Deviation of rivers in railway building

When railway lines were being constructed (primarily in the mid to late 19th century), the issue of how to deal with water bodies, rivers in particular, was one that engineers had to deal with.

For a straightforward encounter with a river heading in a different direction to the line of railway, a bridge was the obvious solution. However, where a river or stream ran roughly parallel to the proposed railway and cut back and forth across the route, this would require multiple bridges. In such a case, deviating and canalising the river to a dedicated channel on one side of the railway would potentially be a better option. In the case below, by canalising and deviating the river, 4 bridges are avoided.

Diagram of river pre and post deviation to allow for railway building
Pre and post deviation of a river to allow for railway deviation. Copyright Ewan Duffy 2021

There were many such cases of this practice – one that I have become aware of when researching something else (the location of Sparrowsland temporary terminus – see post below) was the deviation of a stream adjacent to the site of the temporary terminus.

Unfortunately, 2 of the 3 online map sources that I used to determine this don’t allow deep linking, never mind embedding – as such, cannot be reproduced here.

The three sources are: (use co-ordinates 696460,631312) (no search facility that I am aware of – the location is immediately west of Macmine in Wexford. The site does display the same co-ordinates as used by but with no way to directly go there)

Googlemaps – embedded below:

Looking at the googlemap image above, the dark line running roughly left to right across the centre is the stream in question.

Reverting to the oldest map of the area – the 25″ OS map on, there is a clear u bend in the river east of the road running north – south (roughly centre of the image above). This is odd, because if you overlay the earlier (pre railway) 6 inch map on this on the site, the river was straightened out east of this point to allow the railway to be built. Why they left this bend rather than canalising the river and reducing the need to buy an awkward peninusla for a location that was only ever going to be a temporary terminus is lost to time.

Moving on in time, from the Googlemap image above (and the modern day map on, the bend in the river is gone (see image above). However, there is an interesting aspect connected with this. The website (showing parcels of land registered with the Land Registry) clearly shows the adjacent property with a site boundary following the original river line – complete with bend. The land occupied by the railway is not on the Land Registry* and is not specifically delinated, except by exception (i.e. other sites being registered marks it out by being what is left). As such, it would appear that the railway company did buy this piece of land, including the peninsula up to the original river boundary but deviation of the river since has isolated it.

* There are two parallel systems of land ownership registration in Ireland – the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds. An analysis of this is beyond the scope of this site – however, it is sufficient to note that land on the latter, when sold going forward, will move to the former and will also then appear as a delineated site on the website. In fact, when I sold my previous house in Celbridge in 2018, the property underwent this transfer – I had to pay for a 5 minute job involving a “surveyor” with one of those laser distance measuring devices to take 3 or 4 measurements around the property boundary. I understand that the purchaser of the house had it worse, as they had to pay a more substantial fee to the Land Registry to formalise the transfer!

As for the question why isn’t the railway site on the Land Registry? When the railways were closed, if the land was sold in full compliance with transfer rules (this is a can of worms beyond the scope of this post), this was in the days before the process of transferring property to the Land Registry and as such, the land would not be on the Land Registry until sold again.

It may also still be in CIE “ownership” but with squatters rights having being ceded to adjacent landowners. A full paper could probably be written on these issues.