News from Times Past with Brian Gabriel, Blarney & District Historical Society

Memories of the Muskerry Railway

The period of which I availed myself of the transport facilities of the Cork and Muskerry Light Railway was probably as interesting a period as any in the history of this famous railroad. The years from 1919 to 1923, during which I received my secondary school education at the North Monastery (Cork) were the years of “The Trouble”, and the “Black and Tans” and the Civil War. One could easily enough get himself shot at, but we were young and enjoyed at least some of the incidents, like the following: – the “tram” was ordered to stop one morning on the stretch between Carrigrohane and Victoria Cross, by a truck-load of Black and Tans. Everyone was ordered out on the road and were all searched. I remember the British accent of the officer of the party when he barked to one of his subordinates “get this bloke on the lorry”. This “bloke” was a well-known farmer who was coming to town to do some shopping. He was being taken a hostage and if the lorry was ambushed along the road out to West Cork, he would be the first to be shot. During this time, the bridge at Leemount near the “Angler’s Rest” was partially demolished by the I.R.A. No train or car could get across, but there was one place in the middle of the bridge over which pedestrians could pass. The “Muskerry” however, rose to the occasion by providing a train from Cork as far as the bridge to meet another train from Blarney. Everybody got out of one train to make the hazardous trip across to the other train. Footwork had to be steady, else one might find oneself in the pleasant water of the River Lee, thirty feet below. One afternoon, as we all got out to board the train on the other side, someone up on the hills around started a machine-gun on us, or rather, I suppose, on some soldiers who were on our train. Those of us still on the road ruched into the pub (Angler’s Rest). Those who were on the train tried to lie down on the floors of the cars. Packages were flying all over the place. Women were screaming and general pandemonium broke loose. From the shelter of the pub we young rascals enjoyed the scene. The word went round that the “one-eyed gunner” was the lad responsible. He must have run out of ammunition or something because he stopped shooting. The soldiers went through the fields shooting up at the hills, and the tram pulled away towards Healy’s Bridge. The Muskerry was fairly punctual. Every morning the train that helped in our education arrived at the Cork terminal at 8 a.m. I think, and every morning as we come out on to Washington Street we met a troop of soldiers marching along Western Road. One morning the train arrived about two minutes early, which meant that we got as far as the Mercy Hospital on way to school, when the soldiers passed the terminal. On this particular morning, someone threw a bomb at them, and we thanked our lucky stars the “old Muskerry” was early that morning. We had permission to get out of school to catch the 2.40 p.m. home. As we were racing down Shandon Street, we were halted by the Black and Tans and searched. We missed the 2.40 p.m. and our antagonism towards the “Tans”, and our patriotism increased 100%. I was happy that one of our group who had shown us his revolver some time previously did not have it with him then. The ticket-collectors, who were known as “guards”, had to be careful. When a guard finished checking the tickets in one carriage he had to go outside that carriage to get into the next one. This was done while the train was moving. The doors were at the ends of the cars and opened in, so he pulled the door after him as he went out. He supported himself by hanging on the iron bars attached to the car, and standing on the narrow steps just outside the door. Then he swung himself on to the next car, supported himself the same way, pushed the door in and proceeded with his work in that car. The whole performance, because of the rocking and swaying of the cars, was dangerous, particularly as the guards were not young men and more particularly as the outside steps were often wet and slippery – Irish climate being what it is. One guard was killed at Tower (Bridge) station one evening. He slipped off the narrow steps and fell between the platform and the train. I almost got killed at Tower myself. The station platform was not long enough for the normal train, and accordingly the engine and a few cars stopped beyond and under Tower Bridge. To avoid the inconvenience of having to walk back between the sides of the bridge and the train, we had a habit of jumping off about midway along the platform while the train was still motion. As I was about to jump one afternoon, some fellow tripped me, and I went sprawling on my face and hands on the gravel. It was a good thing it was the gravel. The “Muskerry” killed several people in its time. One evening as it made its way out of the Western Road snorting and spewing steam it caught up with a horse and rider; the horse got frightened and threw the rider – under the wheels of the locomotive. Even when you got inside you were not entirely safe. I remember one morning on the short stretch between Leemount and Carrigrohane, the car we were in started bouncing and jumping all over the place. We knew it had somehow got off the tracks and might get tossed over Leemount Bridge into the river if the “hook and eye” broke. That prospect did not appeal to us so we took our position at the doors ready to jump. Luckily, the train stopped, and when we got out to examine the under-structure of the car we found the four-wheel unit under the end of the car was actually twisted around crosswise, and the wheels were smashed. Many were the jokes about the speed of the “Muskerry Express”, as it was sometimes called. I don’t know what the maximum speed was, but to those of us who rode on it, it seemed to do about 50 m.p.h. out the Carrigrohane Road – that is what we thought, until we saw a pony and trap pass us a few times. Whatever the speed of the “Muskerry was, we knew it was not wise to put one’s head out of the window, at least on one side. You could get your eyes scratched out, or your head knocked off by the whitethorn bushes that grew in luxuriance on the fences by the side of the railroad track. Most people never thought of looking out, however. The discussions and the “carrying’s on” inside were interesting enough to command attention. The “carriages” were about30 ft. long, and the passengers sat facing one another on seats which extended the total length of the carriage. These seats were attached to the sides of the carriage. Among the young fellows going to school there were fights on several occasions and a minor sort of cold war continually existed. One time a spanking new engine appeared at the Cork Terminal ready to take our 2.40 p.m. to Blarney. We examined it with approving gaze – its fine lines, its new coat of green paint and the name Blarney in big letters on its side. The Blarney’s maiden voyage seemed to be a success until we got to Healy’s Bridge. There the temperamental female, having stopped to let Kerry Pike passengers, refused to budge. We all got out to offer encouragement, but to no avail. Some remarks were caustic. I remember one lady came up to the engine-driver, as we called him, and made one of those sarcastic remarks, which hurt us loyal season-ticket holders. She was from the Hydro at St. Ann’s and accordingly belonged to the aristocracy automatically. She had an English accent and maybe that is why we did not like her. “So that’s the new engine” said she in haughty tones and with that she proceeded to hoof it along the road towards Coachford Junction. Well, after a while, the Blarney seemed to come to life and to the delight and cheers of the passengers, started off with much puffing. We saw the haughty lady as we rounded the big curve of Vagabond Rock; her head was in the air and her step was brave, but we knew it was all put on. Anyway the trainmen decided wait for her at the “Junction and we thought that was carrying charity too far. Another such image is the train whistle, especially on a frosty morning. It seemed to travel for miles. Simple things come to mind, like the condensation on the windows when the weather was cold, or the morning fog in the valleys of the Lee and the Shournagh, or the uncouth habit of some of the men of spitting on the floor of the car. It all seems so long ago and belonging almost to another world, but there will always be a fond memory of the old “Muskerry Tram”. The above article was written by John Joseph Scanlan D.D. (May 24, 1906 – January 31, 1997) Born in Iniscarra and ordained a priest on June 22, 1930. In 1968, after a number of senior promotions, he was appointed the Bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu. Retiring in 1981, he died in California on January 31, 1997 and was buried in the crypt at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

The second lecture of the Blarney and District Historical Society for April is on Thursday 21st April at 8p. at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál. It is titled ‘Remembering the Dripsey Ambush’. The speaker is Mr. Tim O’Brien. The lecture for May is on Thursday 12th May (please note date change from 5th) at 8pm in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál. It is titled ‘Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution’. The speaker is Mr. Cal McCarthy.