Recent proposals to re-open the railway line from Navan
to Clonsilla remind us that for almost a century that the
iron road network stretched across the county and was a
central part of the social and commercial fabric of Meath.
Today ore from Tara Mines is the only traffic trundling
along the line from Navan to Drogheda, where it joins the
Belfast-Dublin mainline. Since Gypsum Industries stopped
ferrying their cargo by rail a few years ago the Navan-Kingscourt
branch line has been lying idle.
Elsewhere, Laytown, Mosney and Gormanston are served on
the Dublin-Dundalk commuter line, while similar services
on the Dublin-Mullingar line stop at Enfield station, which
was re-opened in May 1988 after being closed for nearly
half a century.
Its all in stark contrast to the situation that prevailed
in the latter part of the 19th century and the first half
of the 20th century when the railway network, with the Navan-Clonsilla
line as its anchor, reached Trim, Athboy, Kells and Oldcastle.
Construction of the line between Dublin and Drogheda was
completed in 1844. Soon efforts were underway to extend
the railway to Navan. Thomas Brodigan, of Piltown House
near Drogheda, a prominent local businessman and a member
of the Board of Trade, spearheaded the extension of the
line from Drogheda to Navan.
On March 13, 1845 a meeting was held in Navan Courthouse
to protest against Brodigans plan and advocating a
direct link to Dublin. Work began on the Drogheda-Navan
branch in 1847 and was three years later it was open for
At the same time the line between Dublin and Galway was
completed and it proved to be a great boon to agriculture
in the post-famine era. This line followed the route of
the Royal Canal from Dublin to Mullingar and the waterway
proved very useful for ferrying workers and construction
The construction of the railways provided employment in
the years during and after the Famine. This new and efficient
mode of transport boosted the economies of rural areas at
a time when travel and transport was slow, difficult and
Before the advent of the railways it took several days to
bring cattle and other goods from the west of Ireland to
county Meath. Now it took a matter of hours. Business at
the stations at Hill of Down and Enfield was boosted by
the cattle trade.
Trim, Kells, Athboy and Oldcastle all benefited in turn
from the arrival of the iron road. A new annual fair started
in Navan in 1855 as a direct result of the coming of the
railway. Held on November 14, it became known as "The
Great Leinster Fair of Navan".
One commentator noted that "Meath has probably the
richest land in the world. In Meath cattle are fat every
summer and placed on the market weeks before cattle from
The Navan-Drogheda railway line was opened on February 15,
1850 and just over three years later it was extended to
Kells. Such was the popularity of the new mode of transport
that plans for a direct link to Dublin soon surfaced again.
Understandably the owner of the Dublin and Drogheda railway
didnt take too kindly to the idea of a rival. But
influential people such as the Duke of Leinster, the Earl
of Darnley as well as Lords Fingall and Dunsany supported
The Dublin and Meath Railway company was set up in 1858
with a view to developing a rail link from Athboy and Trim
to Dublin. Curiously, the contractors the Moore brothers
began construction at the Meath end with the Duke of Leinster
turning the first sod in the project on October 21, 1858.
But it soon ran into difficulties as local landowners priced
the land out of their reach.
Work ceased in October 1859 and the developers turned their
attention to developing the line from Navan to Clonsilla.
The 26-mile route was opened on August 29, 1862. A branch
from Kilmessan extended to Trim and Athboy by February 1864.
Railway construction reached it peak around this time and
by the summer of 1863 the line from Kells to Oldcastle was
opened. Competition between the rival lines was fierce and
both experienced financial difficulties.
The line from Clonsilla to Navan became known as "The
Meath Road", but making it pay proved difficult. The
Dublin and Meath Railway Company went into receivership
in 1868 and the following year the Midland and Great Western
Railway Company, which owned the Dublin-Galway line, took
out a lease on it and eventually bought it out in 1888.
A link from Navan to Kilmainhamwood was opened in late 1872
and three years later the line was extended to Kingscourt,
a full 50 miles from Dublin by rail. This section was worked
by the Midlands and Great Western Railway.
