West Clare Railway

Gauge: 3ft (915mm)


Collection Objects

NumberRailwayObject TypeDescriptionImage
TYWRM:WC001West Clare Railwayaxlebox coverAxlebox cover marked WCR Co Ld 6x3 Oilbox Axlebox Co Ld Saltley 1913

The West Clare Railway was one of a network of 3 foot gauge lines built across rural West Ireland in the wake of the 1883 Tramways Act.

Construction of the West Clare Railway from Ennis to Miltown Malbay was given the Royal Assent on 7th August 1884, and work began the following November. Regular train services commenced on 2nd July 1887 with three trains each way connecting with trains on the standard gauge lines at Ennis.

The West Clare line was extended in 1890 by the South Clare Railway, which ran from Cappa Pier to dual termini in Kilrush and Kilkee. It connected with the West Clare at Miltown Malbay. The South Clare line was opened for passenger traffic on 23rd December 1892, with two trains each way from Ennis to Kilrush and Kilkee and two short workings from Ennis to Miltown-Malbay. The West and South Clare were always operated as one railway and shared the same chairman, directors and key personnel.

Both Companies were dogged by money problems from the outset and no provision was made for repair depots or even the amount of rolling stock necessary for the opening of both lines. Such was the value of the lines to the area however that eventually they were able to become a modestly profitable operation.

Passenger traffic during the summer was usually double the winter period. Mineral traffic consisted mostly of turf. After a small beginning of only 8 wagons in 1896, turf traffic increased to 1,194 wagons in 1911 and to a peak of 1,560 wagons in 1921. Kelp, slate and coal also contributed to the mineral traffic. The traffic in livestock was always good as some of the best fairs in Ireland were held in the area.

Clare was a hotbed of Republicanism and in common with workers on other Irish railways W. & S.C.R. employees played a prominent part in the War of Independence and Civil War. The railway came in for more than its share of damage, and at times traffic was completely disrupted.

Traffic remained steady for a period after the amalgamation with the Great Southern Railway in 1925, but with improved roads and the advent of the motor car and bus, there was a decline in the number of passengers during the 1929-40 period. The GSR introduced two passenger railcars in 1927. Petrol shortage during World War Two led to a big return of passengers to the system.

In March 1945, after the formation of the Irish National Railway (Córas Iompair Eireann) a survey showed clearly that the traders of West Clare were not prepared to support the railway. In a backlash of opinion to save it the C.I.E. contemplated closure of the line. Conversion of the line to standard 5ft 3in gauge was considered and rejected as too costly. In 1952 the line was reprieved for a time by the purchase of new diesel railcars to replace steam locos. The West Clare was the only completely diesel run public narrow gauge railway in Britain and Ireland.

On 26th July 1958 the Transport Commission recommended the closure of all railway lines in County Clare. After protests the Minister agreed to give the County Council time to improve the roads in the area to cater for the heavy lorry traffic which would result from closure of the line. By this time the West Clare was the last Irish narrow gauge line to remain open. To the authorities in Dublin the West Clare was undoubtedly an operating anomaly, C.I.E. claiming it was losing £23,000 per year. Eventually the line closed on 31st January 1961.


1 W.G. Bagnall No. 730 of 1887; 0-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1912
2 W.G. Bagnall No. 738 of 1887; 0-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1900
3 Clifden W.G. Bagnall No. 792 of 1887; 0-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1915
4 Besborough W.G. Bagnall No. 793 of 1887; 0-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1901
5 Slieve Callan Dübs & Co. No. 2890 of 1892; 0-6-2 tank Survives
6 Saint Senan Dübs & Co. No. 2891 of 1892; 0-6-2 tank. Scrapped 1956
7 Lady Inchiquin Dübs & Co. No. 2892 of 1887; 0-6-2 tank. Scrapped 1922
8 Lisdoonvarna Dübs & Co. No. 3169 of 1894; 2-6-2 tank. Scrapped 1925
9 Fergus Thomas Green & Sons No. 229 of 1898; 2-6-2 tank. Scrapped 1954
2 Ennis Thomas Green & Sons No. 234 of 1900; 2-6-2 tank. Scrapped 1955
4 Liscannor Thomas Green & Sons No. 236 of 1901; 2-6-2 tank. Scrapped 1928
10 Lahinch Kerr, Stuart & Co. No. 818 of 1903; 4-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1952
11 Kilkee W.G. Bagnall No. 1881 of 1909; 4-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1953
1 Kilrush Hunslet Engine Co. No. 1098 of 1912; 4-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1953
3 Ennistymon Hunslet Engine Co. No. 1432 of 1922; 4-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1953
7 Malbay Hunslet Engine Co. No. 1433 of 1922; 4-6-0 tank. Scrapped 1956

3387 diesel railcar by Walkers of Wigan 1952
3388 diesel railcar by Walkers of Wigan 1952
3389 diesel railcar by Walkers of Wigan 1952

F501 Bo-Bo diesel locomotive by Walkers of Wigan 1955
F502 Bo-Bo diesel locomotive by Walkers of Wigan 1955
F503 Bo-Bo diesel locomotive by Walkers of Wigan 1955

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