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Riding the Rails

The provision of public transport is one of the keystones of government policy.  This despite the fact that public transport is generally a loss-making enterprise. It is a duty of government to provide public transport for those who have not any means of transport of their own.  However, this did not prevent the closure by government of some of these services.

One such service was the rail line from Ennis to Kilkee,  known far and wide as The West Clare Railway.    This vital service enabled many to take a trip to the seaside, to transport goods back and forth and allow commuters in general to travel to wherever they had in mind.

In our younger days we availed of the train on a regular basis,  most often to Lahinch.    On warm sunny Sundays we would head down to Conways, about a mile from our house, to catch the midday train which we knew would not be filled to capacity, as those from the town of Ennis would most likely travel on a later train.     While waiting for the arrival of the train we would now and again listen for an echo from the rails which would signal that the train was not far off.    Soon we would see it in the distance and prepare to flag it down,  as Conways was not an official stop. Invariably, it slowed and stopped as the traindrivers were usually an obliging lot and we hopped on board without delay.

The front carriage on some trains had a glass partition between the passengers and the driver’s area and one could view him at the controls as well as the terrain ahead.   It wasn’t long before we pulled into our first stop,  Corofin,  where we picked up some more passengers,  also bound for the seaside.    On one occasion, between Corofin and Ennistymon, the train rounded a bend and we could see that the gates were still shut. Though the driver wrestled frantically with the controls and almost brought it to a standstill he could not prevent it bringing down the gates. We proceeded on our journey after a short delay and a few choice words exchanged between the driver and those charged with operating the gates.

Lahinch with it’s rolling waves, periwinkles and ice cream was always a highlight of our summers and it pained us to have to leave it to catch the train back home. However, we could hardly complain as the train got us there in the first place.

All of this came to an end around 1960 when the government of the day in their wisdom decided to close the West Clare Railway for good. The tracks were dug up with indecent haste and shunted off to somewhere in Africa. This shortsighted policy discommoded a great many people and increased their isolation for many years thereafter.     The pros and cons of such closures up and down the country continues to be debated to this day.

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