At the end of a fortnight’s holiday in Co. Donegal my wife and I had 3 nights staying close to Dublin. We chose to stay in Howth as it was at the Northern end of the DART, but perhaps also because of its history and particularly for the Hill of Howth Tramway, or to give it it’s formal title, “The Sutton and Howth Electric Tramway.” The tramway should not be confused with the Clontaff and Hill of Howth Tramroad.
The Tramway served Howth Head, near Dublin. The termini were at Sutton railway station, by the entrance to the peninsula, and Howth railway station by the village and harbour of Howth.
The tramway operated from 17th June 1901 to 31st May 1959 and was run by the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) (GNR(I)), which viewed it as a way to bring more customers to its railway stations at Sutton and Howth. The tramway replaced a horse bus service, which had run since 1867. 
When it opened, “the Hill of Howth Tramway had eight trams, open-top 67-seaters built by Brush of Loughborough. … Traction current at 550 volts dc was drawn from the overhead wires by conventional trolleypoles. … In 1902, two further trams … were obtained. Nos. 9 and 10 were 73 seaters built by Milnes, the firm which also supplied Dublin’s first electric trams in 1896. There were 41 seats upstairs and 32 inside seats.” 
“The tramway also had a freight and engineering car, No. 11, built in 1903. This … had a cab at each end, with a wagon body between. No. 11 also had a maintenance tower and at least in its later years was fitted with a telephone which could be connected into the wires along the line.” 
“Around 1918, the original crimson lake and ivory livery gave way to varnished grained teak. When the colours changed again around 1930 to blue and cream, Nos. 9 and 10, being used so seldom, remained in teak. Reasons for their lack of use included [an] awkward seating layout and a tendency to derail because the motors were outside the wheelbase. Furthermore, cross springs were not fitted between the bogies: when these were added in the fifties, their performance improved. By then these two cars were in constant demand and the invariable choice of the many enthusiast groups visiting the line in its twilight years.” 
“No. 9 was the last tram to run in public service on the Hill of Howth on 31st May 1959, and thus the last to operate anywhere in Ireland. Following the closure, No. 10 was sent to Britain’s National Tramway Museum at Crich in Derbyshire, while No. 2 went to California and No. 4 to Belfast. Due to vandalism and apathy, No. 9 was the only survivor of three cars set aside for inclusion in a future museum”  at the National Transport Museum at Howth Desmesne.
“On 1 October 1958, Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) took over GNR(I)’s operations in the Republic of Ireland, including the Howth Tram. [7: p32] A year later, the tramway was closed down. It was initially replaced by two CIÉ bus routes – numbers 87 (Sutton to Ceanchor Road) and 88 (Howth to Windgate Road).  Two routes were necessary, as several narrow hill curves were not passable by the buses used. Eventually, sections of the disused tram route between the Baily post office and the Summit were expanded to form an extension of Carrickbrack Road; this enabled a single bus route (number 88) to be used.” 
The area was then served by the 31, 31a and 31b bus routes, which operated from Abbey Street in the city centre. In winter, icy roads on the hill occasionally cause the bus service to be suspended, unlike the tram, which ran in all weather conditions. A public footpath now follows the tram route between Howth station and the Summit.
It is important not to confuse the Hill of Howth Tramway with the Clontarf and Hill of Howth Tramroad, a completely different company which ran trams from Dublin to Howth.
The Clontarf and Hill of Howth Tramroad Company (C&HoHT) “operated a tram service from central Dublin via Dollymount in Clontarf to Howth Harbour in the Dublin area of Ireland from 1900 to 1941. Formed in the 1880s, it was a separate entity from the other Dublin tramways, notably the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC), but worked closely with the latter, who owned the line as far as Dollymount, for most of its operating existence.” 
A horse-drawn or steam tram service for the Howth area was first proposed in 1883, by the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) (GNR), to bring more passengers to Howth and/or Sutton railway stations. The Clontarf and Hill of Howth Tramroad Company (C&HofHT) raised the idea of a circular line around Howth Hill. “Neither idea progressed, not least because the slopes of the hill were too steep to be safe for horses, or practical for steam power, though a line may have been considered using a viaduct over Balscadden Bay, just beyond Howth village, to keep gradients within the range of steam propulsion.” 
