The beginning of the Great Southern and Western Railway

In January 1845 the first sod for the GS&WR was ceremoniously dug by the duke of Leinster Augustus Fredrick FitzGerald, at abbotstown, near Lucan. The duke was an exensive landowner and the new railway line would run through his property, for which he expected to be repaid with profits.

With the successful Dublin to Kingstown line behind him and while simultaneously engaged in building parts of Dublin to Drogheda line, William Dargan shared the contract for this first stretch of the GS&WR, making sufficient progress in six months for the directors to ride over a completed section between Lucan and Sallins. By the summer 1846, as the newspapers were reporting widespread distress from the failure of the potato crop, the next leg to Carlow was complete.

The journey from Dublin to Carlow took about two and a half hours, averaging 22mph, three times of the speed of the stagecoach. The carriages were revolutionary in terms of comfort: the first-class carriages had upholstered seats with arm rests and a décor similar to a Victoria drawing-room, the whole lit by suspended oil lamps.

In winter passengers could hire foot warmers and in summer picnic hampers. Travelling on the line in January 1847, six months after the opening, Somerville an English journalist noted that:

The carriages are well fitted-up and more roomy than on the English narrow gauge lines-the Irish railways being a medium gauge between the narrow and the brood and getting so steadily as to make the passenger think he id sitting in a parlour.

Going through Kildare he noted:

The surface of the country on both sides of the railway is nearly dead level all the way…it feed cattle and sheep and furnishes hay for Dublin. Several elegant villas and mansion are seen and a good many humble dwelling-places.

With the successful Dublin to Kingstown line behind him and while simultaneously engaged in building parts of Dublin to Drogheda line, William Dargan shared the contract for this first stretch of the GS&WR, making sufficient progress in six months for the directors to ride over a completed section between Lucan and Sallins. By the summer 1846, as the newspapers were reporting widespread distress from the failure of the potato crop, the next leg to Carlow was complete.

William Dargan

The journey from Dublin to Carlow took about two and a half hours, averaging 22mph, three times of the speed of the stagecoach. The carriages were revolutionary in terms of comfort: the first-class carriages had upholstered seats with arm rests and a décor similar to a Victoria drawing-room, the whole lit by suspended oil lamps.

In winter passengers could hire foot warmers and in summer picnic hampers. Travelling on the line in January 1847, six months after the opening, Somerville an English journalist noted that:

The carriages are well fitted-up and more roomy than on the English narrow gauge lines-the Irish railways being a medium gauge between the narrow and the brood and getting so steadily as to make the passenger think he id sitting in a parlour.

Going through Kildare he noted:

The surface of the country on both sides of the railway is nearly dead level all the way…it feed cattle and sheep and furnishes hay for Dublin. Several elegant villas and mansion are seen and a good many humble dwelling-places.

By L.D.

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