Tag Archives: Charles Lartigue

Irish history movie ideas: the Lartigue monorail

This is the second post in an occasional series about aspects of Irish history that I believe provide strong cinematic opportunities if dramatized for narrative and commercial appeal. First post: The Colors of Ireland. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

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Take a look at this 3:30-minute archival footage of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a unique monorail that opened in 1888 between the two Co. Kerry towns. There’s no sound.

I’m not sure why the footage is dated 1931. The money-losing monorail was discontinued in October 1924 after being rejected for consideration in the Irish Free State’s railway nationalization scheme.

The train was known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It was the subject of affectionate poems, as reflected in these opening stanzas published a few weeks after it closed:1

Farewell, old train, beloved train; at last
you’ve ceased to run!
Unlike all other trains we’ve seen, of
wheels you had only one.
You battled hard, ‘gainst might odds
for close on thirty years.
And now to think your race is run, it
almost brings us tears.

In its day, the Lartigue was easy fodder for humorous stories because of the way passengers and freight had to be balanced on each side of the pannier-style rolling stock. One tells of a farmer who bought a cow in Listowel and wanted it transported to Ballybunion. To do so, he had to borrow another cow to balance his purchase. At Ballybunion, he faced the predicament of returning the borrowed cow, which required the balance of another animal. And on and on; a running gag for the potential movie.

Passengers on the Lartigue also were occasionally required to get out to push the train. Some were said to get sickened by sitting sideways instead of facing forward. The train’s plodding pace inspired the story of the conductor who offered a ride to an old woman riding a donkey. “No thanks,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry today.”

I see the Lartigue as a perfect opportunity for the eccentricity and distinctive styles of directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers. It needs a quirky story with an ensemble of charming and oddball characters to match the unusual train.

As you can see, the front of the Lartigue locomotive is more anthropomorphic the most regular trains. Perhaps this could be an animated film?

See my earlier posts about the Lartigue:

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Missed train

This blog serial explored 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 February 2018.

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

Leap Year Day: Lartigue monorail opened 128 years ago

It’s Leap Year Day, and the 128th anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888. (Or is it only the 32nd anniversary?)

The line was also known as the Lartigue monorail, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue.

Here’s my story about Kerry’s unique railway from the August/September 2009 issue of History Magazine. Enjoy.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.

The Lartigue monorail in Kerry opened on Leap Year Day in 1888. The line closed in 1924.