Tag Archives: Ballybunion

19th-century Irish railways make 21st-century headlines

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.

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.

Blue flag lost and turf cutting protest in Kerry

Here are two environmental stories where European Union regulations have impacted Ireland in general and Kerry in particular.

Sixteen beaches or marinas in Ireland have lost their Blue Flag status as the result of tougher EU water-quality testing standards, the Irish Examiner reports.

The beach at Ballybunion is among those that failed to win the coveted designation this year. The Ballybuinion News reports “a number of people feel rather aggrieved at the loss of the flag” and blame the Kerry County Council for inadequate storm drain work and excessive flooding earlier this year. The News noted that missing the designation doesn’t mean that it is unsafe to swim at the beach and “visitors to Ballybunion should not be wary of doing so.”


Ballybunion beach from final gather flickr.

The other story involves charges of illegal turf cutting against two Kerry men. About 70 people from Kerry and other West of Ireland counties protested outside the courthouse in Listowel, The Irish Times reported

The protest was organized by the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, which is opposing the EU ban on turf cutting on raised bogs.

Turf cutting is prohibited in bogs designated as Special Areas of Conservation. The government is providing compensation to turf cutters where the traditional fuel-digging work is banned. Here are more details from the Peatlands Council.

I know I would love to catch the whiff of a turf fire while ascending the Ballybunion sea cliffs after a long evening walk on that beautiful strand.


Image of traditional turf cutting from Nenaghgal blog.

Willie’s emigration centennial: Day 2 of 12


Nineteen-year-old Willie Diggin boarded the RMS Baltic at Queenstown on May 2, 1913.

The port near Cork city in southern Ireland was the main disembarkation point for the country’s emigrants since famine times in the middle of the 19th century. The Cork Examiner reported:

Having presented their tickets at the agent’s office, and their luggage safely stowed away, they have now to wile away the anxious interval till the arrival of the steamer. The time is usually spent in strolling about the streets of the town. True also to the national attachment to religion, our emigrants seldom fail to enter the church which they meet on their ramble, and offer there a rude but earnest prayer for those whom they leave behind, while they invoke a blessing on their journey.


Late 19th century image shows emigrants taking ferry boats to ships in the Queenstown harbor. National Library of Ireland

Willie was joined on his journey by 29-year-old John Stack. Both men hailed from Lahardane townland near Ballybunion in north Kerry, and each of them had family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It is unclear exactly when the men arrived in Queenstown, but the last week of April and first days of May 1913 were “unsettled, cold and rainy,” according to an annual report.

The Baltic was part of the White Star Line, which lost the Titanic at sea the previous spring. The sunken liner made its last port-of-call at Queenstown, and it surely was impossible for Willie and the other emigrants to avoid talk of the disaster so close to the first anniversary.

By 1913, conditions for crossing the Atlantic were greatly improved from the mid-19th century “coffin ships” that carried famine refugees in their dark, crowded holds. A third-class passenger like Willie slept in four- or six-berth staterooms, with access to a reading room, a smoking room and a dining room served by stewards.

Even so, the lower decks hardly compared to the “spacious, airy and exceptionally comfortable” first-class accommodations described in a 1907 White Star brochure.

Willie and John were among 468 passengers to embark at Queenstown in May 1913, joining 1,480 who boarded the ship earlier in Liverpool for the short trip across the Irish Sea. The total of just under 2,000 passengers left about a third of the Baltic unoccupied for its fifth transatlantic crossing of the year.

The manifest shows Willie stepped aboard with $50, or about $1,100 in today’s money. He stood 5-feet, 7-inches tall, with blue eyes and black hair. He answered “no” when the shipping agent asked whether he was an anarchist or a polygamist.


Willie’s emigration centennial: Ballybunion News

The first two weeks of May marks the centennial of my grandfather’s emigration from Ballybunion to Pittsburgh. During that period this blog will retrace his journey and explore highlights of his life in Ireland and America.

The celebration has begun in the April 19 issue of the Ballybunion News, which has just published my short story about Willie Diggin. Many thanks to editor Gerald Walsh for publishing the piece, which appears on page 12.

Please sign up for Ger’s free weekly publication and follow @BallybunionNews on Twitter.

“Willie’s emigration centennial,” my expanded 12-day serial about Willie, begins May 1 on this blog.

Reaching Out Ireland/North Kerry

My maternal grandmother and grandfather were both from North Kerry; she from Kilelton townland near Ballylongford; he from Lahardane townland near Ballybunion.

So I was excited to find the North Kerry Reaching Out heritage project, which is affiliated with Ireland Reaching Out.

The national effort is described as “reverse genealogy” and “entails the tracing and recording of all the people who left and seeking out their living descendents worldwide. Those identified or recognised as persons of Irish heritage or affiliation are invited to become part of a new extended Irish society.”

The Kerry effort focuses on people with ties to these villages: Listowel, Ballyduff, Lisselton / Ballydonoghue, Ballybunion, Asdee, Ballylongford, Tarbert, Duagh, Lyreacrompane, Lixnaw, Moyvane/ Newtownsandes, Knockanure, Finuge and Kilflynn.

Here’s the website’s Guide to North Kerry.

As much as I love all of Ireland, there something unique about North Kerry. I get a special feeling whether walking the beach at Ballybunion, hiking to the top of Knockanore Hilll or ambling through the narrow streets and books shops of Listowel. There’s something in my DNA that knows this is home.

Ireland’s military history archive, 1913-21

Irish Volunteers on parade in Tralee, County Kerry, on June 14, 1914.

More than 1,700 witness statements, plus photographs, audio recordings and other documents from Ireland’s revolutionary period are now available online through the Bureau of Military History.

Here’s a news story about the release. Here’s a link to the BMH home page.

I’ve just started reading the witness statements, focusing on people and events around Ballybunion, Ballylongford, Listowel and other north Kerry communities, which were IRA strongholds. Here’s an example from the statement of IRA man Thomas Carmody about the February 1921 reprisal of the Black and Tans after the republicans killed two of their members at Ballylongford.

The next morning the Tans turned out of the barrack and, a short time after, were joined by lorry loads of Tans from other towns in the area. They looted and raided almost every house in the village. They filled the lorries with groceries, whiskey, cigarettes and anything they could lay their hands on. They then went from one house to another setting fire to each. The women were terrified and many of them threw their children from the top windows into the street. In all, 14 houses were completely burned out, while several others were partly damaged.

Keep in mind the witness statements were made in the late 1940s and early 1950s, more than 20 years after the actual events. The collection also falls short on material from the country’s civil war period following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.

Kerry’s Lartigue monorail

The unique Lartigue monorail, shown above, operated between the market town of Listowel and the seaside village of Ballybunion from 1888 to 1924. The odd railway drew attention to north Kerry and became the focus of newspaper stories inside and outside of Ireland.

“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 wrote at the line’s opening on Feb. 29, 1888, a leap year day. “The Lartigue system is about as different from all preconceived notions of railways as it is possible to imagine.”

The Lartigue figures prominently in a manuscript I have produced about late 19th and early 20th century Kerry, and some of its residents who immigrated to Pittsburgh, Pa.


Gorse, also called furze, in north County Kerry, Ireland. This photo taken near where the River Cashen empties into the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Ballybunion.