus lock at Limerick.

As a specimen of aquatic architecture, the boat presents no very peculiar or striking features; it is built of iron, with a flush deck; it is capable of carrying about thirty tons, and the rate at which it goes on the canal, is about three and a half miles an hour, whether singly, or as a tug boat with two or three heavy lighters after it; whilst on the broader waters of the river, it is capable of going at a rate of seven and a half miles an hour!

This phenomenon may be explained by the fact that on the canal, which is comparatively narrow, there is no expansion of the waters displaced by the boat, whilst there is always a considerable swell raised about the prow, causes which conspire to retard her speed, and which do not operate when she is on the river.

The expense of working this boat is considerably less than that of the ordinary boat drawn by horses. A ton of coal supplies the engine between Limerick and Shannon Harbour; whereas the horsing alone of a boat between Limerick and Killaloe amounts to something about ten shillings.

The experiment, however, has not been sufficiently tested; and there is some doubt that it may succeed according to the expectations of its projectors. Just now several industrious persons with horses are employed on the canal: and it is to be hoped that in this season of dearth and destitution, no hasty means will be adopted to force them for subsistence on overgrown poor rates.

Limerick Reporter 27 May 1851

The Limerick Reporter article does not say, and I cannot determine, whether this was  Towing steamer No 2 [Appendix 3 in Ruth Delany The Grand Canal of Ireland David and Charles, Newton Abbot 1973], the twin-screw vessel which MacNeill, confusingly, called the No 1 Boat, or the single-screw Towing steamer No 1, which MacNeill called the No 2 Boat.

But I was surprised that the railway train could do 190 miles on a quarter ton of coke while the steamer required a ton for the (roughly) 54 miles from Shannon Harbour to Limerick.

On consulting the online Gutenberg version of the seventh edition of Dionysius Lardner The Steam Engine explained and illustrated; with an account of its invention and progressive improvement, and its application to navigation and railways; including also A Memoir of Watt Taylor and Walton, London 1840, I found that there were some differences between that and the Dublin Monitor‘s version:

A train of coaches weighing about eighty tons, and transporting two hundred and forty passengers with their luggage, has been taken from Liverpool to Birmingham, and back from Birmingham to Liverpool, the trip each way taking about four hours and a quarter, stoppages included. The distance between these places by the railway is ninety-five miles.

This double journey of one hundred and ninety miles is effected by the mechanical force produced in the combustion of four tons of coke, the value of which is about five pounds.

To carry the same number of passengers daily between the same places by stage-coaches on a common road, would require twenty coaches and an establishment of three thousand eight hundred horses, with which the journey in each direction would be performed in about twelve hours, stoppages included.

So 240 passengers, not 230; 4¼ rather than 4 hours — and most significantly 4 tons of coke, costing about £5, rather than ¼ ton costing 6s [£0.3].

Did the Dublin Monitor get it wrong — and, if so, why and how? Or were the lower figures in some earlier edition of Lardner’s work?



Important topics in Ireland 1845–1850

I thought it would be interesting to ask the British Newspaper Archive what people were reading about in newspapers published in Dublin between 1 January 1845 and 31 December 1850. The BNA has scans of two Dublin newspapers for that period, the Freeman’s Journal and the Dublin Evening Mail. I used the archive to search for four different words in those newspapers in that period; I then counted the numbers of results.

On the first round, I included ads and family notices.

Newspaper terms incl ads 1845–1850

Terms in Dublin newspapers (incl ads) 1845–1850

I guessed that the numbers for steam and railway might be exaggerated by their inclusion in ads so, on the second round, I excluded both ads and family notices. The result was as expected.

Newspaper terms excl ads 1845–1850

Terms in Dublin newspapers (excl ads) 1845–1850

I then asked Google’s Ngram machine to count the numbers of occurrences of four pairs of words between 1845 and 1850. I asked it to do a case-insentitive search, but it can’t do that for “compositions” (combinations of words), so it counted:


Here is what it came up with, but whence I know not, other than that it searched the corpus English. The embedding process doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ve left the code here but also cut and pasted the output.

Google Ngram

Google Ngram

I suspect that, in recent times, the amount written about steam and railways of the period 1845–1850 in Ireland has been rather less than that about potatoes and the famine.


