The Cavan and Leitrim Railway

(1887 - 1959)

 History

The first section, some 34 miles, of what became the Cavan and Leitrim Railway (C&LR), from Dromod to Belturbet was opened in October 1887. The branch line from Ballinamore to Arigna followed in May 1888 and in 1920 extended to the coalmines beyond the village. The line was closed in May 1959. On opening the line had a fleet of 8 steam locomotives, which on the 1925 amalgamation, when the C&LR became part of the GSR were designated Class DN2 

At its opening the C&LR had a stock of 8 steam locomotives, all of the same wheel arrangement and built by Robert Stephenson & Co. Locomotive No's 5 to 8 were supplied by the makers complete with skirting over wheels, cowcatcher, bell, and headlamp at the bunker end, typical of a "tramway - type" locomotive for use on open (unfenced) track. These locomotives were fitted with condensing gear and each cab was fitted with duplicate driving controls. In due course all eight locomotives were re-boilered, increasing their working weight from 25 to 27 tons. On delivery the locomotives were un-named and it was suggested that they be named after the Directors' daughters. 

 

Locomotive No.1 was named "Isabel" after the daughter of R. H. Johnstone of Bawnboy House, the longest serving director of the C&LR. No.8 "Queen Victoria" lost her nameplates under, what was described as, 'patriotic' circumstances in 1923. The plates were eventually found and the C&LR insisted they should be restored to the locomotive, however within a few days they again disappeared, this time never to be found. At the 1925 amalgamation the C&LR became part of the Great Southern Railways and the above 8 locomotives, the rolling stock and infrastructure passed to the new company (along with a 0-6-4T locomotive, No. 9 of 1904).

Above is an original Cavan and Leitrim loco number 3" Lady Edith" seen in original lined green livery. She  survived closure and is currently stored at the New Jersey Railway Museum (C) Ken Nunn 

Early Years
In September 1883, a public meeting in Ballinamore declared that a light railway and tramway would open up the coal and iron districts of Arigna and Lough Allen. The Cavan and Leitrim Railway opened for goods traffic on 17th October 1887 and for passengers on 24th October 1887. The section from Belturbet in County Cavan to Dromod in County Leitrim was light railway, and a tramway ran from Ballinamore to Arigna. At the start both lines were operated by eight Robert Stephenson and Company 4-4-0T locomotives. In later years locomotives from other closing narrow gauge lines were used. Ballinamore was the hub of the line, with the locomotive depot and works. At Belturbet the line connected with the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) broad-gauge branch to Ballyhaise on the Clones to Cavan line, and at Dromod connected to the Midland Great Western Railway mainline from Dublin to Sligo. The line was extended to Arigna in 1920. The line was unique in using native coal mined at Arigna.

Later Years
By the 1930s the Cavan and Leitrim Railway was in trouble due to road competition. The demolition of the carriage sheds as an economy measure only served to worsen the condition of the stock. It survived World War II, but the opening of a power station near Lough Allen using Arigna coal, and not needing rail services, did not help. The line finally closed on 31 March 1959, the last exclusively steam narrow-gauge line in Ireland. The Final Train from Arigna is seen on the right hand side, being hauled by former Tralee and Dingle loco 5T. The preservation era Cavan and Leitrim Railway brought steam back to life at Ballinamore and Drumshanbo in the Summer of 2019 marking 60 years closure. Further details can be seen here.

THE ROUTE

The line consisted of a main line 54km (34mls) long between Dromod and Belturbet with a 24 km (15mls) branch from Ballinamore to Arigna. The Belturbet to Dromod part of the Cavan and Leitrim Railway ran from Belturbet through Tomkin Road, Ballyconnell, Ballyheady, Bawnboy Road, Killyran, Garadice, Ballinamore, Lawderdale, Fenagh, Adoon, Rosharry, Mohill and Dereen to Dromod. The Belturbet to Arigna part of the line ran from Belturbet to Ballinamore and from there through Ballyduff, Cornabrone, Annadale, Kiltubrid, Creagh and Drumshanbo to Arigna.