Train buff, and pround holder of over 65 rail pass, Colin McAlpin continues his journey across Ireland by railway... next stop Cork.
Heuston Station, built in l846 on the River Liffey, is how a mainline railway terminus should look: an imposing, solid, greystone building of classic design and build. When it was built, as the starting point for the Great Southern and Western Railway Company services and originally named Kingsbridge Station after a nearby bridge over the Liffey, it was the largest enclosed building in the world.
It was renamed Heuston in l966 after Sean Heuston, a hero of the Easter Rising against British rule, who worked in the offices. Railway historians should check the panels on the outside of the building commemorating the cities – Dublin, Cork and Limerick – and the companies involved in the development of the line.
The Dublin-Cork run is one of the longest in Ireland: three hours between the island’s largest and third largest cities. There is a buffet service providing a range of hot and cold snacks and drinks and a trolly service. The scenery along the route is not particularly spectacular – green fields, rivers and streams and distant mountains – but there are several interesting and historic towns to be explored.
Not all Dublin-Cork InterCity trains stop at every station on the line so towns your train just happens to whizz through are still worth returning to to explore. If, like the Irish, you love your horses Kildare is a ‘must’. The station, built in 1846, is the gateway to the Irish National Stud and the world-famous Curragh Racecourse, home to all five of the Irish classics: the 1000gns, 2000gns, Irish Derby, Irish Oaks and Irish St Leger. Look for lots of lovely horses in the surrounding fields.
Though there is a Co. Kildare, the town isn’t the county seat: it’s Naas. Kildare was founded around a shrine to Celtic godess Brigid, who as St Brigid founded a monastry for nuns and monks. Well worth a visit is the beautiful Japanese Gardens at the National Stud.
Portarlington Station, built in 1847, links Athlone, Galway, Ballina and Westport. Portlaoise has an 800-year-old hill-top castle at Dunamase and nearby are the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The small halt at Ballybrophy is a link to Limerick.
Built in 1848, the award-winning Thurles Station is the gateway to a rich collection of religious settlements, mansions and castles but for GAA – Gaelic games – fans this is the mecca, where it all began in Hayes Hotel in l884. The neat little town in the Suir Valley, surrounded by fine farmland, boasts the second largest Gaelic stadium after Dublin’s Croke Park: Semple Stadium has a capacity of 53,500 and there are plans to extend this. The stadium, well worth a visit, has a fine museum.
It began life as Tipperary Junction and then became Limerick Junction, it’s two miles from Tipperary Town … where the welcome sign says ‘You’ve come a long way …’ referring to the famous World War One soldiers’ song It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. The junction is famous for being the only railway section in Ireland with two lines crossing at an almost 90degree angle: the Dublin-Cork and Limerick-Waterford routes. There are connections to Ennis and Tralee.
There are several pretty cottages running alongside the line in a small hamlet, which does offer the delights of a pub. Charleville Station, built in l849, serves the small town of the same name. Situated in the Golden Vale it hosts the annual North Cork Drama Festival.
Mallow, in the Blackwater Valley, lies two miles from Cork Racecourse and is a thriving business centre. The station, built in l849, is one of the biggest in Ireland. It has strong links to the War of Independence against British rule in the early 1900s. The Ten Arch Bridge over the Blackwater was bombed during the Irish Civil War and rebuilt. Just outside the town, at Beenalaght, there is a circle of six standing stones.
Kent Station, built in l893, sees the end of the run at Cork. The station, originally Glanmire Road but re-named after Thomas Kent for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising against British rule, is the only one of six remaining in the city.
There are plans for a new, larger station since, for such an important city as Cork, Kent is simply not up to scratch: it has little room and inadequate services for travelers. There is a film connection with the station for it was used as a location in l979 for The First Great Train Robbery, starring Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down.
Cork city centre lies on an island in the River Lee which flows into Cork Harbour, the world’s largest natural harbour after Sydney. It is a magnificent, historic and cultural city, founded as a monastic settlement in the sixth century by St Finbarr (the Church of Ireland cathedral is named for him). Cork (Irish for marshy place) was the 2005 European Capital of Culture and contains many fine theatres, galleries and museums (Cork Museum offers a rich account of the city’s history).
It is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland after Dublin and the third in Ireland (Belfast in NI is the second). It is also a terrific shopping – and walking – city with the main area being on St Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade. There are many interesting alleys, markets (Princes Market and the English Market are musts for foodies) and side streets (Oliver Plunkett Street has excellent boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars). One highlight of a visit to Cork is to visit St Anne’s Church and personally ring the world-famous Shandon Bells, for a small fee you get a music sheet. Corkonians like to call their city the ‘real capital of Ireland’ … who could possibly argue!