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Cattle farmers stop railway plan to link Clane and Celbridge

Opposition seems to be the default position among many communities when a new scheme (a new line of road being one topical example) is planned for their locality. The pages of the local press are brimming with reports of campaigns and protests against infrastructure of one kind or another.  And such immediate opposition to plans and projects was a feature of bygone years just as much as it is today. A headline in the Kildare Observer newspaper of February 1897 highlights the intriguing prospect of ‘The Proposed Light Railway between Clane and Celbridge.’ However the sub-heading ‘Opposition Meeting’ tells of the almost inevitable backlash before the project got off the drawing boards. The report told of a meeting called by the landowners and farmers of the Clane hinterland who expressed alarm after a prospectus for a light railway linking Celbridge with Clane and Donadea had been published in the press.  Their objections were multiple. Some of their objections were self-centred based on how the new railway might impact on their own convenience. However one of their worries had a degree of substance … that possibility that they as ratepayers would be saddled with having to guarantee the costs of the new tramway if it did not prove a commercial success. This was a prudent objection --- the latter half of the 19th century in Ireland had seen a ‘boom’ in the building and planning of railways and tramways in all parts of the country. By the late 19th century it was apparent that Ireland did not have the population nor the level of industry to provide passenger and freight revenues to support the hundreds of miles of track which had been laid down from the 1840s onwards.  However there was a mechanism known as the ‘Baronial Guarantee’ by which local ratepayers (a category mainly comprised of big farmers and shop-keepers) could agree to subsidise new railways by an extra charge on their rates bills.
It was the possibility of being saddled with a subsidy for a new line of railway connecting Celbridge, Clane and Donadea that the Clane area ratepayers wanted to quosh before it could take hold.
The Chairman of the public gathering in Clane, Edmund Sweetman, set the tone when he introduced the meeting by saying that ‘He was fully convinced that this tramway was in no sense required.’  The new railway was intended to be a form of tramway which would run alongside the existing public road from Clane to Celbridge. Displaying an element of the not-in-my-back-yard form rationale for objection Mr. Sweetman said he would most strongly oppose the section of tramway nearest to Clane running from Richardstown on the Celbridge road. He said the new tramway would make travelling on the road very unpleasant and, in particular, would make it very unpleasant for driving cattle. His fears on the latter point were echoed by another participant at the meeting, Mr. Manders of Millicent who complained that once the tramway is made ‘none of us will be able to drive our cattle to Dublin.’  This line of objection reflects the status of those who attended the meeting. In the main the objectors were the owners of large grassland farms whose business was in rearing cattle  for the English abbatoir market. Drovers were employed to herd the cattle on the road from Clane to the holding pens at Dublin port. Thence the alarm among the cattle farmers that the advent of a tramway would disrupt the practice of herding their livestock along the road.
Mr. Manders also raised the question of the guarantee and warned that the Clane ratepayers should not even hint at being open to guaranteeing the new project because ‘the ratepayers might be called on to work the line if the promoting company failed.’
Another landowner Mr. Samuel Wray was clearly intent on getting his retaliation in early. He owned land near Robertstown and he had come to join the Clane opponents to the project on the basis that if it was built as far as Clane then there would be a temptation to build it on to Robertsown. He said it would be ‘ridiculous to bring a light railway to Robertstown through Allen’ as there would not be the business to support it.
Another participant was brevity personified in expressing his objections. Mr. Samuel Healy said he was against the scheme ‘in toto.’
And that decisive verdict on the scheme from the Clane area farmers may well have stopped the Celbridge & Clane Light Railway in its tracks because the project was never heard of again.  Series no: 256.


Liam Kenny reflects on the railway line that never was in Series 256 from the Leinster Leader of 22 November 2011. Our thanks to Liam

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