train that once linked Castlecomer and Kilkenny
Plumes of smoke could be seen curling like grey candy floss
above the trees as the gleaming black locomotive with its
cargo of coal trucks chugged its way along the river banks,
towards the depot in Kilkenny Railway Station.
It is difficult to imagine now but there was a time when
the hills around Castlecomer echoed to the sounds of a steam
The Deerpark Train which ran between Deerpark mine and Kilkenny
operated for more than 40 years, bringing coal from the
mines of Castlecomer for distribution to the world beyond.
Accounts differ as to whether the train started running
in 1919 or 1921 but it ceased operation in 1963.
Seamus Farrell, from the Railway Garage, is to be my guide
for the day and we begin our journey at his home.
"This was the old station master's house," says
Seamus Farrell, as we drive the short distance from the
Railway Garage to his home on Castlecomer's Kilkenny Road.
"Down there," he says, pointing tot he next house
a little further out the Kilkenny Road. "was the ticket
"And this is where the railway lines ran" says
Seamus, as we make our way up the steps to his back garden.
"Two tracks ran through here and out there," he
says, sweeping his hand from one end of his garden to the
other and pointing up towards the town.
Looking around the beautifully landscaped garden surrounded
by flowers, shrubs and trees, it is impossible to visualise
a large steam train thundering through here pulling its
dusty, rattling coal trucks behind it.
"The station master would have kept a cow here in the
garden also," says Seamus.
On the front gate post, a fixing for an oil lamp conjures
up an image of the station master going about his duties
on dark wintry nights.
"The train would have gone up one of the lines here,
turned and come back," explains Seamus. "Then
the lines merged into one just down by the ticket office."
According to the map in Tom Lyng's book Castlecomer Connections,
the train left Deerpark Mine, crossed the bridge over the
Ballinakill/Clogh Road (the pillars of the bridge can still
be seen), crossed Barrack Street, Hospital Lane, over the
Dysart Bridge, where the Silvery Deen and Dinin Rivers meet,
crossed the road at Corbettstown near the Cave Bar to run
along the left-hand side of the road, crossed the road again
by Dunmore House, crossed Ballyragget Road to join the Kilkenny/Portlaoise
railway line in Dunmore West, then made its way into Kilkenny
over bridges near the cattle mart and just below the Castlecomer
Road roundabout. The coal was deposited at the depot and
taken on by train to Dublin from where it set off across
the Irish Sea.
In the compiling of a project on Coalmining in Castlecomer
as part of the Schools Integration Project (SIP), pupils
from the local Holy Cross national school in Firoda, spent
the day walking a section of the railway line. Their website
shows images of farm gates along the route branded with
the shamrock logo of the rail company and the discarded
'clinkers' or lumps of coal which wouldn't burn, which they
found still sitting in the same spot on the tracks having
been thrown from the train over 40 years ago.
The Deerpark Train was set up in 1919 by the British government
under the Defence of the Realm Act, in the aftermath of
World War 1 as a means of ensuring a safe, convenient and
efficient supply of coal. The railway was then turned over
to the Irish Government in 1921 and run by the Great Southern
and Western Railway (GSWR). An act in 1924 ordered the amalgamation
of all rail companies and the GSWR became the Great Southern
Railway operators of the Deerpark train until stopped running
In the 1950s, Deerpark Mine sent three trains a day carrying
100 tons of coal each into Kilkenny. The coal came in many
forms and included cobbles, Aga nuts, peas, beans, breakage,
culm, and cannels. There was a demand for all of it and
in Castlecomer Connections, Tom Lyng had documented enquires
from prospective customers on Cairo, Sao Paulo and Stockholm
as well as all over Ireland and Britain.
"It didn't just carry coal," explains Seamus as
we drive through Castlecomer out to the Deerpark Mine. "Sometimes
it carried other goods like sugar beet for the farmers.
And, of course, it carried passengers too."
The Deerpark train carried passengers, as well as coal,
from 1921 to 1931 allowing people from Castlecomer and the
surrounding area to venture further than Kilkenny.
The coal trucks were all left at the colliery in All-Ireland
day though and the train was packed to capacity with fortunate
All-Ireland ticket holders who had each paid six shillings
for a seat on the train.
On the way to Clogh road on the way out to the Deerpark
mine, Seamus points out the railway bridge and further out,
the railway crossing where, as one local put it, "it
doesn't matter how many times they tarmac that road, you
can still feel the bumps of the railway track as you drive
Out at the mine, the long building which housed the showers
now stands roofless and the once 350-foot mountain of shale
known as Bell's Heap had been greatly reduced.
There is no evidence either of the overhead cable cars which
carried coal form the other pits to Deerpark to meet the
"I remember, years ago, when I was playing hurling
for Kilkenny, our trainer brought us out here for showers
before we went to Dublin for the match" says Seamus
According to Mary Morrissey, librarian in Castlecomer Library,
there are plans to build an interpretative centre at Deerpark
Mine in the near future.
The Deerpark train ran twice a daily but when passengers
became uneconomical, the decision was taken to carry only
freight with excursion trains being laid on only for special
"I was on it in 1947," says one Castlecomer woman,
who preferred not to give her name. "We went to Tramore
and it was my first time at the sea side. I will never forget
the excitement. 130 people got the train from Castlecomer
to Kilkenny, which took 40 minutes, and then we changed
to the Waterford train. When we arrived in Waterford, we
had to get to the other side of the city to catch the Tramore
train. I can't remember if there was a bus or if we walked.
We got to Tramore at 4 o'clock that afternoon," she
says laughing at the memories. I remember my mother saying
to me, " Well there's the sea", but it was an
overcast day and the sea and the sky were the dame colour
and all I could see was sky and I started crying. But we
all went off down to the beach and, of course, I saw the
sea and the sand was so soft. It was lovely. It was a great
*Coalmining in Castlecomer, project by Firoda N.S., www.sip.ie/sip019B
*Castlecomer Connections by Tom Lyng, 1984
*In the Shadow of the Mines by Joe and Seamus Walsh, 1999
Courtesy of Katherine Blake and the Kilkenny People