In 1890, the C&HofHT sought an Order in Council to allow it to build a tram line from Howth Harbour to Dublin’s fish market. It was intended that the line should have “a gauge of 3 feet, with lines running from Mary’s Lane past Halston Street to Capel Street, and then along Parnell Street and Summerhill, through Ballybough, Fairview, Killester and Raheny, then along the coast through the fields of Kilbarrack to Sutton and Howth. While this matter did not proceed, the company developed two new proposals after the DUTC received permission to electrify its lines. The proposed lines, at a gauge of 5 feet 3 inches, were from the DUTC’s terminus in the Clontarf area, via the hamlet of Raheny-on-the-Strand and Sutton, to Howth Harbour, and from the Summit on Howth Hill down past Howth Station and the Howth Estate to the gates of Claremont. The GNR made a two-part counter proposal, seeking to electrify their railway line from Amiens Street Station to either Sutton or Howth, and to provide a circular tram line, with connections at Sutton Cross and Howth, and with the trams able to move all the way to Dublin’s centre. The C&HofHT added a third element to their proposal, for a tram line from Sutton Cross to the Summit, and the GNR then objected to the whole package, and won. The GNR then received permission for its proposed circular line, which became the Hill of Howth Tramway, and dropped the idea of electrification from the peninsula to Amiens St., and so of trams through-running around Howth and to the city centre.”
The C&HofHT eventually received “permission for a line from the DUTC’s depot at what had become Dollymount in Clontarf to Howth Harbour, and this was enshrined in a Private Local Act of 1898, The Clontarf and Hill of Howth Tramroad Bill, 61 & 62 Victoria I, cap. clxxxii. This Act had its Second Reading on 3 March, and on 18 July was the subject of debate about the possible insertion of a clause requiring the purchase of rolling stock from England, the promoters having expressed a preference for buying from the DUTC, or failing that, from the United States. The bill was returned to the House of Lords on 26 July, and later completed its passage.” 
Construction costs ultimately came to £71,624. Much of the work was “straightforward, allowing for the challenges of building at the water’s edge, but there were difficulties with Lord Ardilaun, the Guinness heir, whose estate of St. Anne’s ran to the coast where the line was to be laid. At the time, there was no coastal road, and Lord Ardilaun sought multiple conditions in return for removing objections to the project. He received most of what he sought, including the provision that the trams would not stop along the margin of his property, and line construction proceeded. The line opened on 26 July 1900.” 
The company purchased twelve large tram cars (larger than those of the DUTC) “for its operations, each seating 74 passengers, 29 inside and 45 on the upper deck. The enclosed lower deck had a driver’s cab, and separate areas for each of First, Second and Third Class. The journey from Nelson’s Pillar to Howth took 45 minutes, and the price for much of the operating period was 2 shillings and 6 pence.” 
“During the 1930s, the line became unprofitable, and when the GNR put forward a proposal to run a competing bus service on the Howth Road, and launch a bus to Malahide, the Board of the C&HofHT offered to end their service if the GNR agreed not to run a bus to Malahide. The line ceased operation on 29th March 1941, with the last tram to Howth, No. 294, departing Nelson’s Pillar at 11.45 pm, driven by Dick Ward. The company was wound-up on 1st July 1941, and the remaining tram cars were transferred to the DUTC’s Dalkey route, where they served until that line closed in 1949.” 
As we have noted already the Hill of Howth Tramway was more correctly called the ‘Sutton and Howth Electric Tramway‘. It was GNR(I) owned but made little or no profit for the Company. When Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) took over GNR(I)’s operations in the Republic of Ireland, it reviewed all of the lines (including this tramway) over which it took control and the Howth Tram was replaced by buses within 8 months. It’s removal opened the way for the construction of a housing estate over a length of the route from Howth to the Summit Station. As we will see, this makes it difficult to be precise about the course of the line over that length. Much of the rest of the line can be followed relatively easily, either on foot or in a car.
The Routeof the Hill of Howth Tramway
The Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSi) have relatively recently released both a 6″ and a 25″ national survey from the early 20th century. We will follow the route of the tramway as shown on the 25″ beginning at Howth and finishing at Sutton.
The photograph above shows Tram No. 3 about to leave Howth Station for Sutton via Summit Halt. This image is embedded here from David Bradley’s webpages with his kind permission. 
The Summit was the usual tourist stop and was accessed either from Howth or from Sutton. Having reached the Summit from Howth, we now start the journey down to Sutton.
The photograph above shows a tram running parallel to Station Road with Sutton Cross 200 yards to the right and Sutton Station 25 yards to the left on the opposite side of the road. This photo is embedded here from David Bradley’s webpageswith his kind permission. 
As we have noted already the Hill of Howth Tramway was GNR(I) owned but made little or no profit for the Company. When the nationalised compnay, Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) took over GNR(I)’s operations in the Republic of Ireland on 1st October 1958, it reviewed all of the lines (including this tramway) over which it took control and the Howth Tram was replaced by buses within 8 months!
The next four photographs come from Dave Bell and Steve Flanders book,’The Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway: A Visitor’s Guide‘. [2: p82]
The undergrowth at this location, (and possibly the garden planting too) has grown significantly in the last 30 years.
