Well that went fast!
Our All The Stations - Ireland adventure started officially on Monday 25 (although we did a sneaky bonus video before the kick off) and ended just 16 days later on Wednesday 10 April. It was fast, fun and everyone was super friendly.
The journey started at Rosslare Harbour where we hopped off the ferry (after a windy crossing) and onto the Iarnród Éireann network. There are 144 stations in Ireland, which took us 11 days to tick off - that’s a leisurely 13(ish) stations per day. The slower pace and fewer stations gave a whole new feeling to the adventure in comparison to our journey across England, Wales and Scotland in 2017. Someone in the ATS team described it as “having less jeopardy” and this was very much the case. There was never any anxiety about missing a connection or failure to complete the day’s schedule. The comparative straight forward-ness of Ireland’s network also means there is a high performance rating across Iarnród Éireann’s services - and true to form we were only delayed more than 10 minutes on one occasion (and are now much more familiar with Limerick Junction as a result).
The calmness of the network was reflected by both staff and passengers, who were without fail relaxed, friendly, eager to chat and genuinely interested in our project. Some staff even gave us tips for the best places to get footage of trains!
Many stations in Ireland have few or irregular trains services. The Ballybrophy line for example, towards Limerick stopping at Roscrea, Cloughjordan, Nenagh, Birdhill and Castleconnel has been at risk of closure for a while with only four services running each day Mon - Sat (two in each direction) and trains travel at a maximum speed of 30mph (due to the low maintenance of the track). On the evening we travelled the line there were only five other passengers, but as our guard told us, this wasn’t always such a quiet branch. When the line was the main route to and from Limerick, it used to see hundreds of passengers everyday with trains travelling up to a maximum speed of 70mph. By restricting the services and not investing in infrastructure upkeep, it feels like one day the decision to close the line might easily be taken. But then what would the communities around the stations do? How reliant are the five passengers we met on that service? One gentleman told us he regularly used the line, travelling to Dublin and back again in a day. Which leaves a question; are only five people genuinely interested in travelling the line, or are there only five passengers because of the obscurity of the service? Could this be another Tweedbank situation - if you build it, they will come.
As well as learning about the railways themselves there was also more time to get out and ‘Vicki Explores’. I discovered new histories and stories that were completely unknown to me. Many Irish castles for example are of the ‘fortified townhouse’ style, contemporaneous to the time of Irish Lords, Chieftains and Clans rather than the Norman style motte and bailey castles that I’m used to in Britain. They have their own unique methods of fortifications and systems of defence - such as machicolations - which I was excited to learn about.
The 1916 Easter Risings was also a prominent history that reoccured throughout our adventure, embedded into the history of the towns and cities we visited, as well as at many of the stations we alighted at too. In 1966, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of The Rising leaders, 15 stations were renamed after key figures;
Bray Daly Station (Edward Daly)
Connolly Station (James Connolly, formerly Amiens Street)
Cork Kent Station (Thomas Kent)
Drogheda MacBride Station (John MacBride)
Dundalk Clarke Station (Thomas Clarke)
Dun Laoghaire Mallin Station (Michael Mallin)
Galway Ceannt Station (Eamonn Ceannt)
Heuston Station (Seán Heuston, formerly Kingsbridge)
Kilkenny MacDonagh Station (Thomas MacDonagh)
Limerick Colbert Station (Con Colbert)
Pearse Station (after Padraig and William Pearse; formerly Westland Row)
Sligo MacDiarmada Station (Seán MacDiarmada)
Tralee Casement Station (Roger Casement)
Waterford Plunkett Station (Joseph Plunkett)
Wexford O’Hanrahan Station (Michael O’Hanrahan)
Each renamed station also displayed information and artwork detailing information about their namesake and their connection to the local area.
Of all the places ‘Vicki Explored’ in Ireland I genuinely fell in love with Kilkenny. Not only does the town have some great historic venues, museums and associated stories (the first recorded death of a convicted witch in Ireland being just one of them) it’s modern cafes, shops and street art gave the town a warm and inspiring feeling - a place packed with culture past, present and future. Kilkenny is definitely on my list of locations to go back.
Northern Ireland Railways are managed by Translink NI and cover just 54 stations in total. All lines feed into and out of Belfast. As stations are closer together, with a more regular service, the pace picked back up in this last leg of our adventure and the 2017 sense of jeopardy gradually returned.
It took us just two and half days to complete the NI network but what a glorious two and a half days they were. The three main lines in Northern Ireland (to Bangor, Larne Harbour and Derry/Londonderry - with a small spur off to Portrush) all follow some incredible coastlines, the most impressive being that on the line to Derry/Londonderry through Castlerock and Bellarena. We were warned to get ready for some stunning views, to which I thought, “Come on, I’ve been to North Wales and Scotland”, but boy oh boy were we gobsmacked. Well done Northern Ireland, well done.
As well as stunning coastlines there were of course, also some wonderful stations to alight at and places to explore. We were given a particularly warm welcome at Whitehead where, just a few minutes walk down the road is the Whitehead Railway Museum and Railway Preservation Society of Ireland. Staff and volunteers Robin, Matthew and Jodie gave us a whistle stop tour which included the opportunity for me to try my hand as a signal woman (something I hope my Great Grandad would have been proud of, having been a master signalman back in the day).
Another surprising delight was the seaside town of Portrush. Whilst a lot of construction is currently taking place in the town, in preparation for the upcoming British Open golf championships, I managed to bypass the obvious tourist magnets to highlight some of the towns less prominent attractions such as the ‘Pilgrim Steps’. A set of stone stairs situated in the harbour where emigrants would have descended to catch tenders out to larger ships set for America and the ‘New World’.
The long tradition of emigration from across the island of Ireland was another new history that I was fascinated to learn about during our adventure. At different times throughout the past, some say starting as early as the Middle Ages, millions of people have emigrated from Ireland to places around the world. Indeed, we encountered the remembrance of emigration in many different locations - with many railway lines terminating by the sea or at ports it seems hardly surprising - but even at inland towns such as Longford (in the Republic of Ireland) there were statues commemorating those who had embarked on new lives in other lands.
You can watch the entire All The Stations - Ireland series on our YouTube Channel here: www.youtube.com/c/allthestations
We are grateful to our Kickstarter backers for making this adventure possible as well as to the All The Stations team, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring you videos, answer your messages and keep you up to date with our progress. Find out more about the team on our website here: http://allthestations.co.uk/team/
Coming next …
The journey isn’t quite over yet. As part of the project we intend to make a visit to the Isle of Man, and more details of this will follow in the next few weeks.