Bagenalstown & Wexford Railway Revisited
By J. M.
Feeley & J. Sheehan
begin the twenty first century, when new sections of rail track are
being built and/or revived to cater for commuter traffic, our
thoughts return to the former branch line through south Carlow.
section of track to connect Bagenalstown to Wexford through the
Barrow Valley was proposed to parliament and the enabling act passed
in 1854. At that time land purchase would have been much easier than
now. The landlords owned vast acres and saw the railway as a means
of developing their estates and associated town or village.
Landowners ceded land for the track to the crown, on the
understanding that it would be returned when no longer required At
that time railways were at the cutting edge of technology and a very
popular investment in Britain and Ireland. Not only was it a mode of
transport for people and goods, but also an important conduit for
communication by mail, telegraph and later the telephone system.
Carlow the Bagenal and McMurrough Kavanagh families were major
backers. Col Bagenal-Newton enticed the railway through Bagenalstown
(then a village) instead of through Leighlinbridge ( then the major
town in the area) by offering land for the track across his estate.
Likewise the McMurrough Kavanagh who owned vast tracts of land in
the Borris area.
initial plan was to build a railway through the Barrow Valley to
link Dublin via Bagenalstown to the south–east ports. The coastal
line through Wicklow did not then exist.
early days of railway building there was no overall plan for a
national system. Companies were formed to build tracks between the
main population centres and were often in stiff competition with
later decades of the 19th c saw a lot of closures, takeovers and
Bagenalstown & Wexford Railway was designed by William Le Fanu a
Dublin based engineer. His expensive design was intended as the
mainline to the southeast. The initial intention was to have a
branch to New Ross from Ballywilliam and another, farther along, to
Enniscorthy; but the line had got no further than Ballywilliam when
the company went bankrupt in 1864. Thus a line intended to be a
mainline from Dublin to the south east ports was subsequently
reduced to branch line status.
a very fine railway it was, too, with no sharp curves, no gradient
steeper than 1 : 100, and all its bridges made wide enough for
double track! Indeed, had its promoters been satisfied with lower
standards of construction, and had they made alterations to the
route here and there, the great viaduct at Borris (which cost
£20,000) and the immense rock cutting at Kilcoltrim might have been
avoided, and they might quite possibly have won the race to Wexford
The track from Palace East Junction, was made by. Mr. Motte Emett’s
who, by contrast, made the railway as cheaply as he could. Its
contour resembles a sheet of corrugated-iron in section, and if the
train is long enough, progress over it was an exhilarating
experience— something between the motion of a serpent and the
helter-skelter of the fairground.
time that the B&WR had been revived under new ownership (D&SER)
another main line had been built from Dublin to Wexford. Also the
Dublin to Kilkenny section had been extended to Waterford.). A line
connecting Ballywilliam to Palace East (opened 1870) with a spur to
New Ross (1887) followed later. From Palace an extension to Macmine
Junction connected with the Wexford to Dublin line.
first sod for the B.W.R was cut by Lady Harriet Kavanagh in Borris
on New Year’s Day 1855. The section of track (8 miles) through flat
terrain to Borris was completed in the same year. This includes a
slight diversion south-westwards to include a stop at Ballyellin for
Goresbridge. However the next 12 miles to Ballywilliam in Co Wexford
took a further nine years to construct. Beyond Borris a gorge had to
be spanned by the magnificent viaduct we see today. A short distance
further on a cutting was required through a long hill at Kilcoltrim.
