Tag Archives: Drogheda

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Missed train

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“Our return trip to Cork in the ‘light railway,’ with a warm red sunset lighting up the river Lea, and throwing its glamour over the varied and picturesque scenery through which we ran, was not the least delightful of a very delightful excursion.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert traveled hundreds of miles by railways during his six-month reporting trip in Ireland. The island’s first “iron roads” were laid a half century earlier. Hurlbert crossed the River Boyne at Drogheda on “one of the finest viaducts in Europe,” which was completed in 1855, or 33 years earlier.

The Drogheda viaduct, as seen in my February 2018, trip.

The opening quotation is from Hurlbert’s 26 February 1888, entry on his way to learn about the troubles at the Ponsonby Estate. He ended the chapter: “From Lismore [County Waterford] I came back by the railway through Fermoy [County Cork.]” The next entry, dated 28 February, begins: “I left Cork by the early train to-day, and passing through the counties of Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Queen’s [now Laois] and King’s [now Offaly], reached this place [Portumna, County Galway] after dark on a car from Parsonstown [now Birr].”

During the 1880s, nearly two dozen railroad segments opened in Ireland, including numerous “light railways,” or short-distance spurs connecting remote areas and larger stations on the main lines. The quotation at the top likely refers to the Cork and Muskerry Light Railway, which opened in 1887. “No doubt it will be a great thing for Donegal when ‘light railways’ are laid down here,” Hurlbert wrote during his January 1888, visit to the northwest county.

The American journalist missed an opportunity to report on one of the most unique railways in Irish history, which opened the week of his travels around Portumna. The Listowel and Ballybunion Railway was a 9-mile monorail. Pannier-like cars rode on a single rail atop A-shaped trestles set over the bogs and pastures of north County Kerry. The unusual model was designed by French engineer Charles Lartigue, who attended the opening ceremony on 29 February, 1888–Leap Year Day.

“It seems strange, but it is not less true that a remote village on the coast at Kerry should have been selected for the first experiment in a railway system which promises a revolution in the construction of our iron roads,” The Irish Times reported.  “The Lartigue system is about as different from all preconceived notions of railways as it is possible to imagine.”

Read my 2009 History Magazine article to learn more about the unusual line.

It’s too bad that Hurlbert missed riding this train. Contemporary travelers to Kerry can visit the Lartigue Monorail museum and hop aboard the demonstration replica of the original line, which closed in 1924.

The Lartigue monorail in North Kerry opened on Leap Year Day, 1888. Hurlbert was 90 miles away in Partumna.

NOTES: From pages 233, 115, 248-249, and 252 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: Two nicknames

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: The scenery

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“I pity the traveler of the future here, if he is never to know the delight of traversing these wild and picturesque wastes in such weather as we have had today, on a [jaunting] car, well-balanced by a single pleasant companion, drinking, as he goes, deep draughts of the Atlantic air.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

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For this post, I want to step away from Hurlbert’s political and socioeconomic views of 19th century Ireland and focus on his references to Irish landscapes and landmarks. Remember, he wrote the book 130 years ago. He traveled by rail, by jaunting car, and by foot. No airplanes overhead. No map app in the palm of his hand. These examples are from the early weeks of his trip, late January and February, 1888.

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“Drogheda stands beautifully in a deep valley through which flows the Boyne Water, spanned by one of the finest viaducts in Europe.”

The Boyne Viaduct, built in 1855.

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” … despite the keen chill wind, the glorious and ever-changing panoramas of mountain and strath through which we drove were a constant delight, until, just as we came within full range of Muckish, the giant of Donegal, the weather finally broke down into driving mists and blinding rain.”

Muckish, from the Irish for “the pig’s back.” Photo by Rita Wilson/Donegal Film Office.

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“[In eastern Donegal, we] entered upon great stone-strewn wastes of land seemingly unreclaimed and irreclaimable. Huge boulders lay tossed and tumbled about as if they had been whirled through the air by the cyclones of some prehistoric age, and dropped at random when the wild winds wearied of the fun. The last landmark we made out through the gathering storm was the pinnacled crest of Errigal. Of Dunlewy, esteemed the loveliest of the Donegal lakes, we could see nothing as we hurried along the highway…”

Mount Errigal is Donegal’s tallest peak. Emma Russell/Donegal Film Office.

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“The wonderful granitic formations we had seen on the way from Gweedore stretch all along the coast to the Roads of Arranmore. At Burtonport they lie on the very water’s edge. At a place called Lickeena, masses of beautiful salmon- and rose-colored granite actually trend into the tide-water, and at Burtonport proper is a promontory of that richly-mottled granite which I had supposed to be the peculiar heritage of Peterhead, and which is now largely exported from Scotland to the United States. Why should not this Irish granite be shipped directly from Donegal to America, there to be built up into cathedrals, and shaped into monuments for the Exiles of Erin?

The jaunting car was a light two-wheeled carriage for a single horse.

NEXT: Lixnaw murder

NOTES: From top, quotes are from 115, 73, 80, 81 and 118 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Sultan’s aid to Famine Ireland: new telling of an old tale

In 1847 a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire provided relief to Ireland during the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor. That the ruler sent money appears beyond dispute. Whether he also directed shiploads of food to the Irish port of Drogheda, County Louth, is more of a mystery.

Freelance writer Tom Verde has produced a well-researched telling of this old tale in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of AramcoWorld magazine, which is dedicated to Arabic and Islamic cultures.

Whatever the truth, this chapter in the history of “The Great Hunger” has nonetheless been immortalized in paint and in stone, and may yet be made into a feature film—should the ambitions of Turkish producer Omer Sarikaya be fulfilled. Yet, at its heart lies the undisputed fact of a generous gesture on the part of an Ottoman ruler toward a people to whom he owed nothing but the mercy required of him by faith and personal character.

Here’s a link to the full story.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese was criticized for believing too much of the story during her 2010 visit to Turkey. Verde reports the proposed movie, in the works since 2012, will be released later this year.

The nearly 170-year-old story appears to have gained new popularity in the age of the Internet, as well as increased attention to the relations between Islam and the West.

There were nearly 50,000 Muslims living in Ireland in April 2011, “a sharp rise on five years previously,” the Central Statistics Office reported in October 2012.  From 1991 to 2011, the number of Muslims increased from just 0.1 to 1.1 per cent of the total population.

Tragedy and triumph in Irish transportation

I’ve come across two historical transportation stories.

This month marks the 125th anniversary of the Armagh train tragedy, which remains Ireland’s largest rail disaster. The Belfast Telegraph explains:

The train was packed as it pulled away from the station at 10:15 am, but around three miles out of the city a nightmare unfolded as the train was trying to pull up the slope out of Armagh, but was pulled back by its weight. A decision was taken to decouple the front four carriages, move them to Hamiltonsbawn, and then to return for the remaining eight carriages. Stones were placed behind the wheels of those carriages, but they rolled backwards, crushed the stones and began to build up speed as they continued back down the slope. The runaway carriages crashed into another train, resulting in the loss of 89 lives. All denominations suffered – Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian.

June 1889 rail disaster at Armagh.

June 1889 rail disaster at Armagh.

This August will mark the centennial of the death of John Phillip Holland, builder of the first successful submarine, known as the Fenian Ram. His experimentation began in Drogheda, County Louth. In America, a later design became the U.S. Navy’s first commissioned submarine, according to this story in The Irish Times.

He died in August 1914, relatively poor, and just weeks before HMS Pathfinder became the first ship to be sunk by a torpedo fired by submarine – and nine months before a German U-boat set its sights on the Lusitania.