M’Gauley’s mysterious mechanism

In 1851 Alex Thom, Printer and Publisher of Dublin, produced the third edition of Lectures on Natural Philosophy by the Rev James William M’Gauley, Canon &c, Professor of Natural Philosophy and one of the Heads of the Training Department to the National Board of Education in Ireland. [The Morning Post of 9 October 1840 suggests that the first edition seems to have been in 1840: Longman, Orme & Co in London, W Curry, jun & Co in Dublin and Fraser and Crawford in Edinburgh.]

You can read the third edition of the Lectures here, paying special attention to any electro-magnetic apparatus, given that the Rev James read papers on the subject to the meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Dublin in 1835 and in Liverpool in 1837.

But I can find nothing, there or elsewhere, about his contributions to steam propulsion on canals. Several British newspapers copied this story from the Dublin Pilot in 1837:

We understand that the Rev Mr M’Gauley, of Marlborough-street, in this city, has completed a series of experiments upon a subject which for some time has occupied his attention — the application of steam to canal boats, with perfect success.

Our readers are aware that the great obstacle to the application of steam to packet boats on canals is caused by the great injury which would arise to the banks from the wave created by the paddles. He has, it seems, adopted a paddle on an altogether new principle; one of great simplicity and of such a nature that the injury to the banks shall not be greater than what is produced by the ordinary boat.

He gets rid entirely of backwater, his paddles work without noise, and require for their application a steam engine of the simplest construction.

It is said that Mr M’Gauley contemplates a velocity which to seem possible would require his working model to be understood. We hope and indeed believe, that Mr M’Gauley will not have to contend with apathy and want of enterprise in the introduction of so important an application of steam in Ireland, one which would render our canals incalculably more profitable and more useful than at present, and to give us an opportunity of consuming to advantage the turf with which so large a portion of the country is covered.

And in its issue of 29 December 1838 [No 803] the Mechanics’ Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, & Gazette carried this story from the Dublin Post:

Steam-boats on Canals. — The Rev J W M’Gauley, Professor of Natural Philosophy to the Board of Education, we understand, has at length succeeded in fabricating a machine for propelling boats on canals without raising a surge, which has been very detrimental to the banks, causing a considerable annual outlay to keep them in repair.

The power will be derived from a steam-engine; but instead of the usual paddle-wheels, there will be a machine immerged in the water underneath the centre of the boat, the working of which will not cause the least ripple on the surface of the water. There will be a public test of the invention on the Grand Canal about a fortnight hence, with a boat fitted up under the immediate inspection of the Rev gentleman.

But I have found nothing after that: no report of the success or otherwise of the machine. I would be grateful for information from anyone who knows anything about it.

By 1840 the Rev M’Gauley’s attention had returned to electro-magnetic apparatus with a practical application. In November and December of that year several British newspapers reproduced this report from the Dublin Monitor [I take this from the Leicester Chronicle, which was so excited that it reported the news twice, on 21 November and 12 December 1840]:

Important improvement. — The Rev Professor M’Gauley, whose scientific experiments in electro-magnetism excited so much interest in the philosophic world some time ago, has communicated to some of the principal Railway Companies in England a valuable invention, which will be attended with most important results in the preservation of life and property from almost all the casualties to which they are at present subjected in railway travelling.

His object is to render the stoppage of the train entirely independent of the engine conductors; so that, should they, as was lately the case, fall asleep, get drunk, or otherwise become incapacitated for the discharge of their responsible duties, the steam can be turned off, and the train stopped, totally independent of them. The simple announcement of the object of Mr M’Gauley’s invention is sufficient to render its vast importance obvious to every man who has bestowed one moment’s thought upon the subject. We have been favoured with an examination of the invention, and consider it at once simple, ingenious, and admirably adapted to effect the desired end; its cost is trifling.

This important improvement has been submitted to the directors of some of the first lines of railway in England, to the Dublin and Kingstown and Ulster Railway Companies who are giving it their best consideration, and, we presume, will test its utility by experiment.

Addendum April 2017:  could this be relevant?

More on M’Gauley (lots of variant spellings) in Wikipedia and here in a short notice at the bottom right of page 376 of The Engineer for 1 November 1867 [PDF courtesy of Grace’s Guide]. Who knew that folk left the priesthood and got married in the nineteenth century?

