Tag Archives: Lartigue

The Lartigue monorail’s 1888 opening–illustrated

In about the same time that it takes to read this sentence, I could take a photo (or short video) by tapping my smart phone, upload the image and a few words of description to any of several social media platforms, and publish the content for viewing on a similar device or computer nearly anyplace in the world. Just … like … that.

Images and words did not move as quickly on Leap Year Day 1888, when the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway opened between the two County Kerry towns. The 9.5-mile, elevated single-track system–a monorail–came to be known by the surname of its inventor, Charles Lartigue. It would operate through October 1924.

It took a month for illustrations and descriptions of the Lartigue to reach U.S. newspaper readers in 1888. The words and images appeared from late March until June, often edited to say the service opened “a few days ago,” but occasionally citing the unusual Feb. 29 date.

The three-image display above is from the April 7, 1888, issue of The Daily American, Nashville, Tennessee. The images first appeared March 10, 1888, in the The Illustrated London News[1]Image on page 246; story on previous page.

An accompanying story in the Tennessee paper was attributed to the London Standard. A different story, most likely from another British paper, appeared in the Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Indianapolis (Indiana) Journal, Savannah (Georgia) Morning News, Sunday News-Leader of Wilkes-Berra, Pennsylvania, among other U.S. papers. The content in a few cases was attributed the New York Graphic.[2]The New York Graphic most likely was The Daily Graphic: An Illustrated Evening Newspaper, published from 1873 to 1889. It should not to be confused with the New York Evening Graphic, published from … Continue reading

Several U.S. papers published the signalman image (above, bottom right), typically cropped in a single column square. A similar-sized illustration of the Lartigue’s twin-boiler steam locomotive and pannier-style passenger carriages also appears in the displays of several papers. It is enlarged below for easier viewing.

This “railway and train” image was not from The Illustrated London News. Other illustrations of the Lartigue circulated in popular periodicals until black and white photographs of the monorail became widely available before the end of the century. The British Strand magazine featured eight photos with an 1898 story written by William Shortis, the Ballybunion station manager. Robert French of the William Lawrence studios in Dublin photographed the line, though the precise date of his assignment to Kerry is unclear.

Black and white moving images of the Lartigue were captured by the British Pathé newsreel company. Its “Along the Line” film is inexplicably dated to 1931–seven years after the monorail was discontinued and scrapped. I’ll have more on the Lartigue closing in October.

As I’ve written earlier, the quirky Lartigue provides a perfect movie opportunity for the eccentric styles of film directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers.

This illustration is taken from the Lartigue Museum in Listowel, Kerry. Date and original source unknown.


1 Image on page 246; story on previous page.
2 The New York Graphic most likely was The Daily Graphic: An Illustrated Evening Newspaper, published from 1873 to 1889. It should not to be confused with the New York Evening Graphic, published from 1924 to 1932, or a London weekly published under several variations of the Graphic banner from 1869 until the 1930s.

Irish Civil War’s toll on Kerry’s ‘Lartigue’ monorail

Anti-government forces in the Irish Civil War attacked the Listowel and Ballybunion Railway several times in early 1923. Damage to the rolling stock and stations of the 9-mile monorail between the two Kerry towns, and the impracticalities of operating such a unique line in the newly consolidated Irish rail system, forced its permanent closure in October 1924.

Passengers and mail on the LBR had been targeted by Irish republican forces during the Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921. In January 1923, during the civil war, armed men forced the Ballybunion stationmaster to open the line’s office, goods store, and waiting room, which they doused with petrol and paraffin oil and set on fire. Within an hour a similar attack occurred at the Lisselton station, about halfway between the two terminuses.[1]”Destruction In Kerry”, Freeman’s Journal, Jan. 25, 1923.

Such destruction is generally attributed to the IRA forces opposed to the Irish Free State. These “irregulars” also cut down about 1,700 yards of telegraph wire and six poles between Listowel and Ballybunion, matching attacks along other Irish rail routes.[2]”The Wire Cutters”, The Belfast News-Letter, Jan. 25, 1923.

Photo and caption in the Belfast News-Letter, Jan. 31, 1923.

