BLESSINGTON TRAM - LAST RUN - NEW YEAR'S EVE 1932
Leinster Leader 27 December 2007
A New Year’s Eve finale for the fabled Blessington tram
On New Year’s Eve 1932, seventy-five years ago, a much storied transport link carried its last load of passengers among the foothills of West Wicklow. The Blessington tram had been a larger than life presence in the lives of the communities along its route from Terenure to Blessington for the previous forty-four years. Perhaps it was the folklore that grew up around the tram rather than its patchy efficiency as a transport service that promoted a certain nostalgia but there was a full a load of passengers on board the tram for its final run on that New Year’s Eve of 1932.
The story of the Blessington tram had begun more than four decades previously when in 1887 an Act was passed by the Westminster Parliament entitled the Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway Company Act. The effect of this legislation was to set up a company of the same name to build a 15 mile tramway from a depot at Terenure, on the south side of Dublin, to Blessington. The first directors were William Owen (Blessington), Fletcher Moore (Kilbride), William Domville Handcock (Templeogue), Thomas S. Guinness (Rathfarnham) and John A. Walker of Dublin. In engineering terms the line was an ultimately unsatisfactory combination of a conventional railway line (its tracks were laid wide apart as with a standard railway) and a roadside tram with the line sharing the width of the Blessington road with pedestrian and horse traffic.
Passengers from Dublin joined the tram at the company’s depot at Terenure which was well equipped with company offices and sidings. From there the tram ran along the road out into what was then entirely rural countryside south of Templeogue with stops at Tallaght, Clondalkin Road and Jobstown before beginning a severe climb to Crooksling via the Embankment, a station which took its name from a short off-road bank created for the tram. From a high point at Crooksling where a stop served the City of Dublin sanatorium (now St. Brigid’s Hospital) the tram picked up downhill momentum with views of the Wicklow mountains to the east. After negotiating the the steep hill on the Dublin-Wicklow boundary the stop at the Brittas Inn was no doubt a welcome watering place for man and machine. From Brittas the tram ran along the road with a series of halts including The Lamb, Tinode, and Cross Chapel before the destination of Blessington was reached having criss-crossed the county boundaries of Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow en route. At a speed of about ten miles an hour (and that was on a good day) the fifteen-mile journey to Blessington was timetabled at just under an hour-and-a-half in duration.
The inaugural run of the Blessington tram took place on 1st August 1888 and the early signs looked promising – so positive indeed that soon afterwards a four-mile extension was built from Blessington to Poulaphuca where the spectacular falls (since tamed by the ESB dam) were a tourist attraction. Keen-eyed visitors to Blessington will notice the marker stone engraved with the initials of the Blessington and Poulaphuca tram companies which exists to this day on the east side of the Main Street.
Over the following forty-four years the tram became a part of the scenery of west Wicklow and the subject of many anecdotes – it gained the unenviable repute of being the longest graveyard in Ireland, a title explained by the proximity of the tracks to numerous roadside public houses. On a happier note the tram the tram provided a popular excursion for city trippers on jaunts to the foothills of west Wicklow. So popular indeed that one local wit, making a comparison with an a placename familiar in war time reports of the era, wrote the following lines: ‘ The Battle of Ypres was only a sham/Compared to the rush for the Blessington steam tram!’
However continuous breakdowns brought about by the severe climbs on the route, and in the late 1920s, competition from a more reliable bus service inevitably undermined the tramway’s commercial prospects. By December 1932 the end of the line was in sight and the track, engines and carriages were put up sale. On that wet Saturday New Year’s Eve of 1932 the tram departed from the Templeogue depot for Blessington for the last time, its whistle never again to echo through the valley between the hills of east Kildare and the mountains of west Wicklow.
* Reference: The Dublin & Blessington Tramway by Fayle & Newham
** Correcting a gremlin or two in earlier articles … In series no. 28 I mentioned that Samuel Lyons from Kill had fought with a Canadian regiment in the Boer war. In fact Samuel, had fought in World War One while Thomas Lyons had been in the Boer War. My thanks to Ms. Mabel Lyons, Hartwell. Also, in article series no.22 I said that the Luisitania had been torpedoed in 1917 – this should have read 1915.
Liam Kenny recounts the last run of the Blessington Tram in 1932 in his regualr column 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' of 27 December 2007 in the Leinster Leader. Our thanks as always to Liam.