UPDATE: As mentioned below, I emailed Cathal Ó hÓisín so he could reply to this post. I got a response in less than 24 hours. He wrote:
I do accept that there were areas that may have been further than my assertion but the accusation that I had said that anything ‘was better under the British’ is at the core of my gripe with the IT (Irish Times) piece. It was also factually incorrect on a number of other issues, but thanks for your interest. GRMA (Go raibh maith agat, or Thank you) Cathal
A statement by Derry MLA Cathal Ó hÓisín at Sinn Féin‘s recent ardfheis caught my attention. He suggested that Ireland’s rail transport system had been better under the British, then added:
“…in 1890 no town or village in Ireland was more than five miles from a rail track. Many counties now, such as Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal have not heard or seen a train for over 60 years.”
In the spirit of PolitiFact.com, the U.S. politics fact-checking website edited by my wife, I decided to take a closer look at the two statements.
Surely the first statement couldn’t be true, I thought. The date is close to the 1888 opening of the Lartigue monorail in north Kerry. The unusual train linked the mainline railroad at the market town of Listowel to the seacoast village of Ballybunion.
The nearby village of Ballylongford, my maternal grandmother’s home, never got such a connection. It is seven miles from Listowel and almost nine miles from Ballybunion. Hardly within five miles of any “iron road.”
This map shows a robust Irish railways system in 1906. Yet many parts of the country were more than five miles from a rail line. I haven’t found any evidence of significant track loss in the 16 years from the 1890 date suggested by Ó hÓisín. (Click on the map for a larger version.)
So what about the second part of the statement, that Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal lost train service more than 60 years ago? That’s 1954.
This linked list shows the opening and closing dates for dozens of Irish railway stations. Carrickmore in Tyrone closed 15 February 1965; Enniskillen in Fermanagh shuttered 1 October 1957; the first of January, 1960 was the end of the line for the station at Donegal.
(As for north Kerry, the Lartigue line closed 14 October 1924, and the last mainline train of the Great Southern Railway chugged away from the Listowel station on 6 November 1983.)
Ó hÓisín’s larger point was that “huge swathes of the west and particularly the northwest [of the island of Ireland] are devoid of any meaningful transport system on the road or any rail network,” which he further described as another “insidious form of partition.”
That could and should be argued at greater length by Irish politicians and their constituents. As for Ó hÓisín’s comments about no Irish town being more than five miles from rail in 1890, and the three northwest counties being without rail for more than 60 years, this fact-checker rates both statements as false.
(In the interest of fair comment I am emailing a copy of this published blog to Ó hÓisín for any reply he cares to make. MH)