We start this part of the journey with a short time to reflect at Kincasslagh Road Railway Station. The station was the location of the first action in the War of Independence in 1918. The memorial shown below sits on the road at the Northeast end of Kincasslagh Road Station.
Joe Begley has written an excellent piece on a later ambush which occurred on 12th January 1921 and the events that surrounded it.  That ambush took place in a cutting to the Northeast of Kincasslagh Road Railway Station, known locally as Paddy Ghráinne’s Cutting.
Joe Begley explains that the area close to Kincasslagh Road Railway Station was often in the news in the War of Independence and this latest episode brought a temporary end to services on the Burtonport Extension. 
The satellite image above shows the route of the old railway in today’s landscape. Leaving Kincasslagh Road Railway Station in a Northeasterly direction the line passes through cuttings and over low embankments curving first towards the North and then back to the Northeast. Just before it reaches the cutting where the 1921 action took place it crosses a minor road at level.
I have searched a widely as I can and have only found a couple of images of rolling stock on this section of the line, both relate to the same incident in February 1923.
Crolly Railway Station building was gutted by fire in October 2015.
It is difficult to make out the line of the old railway as it runs North on the East side of Crolly village. RailMapOnline.com can be a real help in these circumstances. An extract from their map base with the line shown in orange is provided below.
Not every sheet of the 25″ OSi mapping is available through the OSi historic maps portal so for the next length of the Burtonport Extension Railway we need to rely on the 6″ OSi mapping.
On its way Northeast the old line crossed what would have been an unmetalled road aas shown on the satellite image above. That track is in the 21st century a metalled minor road as shown below.
As we have already noted the Clady Canal feeds water to the Clady Power Station. The Clady Hydroelectric Station is a 4.2 MW power station situated in the Gweedore area of Co. Donegal.
“Construction started in 1954, with the station going into full operation in 1959, when it also synchronised to the Donegal 38 kV network. Two lakes form the basis of this hydro scheme: Dunlewey Lough and Lough Nacung are situated in a valley 61m above sea level and are drained by the Clady River, which enters the sea at Bunbeg.” 
Both of the lakes were enlarged to create the storage capacity needed to run the station. Dunlewy Lough through the construction of the Cung Dam at the promontory between the two lakes. The Clady River has been partially diverted by Gweedore Weir into a 2.5 km canal which runs across country to the rim of a deep valley which forms the tidal estuary of the Gweedore River. This is the canal that we have noted. As we will see, its route conflicts with what was the route of the Burtonport Extension Railway.
“A 500m steel penstock carries the water from that canal down to the generating station at sea level. … Overall, the normal range of storage is from 60.96m OD (Ordnance Datum) to 63.70m OD. Gweedore Weir has also raised the level of Lough Nacung with a storage range from 60.96m OD to 61.57m OD. … The powerhouse is equipped with a horizontal Francis-type turbine, coupled to a generator with a capacity of 4.2 MW.” 
Beyond Gweedore Railway Station, the line of the old railway has become overgrown. It runs along the North side of the N56 for some distance.
It seems as though the An Chuirt Hotel has expanded and that its site now includes what was once railway land. The Errigal View Pet Zoo also straddles the line of the old railway.
Immediately to the East of the Errigal View Pet Zoo two larger properties straddle the route of the old railway.
It seems that there were two crossings close together at the bottom of the slope to the left of the road. These can be seen on the map extract to the left below, either or both may have been gated but I have not been able to establish whether either were.
It is possible to see the more northerly of the two crossings from the road close to the Crossing Keeper’s Cottage and I have provided a photo below which also shows the route of the old railway in orange.
North of the Cottage the minor road splits with one arm crossing the railway on a stone arch bridge and the other heading towards Cashelnagor Railway Station passing on the Southeast side of Lough Doo.
The next few photographs show Cashelnagor Railway Station as it appeared in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Joe Begley very kindly sent this next series of photos by email. They represent the condition of the buildings in 2004.
These next three photos show the Station buildings as they appear in 2023
It is just possible that you might enjoy staying at this remote location, if so you could check out Cashelnagor Railway Station’s website:
Dave Bell & Steve Flanders; Donegal’s Railway Heritage Guide No. 2, The Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway: A Visitor’s Guide to the old railway and all the bits that can still be seen; County Donegal Restoration Society, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal, 198…
On Saturday 22nd April 2023, I had the pleasure of dropping into the Railway Heritage Centre in Donegal Town. We had planned a holiday in Co. Donegal in 2020 but we were foiled by the COVID-19 lockdown. This visit was well overdue.