Nicknamed the Lartigue after inventor Charles Lartigue, the monorail was “suspended indefinitely” in early February 1923 due to the sabotage. Nearly 40 employees lost their jobs, impacting about 100 family members and ancillary businesses.[3]”Kerry Railway Destruction” , The Irish Examiner, Feb. 2, 1923. With the train out of service, a char-a-banc and motor car service began operating between the two towns, but it also came under attack in March.

Once the civil war ended later that spring, the Lartigue was repaired in time for the busy summer season at Ballybunion, a seaside resort. By mid-July, the Freeman’s Journal reported the Lartigue “has already, particularly on Sundays, been taxed to almost its fullest capacity in the conveyance of visitors.”[4]”Provincial News In Brief, Ballybunion Season Opened”, Freeman’s Journal, July 17, 1923.

Like the Lartigue, however, the national newspaper also would have its run ended in 1924.

See my earlier work on the Lartigue monorail:

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


1 ”Destruction In Kerry”, Freeman’s Journal, Jan. 25, 1923.
2 ”The Wire Cutters”, The Belfast News-Letter, Jan. 25, 1923.
3 ”Kerry Railway Destruction” , The Irish Examiner, Feb. 2, 1923.
4 ”Provincial News In Brief, Ballybunion Season Opened”, Freeman’s Journal, July 17, 1923.

Catching up with modern Ireland: February

Sinn Féin topped the Feb. 8 Irish general election poll, but the Republic’s political parties have yet to agree to a governing coalition. The longer the debate drags, the increased likelihood of a new election, which some analysts say could benefit Sinn Féin. … Other February news:

  • One case of caronavirus was confirmed in Northern Ireland late in the month.
  • This island of Ireland was pummeled by three named storms: Dennis, Ciara, and Jorge.
  • An abandoned cargo vessel, or “ghost ship” washed up near the village of village Ballycotton, County Cork, during Storm Dennis. The Alta appears to have been adrift without crew since September 2018, The New York Times reported.

The Alta, near Cork. Michael Mac Sweeney

  • Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. The move came less the a month after he helped restore the North’s power-sharing executive after a three-year impasse.
  • Too popular? USA Today‘s “need to know” travel piece reported that Ireland is “filled with cultural and historic wonders … and lately with lots of tourists, too. And at many of its top sights, reservations are now either required or highly recommended.”
  • Not your grandparents’ Ireland: One of Dublin’s largest Catholic churches will be demolished and replaced with a new building one tenth in size. … Two women celebrated Northern Ireland’s first same-sex marriage.
  • Elizabeth Cullinan, who wrote about Irish-American identity, veering away from the male tradition of “ward bosses and henchmen, larger-than-life political fixers, tavern social life and father-son relationships,” died at 86.

Finally, this February includes Leap Year Day, which marks the 132nd anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway in 1888 … or the 33rd anniversary by the quadrennial date.

The monorail was also known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It operated between Listowel and Ballybunion in North Kerry until 1924.

From my archives:

Watch a 2.5-minute video of archival film footage, “Along the Line“.

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



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.

Old letter raises questions about Kerry’s Lartigue monorail

“I regret to say that some day you need not be surprised if an appalling accident is reported to you.”
      William Shortis letter of 16 August 1905 to Transport Ministry

The 1905 letter quoted above and reproduced below was written by Ballybunion merchant William Shortis. The building he operated from in the late 19th and early 20th century, pictured on his letterhead, still stands in the northwest Kerry town, now run as a pub.

Shortis was writing to Transport Ministry officials in London about safety concerns for the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway (L&BR), a unique 9-mile monorail that operated between the two towns from 1888 to 1924. The line was affectionately known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue.


Shortis was the Lartigue’s Ballybunion station manager for some period during the line’s first decade or so of operation. The distance between the station and his shop was barely a 5-minute walk. Shortis wrote about the Lartigue in an 1898 issue of Strand Magazine, a popular London-based publication of general interest articles and fiction. His descriptions of Ballybunion were pure tourism marketing: “…for no finer place to spend a holiday could be selected–what with good hotels, splendid bathing and grand scenery, etc., there is nothing to be desired.”