Later it was proposed continue the line to join the Great
Northern Railways but it never materialised. By now there
were almost 20 railway stations in County Meath; Gormanston
and Laytown on the Dublin-Drogheda line. Another station
at Bettystown was closed within a few years of being opened.
On the Clonsilla-Navan line there were stations at Dunboyne,
Batterstown, Drumree, Kilmessan, Bective and Navan. Kilmessan
was the junction for Trim and Athboy. Between Navan and
Kingscourt there were stations at Gibbstown, Wilkinstown,
Nobber and Kilmainhamwood, while on the Kells-Oldcastle
section there was a station called Virginia Road.
On the Dublin-Galway line there were stations at Hill of
Down, Enfield and Ferns Lock. In 1877 the railways in Meath
reached their fullest extent when a branch line from Enfield
to Edenderry was completed.
Such was the level of traffic on the "Meath Road",
particularly cattle specials, that it proved impossible
to work it efficiently on a single track. Work began in
the late 1880s to create a double line between Clonsilla
and Navan. It was only brought as far as Drumree and lasted
from 1889 to 1919.
Shortly after the Midland Great Western Company took over
the Clonsilla-Navan line a new station was built a Fairyhouse
to cater for race day traffic. The last special train to
the Easter Meeting ran in 1940.
A platform was opened in 1924 at Proudstown on the Kingscourt
line to service the nearby racecourse and it continued to
operate until 1939.
The new operators were also responsible for erecting platforms
as all stations on the line.
Rail travel in the early days was restricted to the wealthier
classes. Around 1870 fares were approximately 1 penny per
mile and with the average wage around three shilling per
week, working class people could only afford to travel short
However that began to change when rail companies began to
drum up extra business with the introduction of day trip
and seaside specials around the turn of the century. The
railway played a key role introducing new and exotic goods
into rural areas.
The heyday of the railways didnt last very long. The
introduction of a regular bus service between Dublin and
Kells in 1927 lessened the demand for passenger services.
The Midland and Great Western Railway Company was absorbed
by Great Southern Railways in 1925. Passengers services
on the Enfield-Edenderry branch ceased in 1931 and the line
was closed in the great railway cull of the early 1960s.
The rail service to Navan Racecourse ended in 1939 but there
were two notable developments around this time. A siding
to the Gypsum factory at Kingscourt was opened in the same
year and a decade later a new station was opened at Mosney
to service the newly opened Butlins Holiday Camp.
During the Emergency rail services were restricted and those
that ran did so at a slower pace due to the poor quality
of the fuel. Passengers services on railways in Meath were
In 1946 passenger services were restored on the Clonsilla-Navan
line before being suspended for good the following year.
The decline of the railways was accelerated in the Fifties
with the closure of the Kilmessan-Athboy line in 1953.
No trace of Trim station remains, while the ones at Kilmessan
and Virginia Road have been transformed into restaurants.
Football Specials apart passenger trains were
rarely full and as part of an economy drive a bus
on rails was introduced between Navan and Drogheda but on
April 12, 1958 the last regular passenger service to Navan
ceased. Five years later the line to Oldcastle closed and
redundant tracks in the county were uprooted the following
The Football Special between Navan and Dublin
was revived for the 1991 All-Ireland Football Final between
Meath and Down and again five years later for the drawn
Interestingly, former Meath County Board secretary Liam
Creavin came to live in the county when his father was appointed
Station Master at Bective in the early 1930s.
Navan remained an important rail-head for freight traffic
until 1977 when the business was transferred to Drogheda.
A portion of Kells line was relaid to cater for the shipment
of lead and zinc from Tara Mines to Dublin port and it constitutes
the only traffic on the line now since the transport of
gypsum ceased just a few years ago.
Finally, the countys railways have featured in a few
features films. In the late sixties I can recall the steam
train and appropriate carriages travelling to Beauparc station
where part of "Darling Lili" was filmed. Directed
by Blake Edwards and starring Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson
it was the story of an American ace who falls for a German
In later years the iron bridge over the River Nanny at Laytown
has featured in several Neil Jordan films, most notably
the Oscar-winning "The Crying Game".
Recent proposals to re-open the Navan-Clonsilla line have
costed the project £460m, the same price as a couple
of Hollywood blockbusters
Taken from Royal Meath