The Donegal Railway Heritage Centre records and celebrates “the operations of the County Donegal Railways Committee which operated two narrow-gauge railways in County Donegal from 1863 until 1959. The County Donegal Railway Restoration Society restored the centre, which opened in 1995 and is housed in the old station house in Donegal Town. Today, it operates as a visitor attraction comprising a museum, information centre and shop. On display are rolling stock, historical artefacts and an audio-visual presentation on the railways’ history.” 
Over the period of lockdown quite a lot happened at the Heritage Centre.
The most significant event was the home-coming of No. 5, ‘Drumboe’, the Co. Donegal Railway Joint Committee 2-6-4T Locomotive on 9th October 2021. This locomotive was originally built by Nasmyth, Wilson and Company  in 1907 and served on the railways of Co. Donegal until the end of 1959. Now cosmetically restored, ‘Drumboe’ has pride of place at the entrance to the Heritage Centre.
Preparing for Drumboe’s arrival at the Heritage Centre required a significant re-organisation of the centre’s outside exhibits. All are now protected from the worst that the elements can throw at them by a series of different roof structures. Just a few photographs from 222nd April 2023.
On entering the museum, which occupies the ground floor of the old passenger station building, one has the opportunity to look at an excellent model railway which depicts Donegal Town Railway Station and Inver Station. Inver Station was on the branch from Donegal Town to Killybegs. All six of the pictures immediately below were taken by me on 22nd April 2023.
As well as this working model a number of other models of railway vehicles are on static display. Just a couple of examples here. The first is a Walker Brothers Railbus, the second is Phoenix a unique diesel shunter. Both of the pictures below were taken by me on 22nd April 2023.
Phoenix was built by Atkinson-Walker Wagons Ltd of Preston in September 1928 as one of their Class A3 engines. After a short trial on the Clogher Valley Railway, it was found to be totally unsuitable. No buyer to be found and the engine lay idle at Aughnacloy coach and wagon shed until 1932. It was bought by Henry Forbes for the County Donegal Railway and converted at the Great Northern Railway’s Dundalk workshop to diesel power. It was fittingly named the “Phoenix” and worked on the County Donegal Railway till its closure in 1959. It can now be seen in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum.
The major part of the indoor space at the Heritage Centre is dedicated to a series of displays centring on the different stations on the network. Each includes a track plan and a series of photographs of the location. Carefully placed around the Centre are artifacts and railwayana from the Co. Donegal Railways.
Of particular interest to me were the track plans of the various stations on the network. Some of these are shown below. Much of the text attached to each station plan comes from the Heritage Centre’s displays …
I have covered the branch to Glenties in two previous articles.
The featured image shows No. 14 on the turntable at Burtonport. The photograph was taken in April 1940 and was shared by Joe Begley on the Burtonport Heritage Facebook Group on 21st October 2020. 
In April 2023 we stayed close to Burtonport, adjacent to Loch Meela, in Co. Donegal. On the first full day of our stay, we walked the Burtonport Old Railway Walk.  A 6km length of the Burtonport extension of the Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway has been made into an accessible path. The weather was great and the walk very enjoyable. We were impressed by the investment in the walk made by the local community and Donegal County Council.
After the closure of the line it seems that it remained undisturbed for many years. Apparently, in 2009, however, “there was a heavy snowfall, and some of the old railway line was cleared to access water mains that needed repairing. The remaining section was later cleared and gradually developed as a walkway with the support of the local community. A massive effort has gone into creating this beautiful and peaceful walk.” 
This first length of the old railway extends from Burtonport as far as Kincasslagh Road Station and, apart from a short length close to the latter, can be walked with relative ease.
The whole of the Burtonport Extension features in a guide written in the late 1980s by Dave Bell & Steve Flanders.  In that guide, they provide a series of relatively low resolution monochrome photographs of the railway in operation and as they found it in the 1980s. This article is the first in a series looking again at the line and what can be found along its route.
At Burtonport, Bell and Flanders provide a station plan and a number of photographs from before closure and at the time of their survey.
Bell and Flanders describe arriving at the station from the South in the 1980s by car, the old trackbed now being a narrow road: “You drive through a small cutting before entering the railway’s terminus at Burtonport. … Just before the station itself you drive through a fish processing plant then, suddenly, on the left, you can see the engine shed, recognisable by its characteristic round-top windows and door.” [2: p83]
They go on to describe the station as they found it on their visit: “In the middle distance is the terminus station itself with a length of platform still in existence on the right-hand side of the road. The station house and offices still stand but are now derelict. They and the [engine] shed are now the only railway structures left at Burtonport. … Originally a siding ran along the quayside so that fish vans could be loaded directly from the fishing boats. Burtonport is still an important centre for Ireland’s fishing industry but today refrigerated articulated lorries haul the catches to their markets. It’s also from here that the ferry service runs to Aran Island, known as Arainn Mhór, Big Aran.” [2: p84]