A further brief mention here [January 2019].

A missed opportunity for railways

The Leeds Intelligencer of Saturday 16 September 1837 reported on the seventh annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which had begun at Liverpool on the previous Monday. The Mechanical Science section met, appropriately, at the Mechanics’ Institution with Professor Robinson of Armagh, President, in the chair.

It heard papers from Mr Williams on the Treffos Pump, Mr Kingsley on the Perspective Drawing Board, Mr Henwood on the Expansive Action of Steam in Cornish Mine Engines and Mr Russell on the Motion of Steamers in Shallow Waters. But the first and greatest paper was not delivered by its author, Mr G Remington [presumably George Remington, railway engineer], who was absent, but by Dr Lardner. Its subject was

… the Railway Balance Lock. The object of this was to do that upon Railways which is accomplished on Canals by means of Locks, namely, to raise the trains to any given height, according to the inequality of that surface.

You can read more about it here; interweb search engines will find more references. Perhaps it is not too late to have this innovation adopted.

A threat to an existing navigation

I have a page here about the River Maigue, one of Ireland’s oldest improved navigations. Incidentally, the river’s name is locally pronounced Mag, to rhyme with bag.

In 2009 I wrote to the Powers That Be to suggest that the (much to be desired) bypass of Adare, a major bottleneck on the N21 Limerick–Tralee/Killarney road, should pass to the south of the town, thus avoiding the interference with the navigation that would undoubtedly have resulted from a northern bypass. It was no doubt the strength of my case, and a recognition of the importance of the navigation, that caused the Powers to opt for a southern bypass. A proposed link to a proposed M20 Limerick–Cork motorway may have been a minor factor in their decision: as nobody was going to build a motorway to Kerry, Adare would piggyback on the motorway to Cork.

However, An Bord Pleanála overturned the decision [PDFs available here] because the M20 proposal was withdrawn. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association is pleased because it wanted a northern bypass of Adare, to be linked to a new road from Limerick to the port of Foynes; its submission on the matter is here [PDF]. A Limerick ICSA chap has a letter to the editor about the Foynes link in the current issue of the Limerick Leader, although it’s not yet available online.

Now, this proposal has the drawback that it might actually be slightly sensible: a better road to Foynes might stop people agitating for a restoration of the railway line and enable a speedy ending of port activities in Limerick, thus removing large piles of scrap from the riverside. But have the ICSA not considered the damage to the turf-boat traffic to Adare if a road bridge is added to the railway bridge downstream of Adare?

Maureen O’Sullivan and Effin Bridge

A knowledgeable written question [h/t KildareStreet.com] from Maureen O’Sullivan [Ind, Dublin Central] about the Effin Bridge over the Royal Canal at Newcomen Bridge:

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will identify the parties concerned with the operation of the lifting bridge which occupies the site of the original first lock on the Royal Canal Newcomen Bridge, Dublin 1; the factors that contribute to the status of the lifting bridge; if he will convene a meeting of interests concerned with the operation of the lifting bridge with a view to devising a management and operational system that is less hostile to the use of the waterway as currently it is an impediment and discouragement to navigation on the Royal Canal and an obstacle to navigation-communication between the Royal Canal and River Liffey and between Royal Canal and Grand Canal at their eastern reaches; and if he considers the lifting bridge could be re-engineered as a dropping bridge.

The minister, Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick], responded:

I can advise the Deputy that the parties concerned with the operation of the lifting bridge over the railway line close to Newcomen Bridge are Irish Rail and Waterways Ireland. The bridge carries the rail line from Connolly Station to the lower line link to the docks area. The bridge was procured and installed by Waterways Ireland’s predecessors. The bridge is operated by Irish Rail staff on a request basis at Waterways Ireland’s expense. The option of introducing a drop lock to replace the need of the lifting bridge has been considered but not deemed viable due to the cost estimate involved.

Note that the question was about a “dropping bridge” but the answer was about a “drop lock”.

The answer suggests that the number of lifts each year is a function of the number of requests made by Waterways Ireland; it would be interesting to know whether that it actually so. If it is, then WI’s budget [cut again] is probably the ultimate determinant; if Irish Rail has a say in the matter, its operational needs may influence the decisions.

I cannot think of any cost-effective solution. I am not convinced that the bridge in itself discourages navigation.