Two stories about 19th-century Irish railways have appeared in contemporary news headlines.
In Kerry, descendants of Lartigue monorail workers met for a Gathering reunion at Listowel that also marked the 10th anniversary of the related museum and short demonstration line.
“It was a wonderful event,” Lartigue volunteer Martin Griffin told The Kerryman. “We had descendants of 17 of the original workforce and it was great to establish new links with them and we hope now to keep these bonds alive into the future.”
The Lartigue operated between Listowel and Ballybunion from 1888 until 1924, when the newly created Irish Free State refused to consolidate the monorail into the new national railways system. A 1924 letter to the editor of the Freeman’s Journal suggested closing the line would “ruin the prospects of about 30 employees, with about 130 dependents.”
Lartigue monorail workers at the Ballybunion station. National Library of Ireland image.
In Dublin, the 1877 railway tunnel underneath Phoenix Park has been drawing attention. The National Transport Authority proposed opening the line for passenger trains between Connolly and Heuston stations, but Irish Rail has balked at the plan. The Irish Times offers a video trip through the tunnel as part of its coverage.
The tunnel opened five years before the Phoenix Park murders of Ireland’ land war period of the 1880s, which also was a time of great expansion for localized railways such as the Lartigue and the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway in south Kerry.
The Irish Story, one of my favorite Irish history websites, has posted its review of a Dublin conference titled “The Irish National Invincibles, The Phoenix Park Killings and Their Times.” The 1882 stabbing deaths of two senior British officials in Ireland and related events are part of the post-Famine and pre-Rising period of Irish history that is generally unfamiliar to most Irish-Americans. (Maybe many Irish, too?) In his review, John Dorney writes:
The Phoenix Park murders took place against the background of the Land War – a period of intense civil strife in rural Ireland. In 1879 a slump in agricultural prices and a poor harvest had put thousands of small farmers at the risk of eviction, due to not being able to pay their rent, either in cash or in kind, to their landlords. This raised the prospect of mass evictions and even starvation as had occurred in the bitter famine winter of 1847…Tenant farmers organised in the Irish National Land League to withhold rents and resist evictions. There also followed a widespread campaign of sabotage, burning hayricks, maiming cattle, intimidating and on accession even killing rent-collectors, ‘land-grabbers’ and landlords. The British state in Ireland responded with the Coercion Bill, which allowed for detention without trial. The Land War was at once a social and national conflict.
The killings were carried out by the Invincibles, “a militant group within the Irish Republican (or Fenian) Brotherhood, who emerged in response the coercion of the Land League tenant farmer movement,” conference organizer Shane Kenna wrote in a 2012 post for The Irish Story. Five men were executed for the crime, which continued to have political repercussions through the decade and beyond.
Kenna has published a separate article about the 1881-1885 Fenian dynamite campaign and other books and research on the period. Here is a link to his website.
My own interest and research in this period continues to grow.