New clue in mystery about Kerry’s Lartigue monorail

In August I wrote a post about how some old letters raised new questions about the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, which operated between the two north Kerry towns from 1888 to 1924.

In August 1905, two former L&BR employees wrote letters to Transport Ministry officials in London raising safety concerns about the line, affectionately known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. They made suggestions that an accident had happened, or would very soon. Transport Ministry officials brushed aside their complaint a few weeks later.

My post noted that a derailment accident did occur on the Lartigue two years later, in October 1907.

Now, in reading historic newspapers of the period via the Irish Newspaper Archive, I’ve found a link back to the 1905 episode. It occurs in a November 1907 legal proceeding in which the railway company was seeking compensation for the accident.

P. McCarthy, the general manager, says that until the October 1907 derailment there had been “no serious accident on the line, and mishaps had been few and trivial.”

But he is asked about on one of his former employees, Jeremiah McAuliffe. On 17 August 1905, the self-described former “general mechanic” of the L&BR wrote to ministry officials: “Thousands of lives on the mercy of the Lord traveling on a railway without a brake.”

According to Kerry Sentinel coverage of the 1907 proceeding, McCarthy replied: “…on the 15th of August 1905, four months after McAuliffe left their employment, the brake screws were stolen off the engine, and none but one of the employees could have done it.” A similar attempt was made at least one other time, he added.

McCarthy would not be drawn on putting blame on McAuliffe, or anyone else, for the 1905 mischief or 1907 accident. Let me add here this news account is circumstantial and incomplete historical information. But, for me, it deepens the mystery.

The other letter writer in August 1905 was Ballybunion merchant William Shortis, who had served as the town’s Lartigue station manager during the first decade of the line’s existence. He died in November 1905, a few months after his wife. News coverage of the day attests to the high esteem both of them were held.