Transport in the forties

Many accounts have been written about Irelandıs transport difficulties over the years. These difficulties became all the greater during the Emergency, 1939 to 1945, and affected County Cavan as well as all other parts of our country. By Joe McManus.

There was particular difficulty in running of Great Southern Railway trains. Coal was not available to keep the train engines running and the Southern railways were obliged to make use of turf and timber from any available source. It is recorded that it once took a train three hours to travel from Dun Laoghaire to Dublin and that a train from Dublin to Athlone was passed out by a Royal Canal barge.

In October, 1941 the Government decided to maintain an emergency supply of turf in the Phoenix Park, Dublin and this was delivered by lorries from the mid-land bogs and from the west. As well as providing some necessary fuel for city dwellers it was a great help to the railway system. (G.S.R) as anything burnable was needed to provide a skeleton service. A new substance known as “duff” came into existence. This was made from a mixture of dust and pitch.

Eleven branch railway lines were closed in the spring of 1942. All other lines were cut to two days per week for passenger trains and four for freight. In Dublin there was a curtailment of electric trams in 1942, and these ceased to run after the summer of 1944.

The situation for the Great Northern Railway was quite different. They were guaranteed a supply of coal for troop movements and for the maintenance of supplies. The G.N.R. served both sides of the border.
In Co Cavan the ‘Magent’ and the ‘IOC’ had long since ceased to run, but the G.N.R. and G.S.R managed to maintain a thrice-daily Cavan/Dublin ‘bus service’. The two bodies were in competition with each other and ran at similar times. I remember when the single fare from Lees Cross, Upper Lavey to Dublin was four shillings and sixpence and also when this was increased to five shillings and nine pence.

Motor-cars, motorcycles, virtually all internal-combustion engine vehicles except those exempted for essential services disappeared from the roads. Clergyman, Doctors, Shopkeepers providing essential foodstuffs were among these exempted. In the late thirties Joe Delaney, a native of Roscrea, had been employed by the Automobile Association and based in Cavan town. He had to perform a cycling patrol (on pedal bicycle) twice daily between Cavan and New Inn in the course of his duties.

After a year or so he was supplied with a motorcycle but he, too, was no longer to be seen after the coming of World War II. The pedal bicycle, horse-drawn vehicles such as traps and carts were to be seen everywhere. It was even difficult to purchase a pedal bicycle as one had to have notified the stockist well in advance. The Ministry of Supplies fixed the price of a used adult bicycle at £8.00 sterling. There was plenty of cycle shops doing business. One, Mr Lynch, had a cycle shop near Poles on the Dublin/Cavan Road.

Jack McConnell was well established in Ashe Street, Cavan while Dan McDonald’s Garage in Ballyjamesduff, had a number of employees dealing with cycle repairs. Charlie Boylan had a cycle shop in the Pullafree area of Ballyjamesduff. On one occasion a passer-by observed fifty to one hundred pedal bicycles parked outside Mr.Boylan’s premises. He observed “You must be doing a great trade here, Charlie,” to which the Proprietor replied “Why? My dear man, all the profit I make here would not pay postage on my correspondence.” Obviously, all dealers had to fill various forms in regard to sales, supplies, etc. and there were several regulations to the complied with.

Another noted cycle shop was that of Mullerys in Cavan town. Even when cyclists had their machine it was difficult to get spare parts or tyres. As was the case with foodstuffs these became a little more plentiful on what was known as the ‘black market’.

I recall that on a four-hour night time patrol with the LSF along the main Cavan/Dublin road from Lees’ Cross, Upper Lavey to Belasis Bridge in 1941 the only vehicle we met was a lorry belonging to Montgomery & Co. carrying egg boxes to the market yard in Cavan town.

On the Sunday’s of inter-club football matches the roads were, as one lady described it - “black with bicycles”. I recall cycling journeys from my home in Upper Lavey to games in Cross, Butlersbridge, Tierquin Park, Tullyco (Denn), Laragh, Stradone and Crosskeys. Some of my friends cycled to Dublin for All-Ireland finals.

I do not know when Cavan Railway Station closed. Often I travelled by train from Mullingar to Cavan between 1943 and 1945. The train chugged its way at a slow pace - I presume it was a G.S. train - through Inny Junction, Drumhowan, Ballywillan, Crossdoney, and on to Cavan. Some week-ends when not travelling by train or pedal bicycle, I was able to get the G.S ‘bus from Mullingar to Longford and McGirrs’ bus from Longford to Cavan via Drumlish and Arva. Return journeys were via Killeshandra. Obviously, McGirrs were able to maintain a service throughout the Emergency.

Upper Lavey Pioneer T.A.A. Centre had excursions to Bundoran in 1940 and 1941. I do not remember what transport took us to Cavan Railway Station. It may have been a McGirr ‘bus. From there it was a G.N. train to and from Bundoran. Bundoran, then as now, was a well-known tourist resort and well served by the Great Northern Company.

Towards the end of the Emergency things began to return to normality on our roads. A tribunal was set up to enquire into the rail situation - financial and otherwise. The Great Southern and The Dublin United Transport Company were merged into a new body called ‘Coras Iompar Eireann’ under a Transport Bill of 1944. However, it took many years before there was an improvement in passenger rail service. Even as late as the fifties, I travelled on a couple of occasions from Dublin to Ballinrobe, Co Mayo by train. The journey from Dublin to Claremorris took about three and a half hours, but the remaining thirteen miles - Claremorris to Ballinrobe - took well over an hour. My last journey from Cavan Railway Station to Dublin was on New Years Day, 1947.

Some say St. Christopher was demoted in recent times but I think the poor Saint has been working overtime since the resumption of normal petrol and oil supplies.
Grásta Dé ar an daoine luaite atá imighe uainn.

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2003