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Tracking the history of our old growth engines

IT WAS once the only way to travel. For almost a century, there was barely a county without a few miles of railway line.

There was the south coast line, which took you from Baltimore through Skibbereen, Bantry, Dunmanway, Bandon, Kinsale and into Cork city.

There was the magnificent Letterkenny & Burtonport Extension Railway through some of the most breath-taking parts of north-west Donegal, which ran from Derry to Letterkenny via Gweedore to Burtonport.

And the superbly scenic railway from Farranfore, which brought you through some of the most picturesque countryside in Co Kerry through Killorglin and Caherciveen to Valentia Harbour.

Each line had its own personality and stories.

But the trains have long departed from these and many other railways around Ireland, closed mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the stories of these lines are lovingly told in a new book, appropriately titled 'The Trains Long Departed', by author Tom Ferris.

"What I wanted to get across in my book is the part in the economic life of these towns that the railway played.

"Along with the goods they brought in and out, a study of CIE done in the 1950s showed that six men were employed for every mile of railway in Ireland.

"Station staff, track workers, signal men. The railways depended on the diverse skills of the people who worked on them. When a line closed, this close-knit team was disbanded, and their skills lost forever," Mr Ferris said.

The first Irish railway was established as early as 1834, and by 1914 the network covered the entire island.

But the development of the internal combustion engine, combined with the inherent unprofitability of many of the smaller and more remote lines, resulted in a drastic cull of the system in the 20th Century.

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"Because of the closure of railway lines in 1957, places like Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal are now totally dependent on the car," said Mr Ferris.

Of the 10 lost Irish railways featured in his book, the 57-year-old said that none can be re-opened but live on in the stories and pictures he has gathered.

"In some cases they ripped up the tracks and built motorways along the lines of the old railways. With oil prices going up and the planet overheating, we could really do with these railways now, but the trains have long since departed," he added.

'The Trains Long Departed' by Tom Ferris is published by Gill & MacMillan.

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