by Joe Coughlan
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In 1853 after a lot of pressure from Lord Ross a railway line between Ballybrophy and Parsonstown (Birr) to link up with the Dublin to Cork line was started. In October 1857 the stretch between Ballybrophy and Roscrea was completed and the Roscrea to Parsonstown line was completed in March 1858. This line linked Roscrea to Birr for the next 105 years until it eventually closed in 1963.
Also in July 1863 a line between Birr and Portumna was started and eventually opened on 5 November 1868. This line was losing money from the start and eventually closed 10 years after it opened in 1878. It was known as the “stolen railway” after farmers and locals removed the sleepers and rails to build sheds and other farm buildings. Also many ironmongers came and took away large amounts of the rails. The station house in Portumna was demolished and stolen in one night!
Many Roscrea people will have fond memories of the Birr line. It was used as a route to the Monastery, to the Brosna to fish and to Perry’s Mill to swim. People used it to get to the Holy Well and grotto at Fanure and others walked down to the phenomenon known as the boiling well. The children of the town all played along the Swallowbanks at the back of chapel lane.
The pictures above show The Birr train from the beginning of the 20th century coming from Roscrea along the Swallowbanks , the last train to travel the Birr line . The turntable for the Birr train , the Swallowbanks and views of the station before the 1960s.