The track then meanders between several low hills to reach a stop at
Ballyling near Glynn Village. At this point the track runs along an
embankment for several miles. There are approximately twenty seven
bridges between Bagenalstown and Ballywilliam, seven on the Borris
section and twenty on the remaining 12 mile section. For the hundred
years that trains were powered by steam engines, water towers were
required at intervals. A turntable to turn the engine around existed
at Bagenalstown and Palace East. The directors wisely decided from
the beginning to use the standard gauge track of 5’-3” enabling
engines and rolling stock to move between this and other railway
systems In the late 19th c and early 20th c traffic on the line was
as far as we can ascertain always mixed (ie passenger carriages +
goods wagons). One scheduled train out and back from Bagenalstown
per day to Palace East and one out-and-back morning passenger train
from Bagenalstown to Borris. Scheduled passenger services ceased in
1931 except for special trains to football matches and pilgrimages
sugar factory established in Carlow in 1926 gave the line a new
lease of life. Coal for steam raising was imported through the port
of New Ross. Sugar beet during the campaign was collected at
Palace-East, Ballywilliam, Ballyling, orris and Bagenalstown for
transport to the factory. A spur line from Carlow Station allowed
beet to be transported directly to factory input point. Cattle
bought by dealers at Borris fair were transported in wagons
(containing sixteen beasts) to Dublin, mainly for shipment to
Britain During the war years this railway in common with all others
within the state was starved of investment. Services were severely
limited due to the shortage of steam coal imported from England.
Engines and rolling stock were ancient, some dating in fact from the
previous century. British railway enthusiasts loved to come to
Ireland and see working engines their grandfathers had talked about.
A working museum in fact!
the railway system was nationalised under CIE. During the following
years a major re-investment took place. Steam locomotives were
replaced with diesels and rolling stock updated.
to finance this massive investment Dr Andrews was given the
unenviable task of closing all branch and narrow gauge lines. The
result was the present system, with only main lines radiating out
from Dublin to major population centres.
little railway that had led such a tranquil life for so many years
died quietly and peacefully after a century of use. The last beet
special ran in January and after that only two trains ran. These
were: the R.B.A.I. Enthusiasts' special of Saturday 23 March 1963,
through to Macmine Junction and back to Dublin by the coastal route,
drawn by No. 151; and two days later a special for Borris Fair, out
and back from Bagenalstown, drawn by engine A4, which was actually
the last train to use the metals of the old B&W Railway.
line closure, the rails were lifted beginning at Palace East
Junction. Rails were drawn to a collection yard next to Bagenalstown
Station. Most of the rails were purchased by Keenan Brothers Ltd and
used as hayshed pillars. They are now spread the length and breadth
the winter and spring of this year the authors followed the original
le Fanu line from Bagenalstown to Ballywilliam.
general summary of our findings follows.
Where the railway intersected with a public road, bridges were
provided. Bridges that are constructed completely of finely
chiselled stone still remain and are maintained by the county
councils as part of the public road network, though they .no longer
serve any useful purpose.
Bagenalstown & Ballywilliam there are eleven of these.
all-stone bridges are rail over road as at Kilcumney and Ballyling.
Another bridge type had a stone abutment on each side with a steel
structure supporting the track.
bridges of this type were demolished in the 1960s and sold for
scrap. Examples can be seen at Philip St, Bagenalstown and near
A long stretch exists between Ballyling and Glynn village, also in
the town of Borris at Clonygoose Bridge. In Borris a large stretch
has been removed at the Vocational School before the viaduct. At
Drummin where the track ran parallel to the road a stretch has been
levelled and built over Station
The station buildings have been tastefully restored and are now used
as private dwellings. Excellent examples can be seen at Goresbridge,
Borris and Ballywilliam. The gatekeepers lodge at Inch Crossing and
the stop at Ballyling are also private dwellings. As a matter of
interest the daughter of the manager for the beet loading depot at
Ballyling still lives in the cottage she grew up in. A sprightly
lady in her 80’s, still full of memories. Further on at Corraun the
gatekeepers lodge is now in ruins.
In most places the track or road as railwaymen like to call it has
was sold back to the adjoining landowners soon after closure and has
been integrated into the adjoining field systems.
