The power of data

I have spent a lot of time recently on two projects, one of which is updating Access databases that hold all of my information in relation to Ireland’s industrial heritage. As part of this process, I broke all public railway lines known to have operated on the island of Ireland in date defined sections with the opening and closing date being the unique identifier. This dataset has allowed me to do a number of things, including using mapping software in my possession to generate a railway map of Ireland for any year 1834 to date quickly and reliably.

It also allowed me to determine the maximum extent of railways in Ireland (peaking at 3,450 miles in 1920) before decline set it.Length of Railways in Ireland by year

Length of Railways in Ireland by year

It has also corrected a misapprehension that I had in relation to the pace of line closures. Prior to carrying out this analysis, if I had been asked when was the peak year for closures of railway line in Ireland, I’d have answered 1963, based on nothing more than a personal belief built up over years of reading Irish railway history. It is also wrong. The peak year for railway closures on the island of Ireland was 1959 when some 335 miles (almost 10% of the railways to have ever operated) were closed.

Rope bridge in Kells, Co. Kerry

Bet you didn’t know there was a Kells in Co. Kerry (nor that there is a Kells in Co. Antrim) in addition to the more well known one in Co. Meath, all three of which had railway stations at some point in their life (there is another Kells in Co. Kilkenny, plans for a railway to which did not succeed).

Enough about the railways – this post is about a competitor to the Carrick a rede rope bridge with the owners of Kells Bay House and Gardens having built a 112ft long rope bridge as part of the attractions in their estate. The bridge will be open to the public as part of the entrance fee to the gardens from 8th April 2017.

Rope ferry in China

The Guardian has an interesting article about a rope operated ferry capable of taking one car at a time across the Chaobai River in Hebei province in China.

There was a similar ferry in operation at Bannfoot in Co. Armagh, near the south western shore of Lough Neagh, up until  1979. The Belfast Telegraph has a brief article about the latter and McCutcheon’s Industrial Archaeology of Northern Ireland has a photo of the Bannfoot ferry in operation.

UPDATE – H/T to Brian Goggin of for sending me a link to a 3 minute video clip of the Bannfoot ferry in operation.


Grand Canal, Rialto

The original mainline of the Grand Canal ran to Grand Canal Harbour, near the Guiness Brewery, in Dublin. What is nowadays the canal from Suir Road to the River Liffey at Grand Canal Dock was an afterthought. Since 2004, most of the bed of the former mainline from Suir Road eastwards has been occupied by the Red LUAS Line.

Adjacent to the bridge over the LUAS (canalbed) at Rialto, recent cutting back of adjacent overgrowth has revealed these two sets of steps from what would have been the towpath down to canal level.

Steps to canal at Rialto
Steps to canal at Rialto
Steps to canal at Rialto
Steps to canal at Rialto

Brussels IH Tour Day 2

Second (and last) day of my trip to Brussels as I fly home tomorrow. I visited the railway museum and the museum of mills and food.

As these are on the outer edge of Brussels, I checked out the public transport options, especially as there is both a railway station and tram terminus at the railway museum. The options appeared straight forward. There is a train station near the hotel at which I could buy the all day ticket and get a train to the railway museum. This would also allow me to use the tram back. The theory turned out better than the practice. At the train station, the ticket machine would not sell an all day pass unless you had the Brussels equivalent of the Leap card. The company’s website advised that a paper card version can be bought at railway stations, but no dice.

From the station, I walked to the tram route in order to see could I do the journey the other way around. The tram system in Brussels is effectively a bus on rails and the LUAS is world class in comparison. The tram “stations” are effectively bus stops with no option to buy a ticket and the trams run down the centre of the road with no platforms – passengers have to dodge road traffic to get between the bus stop shelter and the tram. This is how the Dublin city tram operated in the early 20th century, or in other words, Brussels trams are 100 years behind Dublin. As I couldn’t locate a tram stop with a ticket machine, I ended up walking to the railway museum.

The museum is interesting but its name “TrainWorld” gives away its main focus, which is trains and not railways. Most who know me know that the reason I have a site devoted to industrial heritage is that I have an interest in railways, but not trains. As such, Train World had less to offer me than might be otherwise expected.

The museum starts off in the original Schaerbeek station building with a display of scale models of Belgian steam locomotives. At the side of this hall, there is an example of an original ticket office with wood panelling and the windows through which tickets were sold. Behind these in the museum are further displays on tickets and staff uniforms.

A modern building adjacent has further exhibits, including original locomotives and carriages and a glass covered section of track to walk along, which ends at a screen showing a video taken from a locomotive cab, to give an impression of heading along the track. There is also a display of track types here.

Hall 2 is called the “Railway Attic” and contains a wide range of artifacts that didn’t fit in anywhere else in the museum. There is also a locomotive embedded in a sandpit at 45 degrees, the exact purpose of which I couldn’t determine.

Locomotive in sandpit
Locomotive in sandpit


After leaving Train World, I headed to the nearby Museum of Mills and Food. The emphasis of this is more the latter rather than the former and like the sewer museum, explanatory displays are in French and Flemish only. It is located in a former windmill.

Museum of Mills and Food
Museum of Mills and Food

On my way to the latter, I passed a tram line and station with ticket machine. I made a mental note of this to allow me to return to the city this way. When I got back to the tram station, the ticket machine, whilst notionally having the option to buy a single ticket, would not complete the sale. After multiple attempts (and losing money in the coin slot) I gave up and walked back into the city. It is a sad day when the public transport system in Dublin can be considered gold standard in comparison.

My last port of call of the day was to track down the Jeanneke Pis, which I did.

Jeanneke Pis
Jeanneke Pis