Railway buff Colin McAlpin rides Ireland's rails and reports back on his journeys of discovery. First up, it's Dublin to Sligo...
The Iarnrod Eireann InterCity rail system serves the North-West town of Sligo 10 times a day from Dublin’s Connolly Station, the journey of just under three hours taking in such midlands centres as Mullingar, Longford, Carrick-on-Shannon and Ballymote.
The line, laid piecemeal between l846 and the l860s, is one of the longest in the Republic of Ireland. The scenery, it has to be said, is ordinary enough with the exception of the River Shannon at Carrick-on-Shannon and the distant mountains glimpsed as the train approaches Sligo.
There are, however, plenty of interesting towns and villages to stop off in and explore, many of them promising romantic stories of Irish legends and bloody battles … and, in the many nearby lakes, plenty of excellent fishing. Here a word of warning: pack some sarnies and a flask of tea since there is only a trolley service on the train, and the prices on board are pretty steep.
Connolly Station, noted for its Italianate square clock-tower, was opened in November, 1844 as plain old Dublin Station, one end of the Dublin Drogheda Railway Company line north (the extention to Belfast, over which the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise service runs, was completed in l853). It was subsequently re-named Amiens Street and finally Connolly, after the socialist and revolutionary James Connolly in l966 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland. Several other stations – including Sligo: now MacDiarmada, after local hero Sean – have been named after the heroes of the Rising.
New trains, all bright blues and creams, gleaming chrome and comfortable seats, have been put on the route as the Republic has embarked on an impressive re-structuring of the entire rail system.