Most of the article, headlined “A Single-Line Railway,” detailed the Lartigue’s odd-looking rolling stock, which draped saddle-style over 3-meter-high, A-shaped trestles, and other aspects of the monorail’s operation. The train traveled about 10 to 15 mph, and Shortis wrote that each piece of rolling stock was fitted with Westinghouse air brakes.

Which brings us back to his 1905 letter, which alleges “the trains were run without any brakes being on them.” Shortis was not the only one to make such a claim to the Transport Ministry. Jeremiah McAuliffe, a self-described former “general mechanic” of the L&BR for 18 years (approximately to the 1888 opening of the line) wrote to the ministry on 17 August 1905, the day after Shortis. “Thousands of lives on the mercy of the Lord traveling on a railway without a brake,” McAuliffe wrote. He said the train only had hand brakes, that the Westinghouse air brakes hadn’t worked “in years.” He also suggested the train had a recent accident.

Shortis store in approximately 1901.

Shortis store in Ballybunion, circa 1901, is still there today.

I viewed both these letters (and several earlier letters from Shortis making similar complaints) during my 24 July 2015 visit to the National Archives in Kew, outside London. The file, referenced here, contains material from 1887 to 1907, including the railway’s initial inspection report of 2 March 1888, and a follow up correspondence of 31 December 1888, which do raise minor concerns about the operation of the passenger carriage brakes.

I did not review this material as closely as I would have liked due to the limited time of my visit. Based on 30 years of reviewing government papers as a journalist, I feel safe in saying the file is an incomplete record. It raises more questions than it answers.

But the brake and accident claims are curious. A Transport Ministry note of 28 August 1905, which references the Shortis and McAuliffe letters, says the following:

“The company state that there was no collision on this line on the date named. I suppose no further action need be taken.”

In researching and writing about Kerry’s unique monorail for several years now, I have come across a few references to accidents on the line. These appear to have been caused by vandalism, such as concealing branches or other debris within the A-shaped trestles, as reported with an October 1907 accident near Listowel, two years after the Shortis/McAulffe letters. The line had its share of mechanical breakdowns, to be sure, but appears to have operated in relative safety, no doubt helped by the plodding pace.

I keep thinking about Shortis. The fact that he wrote all these letters on his own business stationary indicates to me that he no longer was associated with the Lartigue. He never mentions holding a position with the line. Or was he writing secretly, as a whistle blower? McAuliffe wrote that he quit the line in May 1905, three months earlier. When did Shortis leave, and why? Was he bitter about the circumstances?

Shortis was 36 years old in 1905, based on the 1901 census record. (There are three men named Jeremiah McAuliffe from Kerry in the same census. Their occupations are given as farmer’s son, tailor and “no occupation.”) Shortis was a founding member of the nearby Ballybunion Golf Club in 1893, according to this centenary history. The grocery store proprietor and fish merchant was the father of five children. As a Roman Catholic, he likely contributed to construction of nearby St. John’s Church, which opened in 1897.


William Shortis business card in the Lartigue file at the National Archives in Kew.

But matters took a turn for the worse for Shortis in 1905. His wife, Annie, died on June 7, according to dates on the family gravestone at the Killahenny burial ground near the golf course. An online genealogy posting suggests that Annie died during childbirth. She was the same age as her husband.

On the weekend before Shortis wrote his letter, Ballybunion would have held its annual Pattern Day celebration, a mix of secular activities blended with the Catholic feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Though long celebrated on 15 August, the Assumption did not become official church dogma until 1950.) The Lartigue would have carried hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people to Ballybunion for the festivities. Shortis, a widower of just two months, must have dearly missed his wife at this holiday, which they surely had enjoyed together in earlier years.

His sorrow did not last much longer. William Shortis died 12 November 1905, according to the grave marker. The cause of death is unknown, though the genealogy posting suggests he died of a broken heart. (Eleven years later his oldest son, Patrick, would be killed in the fighting of Easter 1916.)