Bagenalstown Station the trackline has been replaced with houses and
gardens. Further on at Philip St Bridge a section can be seen
surrounded by bushes.
stretches exist along the line in several places, a ‘no- mans-land’
and now a haven for wildlife, However some anomalies exist here and
there. A section of track still fenced off exists at Ballyine Bridge
( Borris) over forty years after the closure .
Romance of Steam’
the last surviving engine drivers lives in Bagenalstown, namely
Bertie Walsh. Bertie has no time for the ‘romance of steam’ ie
always standing up , baked on one side and a cold breeze on the
other. Trying to see ahead in bad weather with paraffin oil lamps to
light the way. Not to mention reversing back from stations which did
not have a turntable.
this with being seated in the driving cab of a diesel engine,
equipped with windscreen wipers, bright electric headlights, drive
from front or rear cab. No contest!
writings of the late E.F Byrne (Ned stones) of Kilcarrig St,
night Gus.B was on shunting duty and going round chalking up the
wagons he heard the wailing of a puppy coming from under a
tarpaulin. He brought it down to Hayes' where he knew it would
receive a good home. Fondling the little bundle of fluff Missey
asked. "What breed is it Gus? Like lightning came the witty
retort. 'It is got by a porter out of a railway wagon.
morning the early up train to Dublin was somewhat late. An irate
passenger to be who had a tight schedule to make a connection to the
West of Ireland was stamping up and down the platform gazing
helplessly at his watch ticking away the precious minutes. Gus came
out of the Signal cabin on the platform. The traveller angrily
demanded 'How long will this train be Gus?' 'I can't tell you
that Guv till it pulls in, but yesterday morning I do know it had
five carriages on it.'
impressive structure is constructed of granite, both quarried and
hewn from local field boulders. It took two years to build and has
16 arches towering 40’ (on average) over the surrounding field.
During construction an army of stone cleavers, masons and carters
were employed. Two kilns nearby provided lime for the mortar.
structure should last as long as the Roman aquaducts of Southern
Europe, well over two thousand years
Delivery’ — E.F Byrne
the train from Bagenalstown to Palace East. locally known as the
Borris Line. Well do I remember seeing Jim.F going up to the Railway
with a box containing shoes or boots under his oxter for someone
'down the line'. Other goods would be awaiting him also from shops
in town to be delivered to clients who had sent notes or letters re
what they required. These branch lines were a wonderful asset to
Rural Ireland. Such items as the daily newspaper wrapped up in
binding twine was hurled into the farmyard to the awaiting farmer
and avidly read from cover to cover around the big open fireplace
that night. On the way back the train would be flagged down for a
gift of a bag of spuds, or a lump of freshly churned butter wrapped
in muslin or a box of eggs to be divided among the triumvirate of
driver, fireman and guard. All was done with delightful decorum.
Swing-swong of services rendered kept delicately poised. Allah was
praised and reappraised.
2008 the authors traced the line to Palace East Junction. The site
is in a very rural location surrounded by farmland. Very little
remains to indicate that it was once a busy railway junction.
Historic Map ( shows two tracks entering from the NW, namely that
from Ballywilliam and the spur line to New Ross. The track exiting
at the SE of the map leads to Macmine Junction. The other tracks
served for shunting and beet loading etc.
a photograph taken on the occasion of last steam powered passenger
train in 1963. The building at immediate right of photo no longer
exists. However the station house, signal cabin are still extant and
are used as dwellings. Note the large tree still thrives forty five
years later. Behind the station house is also a pretty cottage.(Fig
7). The small girder bridge (where road traffic crossed the line to
Macmine) still stands and is maintained by Wexford Co Council.
all station buildings from Bagenalstown to Ballywilliam were
constructed of stone, those at Palace are timber framed with
galvanised iron external cladding and roof.
Bagenalstown to Palace East. J.P. O’Dea.
Carloviana Vol 2 , No 22 (1973)
Railways & Co Carlow. William Ellis. Carloviana.
Ask About Ireland Website. Carlow County Library
Carlow Granite Years of History written in Stone.