Gauge: 3ft (915mm)
The Schull & Skibbereen Railway, in County Cork, was bankrupt almost from its beginning, and operated in a geographically hostile environment. Local humour dubbed it the ‘Sick and Sore Railway’, or simply ‘The Tram’.
A company called The West Carberry Tramways and Light Railways was incorporated on the 7 December 1883 under the terms of the Tramways (Ireland) Act of 1883 to build lines east and west from Skibbereen in the far south of Ireland. In June 1886 the only section ever built was opened. The gauge was 3ft and the route was 15½ miles in length from the market town of Skibbereen, where the station adjoined the 5ft 3in gauge branch from Cork to Baltimore, to Schull on the shore of Roaringwater Bay. The 1922 Timetable shows a service of two trains a day with an extra from Skibbereen on Schull and Ballydehob Cattle Fair Days: the journey took 1½ hours. The only place of any size on the route was Ballydehob and this was the only passing place on the single track line.
The magnificent twelve arch bridge which dominates the estuary of Ballydehob, was the major engineering achievement of the line.
Photo taken by RA Needham in 1997
Sadly, the Government had requested that the promoter’s original estimates for the line be reduced. This combined with the selling of shares at discount led to the rest of the engineering, locomotives and stock being skimped. In service the underpowered, cheap locomotives constantly broke down. Disastrous losses followed leading to the dismissal of the original directors in 1892 and the setting up of a Committee of Management appointed by the local authorities. Much money was invested, improved locos purchased and slowly the situation turned around. The line always ran at a loss but did eventually provide a useful service to the community.
After partition the Schull and Skibbereen was absorbed into the Great Southern Railway in 1925. As with all the railways within the group, the new Irish Government invested heavily in the Schull and Skibbereen with overhauls and repair work. However losses continued to mount with the arrival of motor buses, lorries and cars in the rural economy and eventually they brought about the closure of the line. The service was suspended in April 1944, resumed in December 1945 and the final train ran on 27 January 1947.
Although the line was totally abandoned in 1952 the remains of the transhipment facilities between the 5’3″ gauge Cork, Bandon and South Coast line were still to be seen when RA Needham took this photo at Skibbereen in 1997.
1 Marion Dick, Kerr of 1886; 0-4-0 well tank tramway loco. Scrapped 1906
2 Ida Dick, Kerr of 1886; 0-4-0 well tank tramway loco. Scrapped 1926
3 Ilen Dick, Kerr of 1886; 0-4-0 well tank tramway loco. Scrapped 1914
4 Erin Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. of 1888; 4-4-0 tank. Scrapped 1953
1 Gabriel Peckett & Sons No. 1085 of 1906; 4-4-0 tank. Scrapped 1936
3 Kent Peckett & Sons No. 1356 of 1914; 4-4-0 tank. Scrapped 1953
6s Thomas Green & Sons No. 200 of 1893; 0-4-4 tank, ex Cork & Muskerry. Scrapped 1953
Many thanks to Mike Lewis, a reader of this page, who sent us this picture of Peckett 4-4-0T “Gabriel”, built 1906