The Lartigue continued operating until 1924 without any significant accidents, at least that I’ve found in my research. The line, which never made much money, was repeatedly sabotaged during the Irish Civil War. It also was incompatible with the conventional railway system of the newly established Irish Free State. Automobiles were becoming a more common mode of travel across Ireland.

Is William Shortis one of the men standing next to Lartigue carriages at Ballybunion?

Is William Shortis among these men standing next to Lartigue carriages at Ballybunion?

Obviously, there is much more to this story than is presented here. There may be available details that I am unaware of, while other aspects of the story are lost to history and will remain unknowable to any of us. Perhaps some readers can help fill in a few of the blanks. I welcome additional information about William Shortis and the Lartigue.

See follow up post: “New Clue in mystery about Kerry’s Lartigue monorail

Aspects of the Famine in north Kerry, 1845 – 1852

Continuing the Famine theme of the previous post, I’ve been reading and studying a new book: “Teampall Bán: Aspects of the Famine in north Kerry,” by John D. Pierse. As regular readers of this blog know, this part of Ireland is where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated from (1912 and 1913, respectively) and is of great interest to me.

“The graveyard which has come to symbolize the Famine for the north Kerry and Listowel areas is undoubtedly Teampall Bán, located on the outskirts of the town off the Ballybunion Road, just beyond the old Lartigue railway overbridge,” Pierse writes in his Preface.

Back, left and front, right, of the book.

Back, left and front, right, of the book.

The Kerryman reports:

Seven years in the making, “Aspects of the Famine” focuses on the Listowel Union area comprised of the baronies of Iraghticonnor and Clanmaurice – encompassing pretty much all of rural Kerry north of Tralee. John along with his son Maurice, historian Kay Moloney Caball (My Kerry Ancestors), researcher Martina Flynn and former Institute of Advanced Studies Professor Pádraig de Brún painstakingly analysed as many records as they could find pertaining to the Listowel Workhouse, where so many perished, Listowel Presentation Convent and much else.

The book is to have its formal launch on 22 January in Listowel and will benefit the local Tidy Towns organization. For book orders contact Mary Hanlon at maryehanlon@hotmail.com.

Kerry’s Deenihan named first minister for diaspora

Kerry T.D. Jimmy Deenihan has been named Ireland’s first Minister of State for the Diaspora.

The Irish Times calls the post “a huge boost for the Irish abroad, marking the first significant official gesture towards political representation for Irish people living outside the country.”

One of his first duties will be exploring whether Irish citizens living outside the Republic are given the right to vote in presidential elections.

Deenihan was Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Earlier in his career he helped in the effort to restore the Lartigue monorail. My wife and I met him briefly at the Listowel museum in 2012. His full bio is here. 

The appointment was part of a larger shakeup in the Irish government.


All Irish towns within five miles of rail in 1890?

UPDATE: As mentioned below, I emailed Cathal Ó hÓisín so he could reply to this post. I got a response in less than 24 hours. He wrote:

I do accept that there were areas that may have been further than my assertion but the accusation that I had said that anything ‘was better under the British’ is at the core of my gripe with the IT (Irish Times) piece. It was also factually incorrect on a number of other issues, but thanks for your interest. GRMA (Go raibh maith agat, or Thank you) Cathal


A statement by Derry MLA Cathal Ó hÓisín at Sinn Féin‘s recent ardfheis caught my attention. He suggested that Ireland’s rail transport system had been better under the British, then added:

“…in 1890 no town or village in Ireland was more than five miles from a rail track. Many counties now, such as Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal have not heard or seen a train for over 60 years.”

In the spirit of PolitiFact.com, the U.S. politics fact-checking website edited by my wife, I decided to take a closer look at the two statements.

Surely the first statement couldn’t be true, I thought. The date is close to the 1888 opening of the Lartigue monorail in north Kerry. The unusual train linked the mainline railroad at the market town of Listowel to the seacoast village of Ballybunion.

The nearby village of Ballylongford, my maternal grandmother’s home, never got such a connection. It is seven miles from Listowel and almost nine miles from Ballybunion. Hardly within five miles of any “iron road.”

This map shows a robust Irish railways system in 1906. Yet many parts of the country were more than five miles from a rail line. I haven’t found any evidence of significant track loss in the 16 years from the 1890 date suggested by  Ó hÓisín.  (Click on the map for a larger version.)


So what about the second part of the statement, that Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal lost train service more than 60 years ago? That’s 1954.

This linked list shows the opening and closing dates for dozens of Irish railway stations. Carrickmore in Tyrone closed 15 February 1965; Enniskillen in Fermanagh shuttered 1 October 1957; the first of January, 1960 was the end of the line for the station at Donegal.

(As for north Kerry, the Lartigue line closed 14 October 1924, and the last mainline train of the Great Southern Railway chugged away from the Listowel station on 6 November 1983.)

Ó hÓisín’s larger point was that “huge swathes of the west and particularly the northwest [of the island of Ireland] are devoid of any meaningful transport system on the road or any rail network,” which he further described as another “insidious form of partition.”

That could and should be argued at greater length by Irish politicians and their constituents. As for Ó hÓisín’s comments about no Irish town being more than five miles from rail in 1890, and the three northwest counties being without rail for more than 60 years, this fact-checker rates both statements as false.

(In the interest of fair comment I am emailing a copy of this published blog to  Ó hÓisín for any reply he cares to make. MH)


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.

Willie’s emigration centennial: Day 4 of 12


Willie Diggin’s young life in Ireland spanned the last years of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th century. His native Kerry was a place of “majesty and misery,” Ireland’s National Archives said a century later:

On the one hand, there was the majesty of its scenery, its wild and varied landscape which pushed out into the Atlantic Ocean in a series of peninsulas. Those peninsulas, and the islands off them which marked the most westerly point in Europe, contained a unique heritage of ecclesiastical ruins, archaeological remains and popular folklore which, as well as its scenery, made the county a prime destination for tourists. On the other hand, there was the misery of endemic poverty, of a subsistence existence in the countryside and along the coasts which occasionally strayed close to famine, and which forced generations of Kerry people to leave in search of a basic living.

Back then a nationalist awakening was welling throughout Ireland. People were rediscovering Irish heritage and resisting English rule from across the sea. The Gaelic Athletic Association was created in 1884 to promote Irish sports. The Gaelic League was formed in 1893, a year before Willie’s birth, to revitalize Irish language and culture, which the English had suppressed for centuries.

The 1880s brought new efforts to secure land reform by reducing excessive rents from absentee English landlords and opening the way for property ownership. There were brutal evictions and resistance often involved violent tactics and civil unrest that caused the struggle to be known as “the land war,” or Cogadh na Talún. Kerry was at the center of such violence, euphemistically known as agrarian outrage.

On the political front, nationalist leaders such as Charles Stuart Parnell lobbied to obtain domestic autonomy for Ireland, called home rule. Parnell died three years before Willie’s birth, but the home rule effort continued in Ireland as he boarded the Baltic in May 1913.

His departure came at the eve of a decade-long revolutionary period that including the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, partition of the northern part of the island and civil war in the new southern Free State.


Above: Early 20th century image of the Lartigue monorail traveling west to Ballybunion from Listowel. Below: The station at Ballybuinon. National Library of Ireland


One of the more peculiar aspects of Willie’s life in north Kerry was the unique monorail that linked Ballybunion to the mainline trains at Listowel. Opened in 1888, the strange-looking locomotives and other cars draped saddle-style over a single rail fixed atop 3-foot-high support trestles. The system was named after its creator, French engineer Charles Lartigue.

The 9-mile Lartigue short line helped bring visitors and commerce to remote Ballybunion as it attracted photographers and writers to the area. For example, a January 1898 story in London’s Strand Magazine described Ballybunion as a “beautiful seaside and health resort” and boasted “the advantages of the [Lartigue] system are its great safety, and that the line can be quickly and cheaply laid.” Stories about Kerry’s odd railway also appeared in American newspapers and magazines.

In 1913, the Lartigue had a record ridership of more than 73,000 passengers. But some of these were people leaving Kerry forever. The station at Ballybunion not only welcomed summer visitors but also sold tickets to the great ocean liners making regular voyages to America and Canada.

For emigrants like Willie, the single-line railway was a one-way road away from home.