The Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway


This is the story of an unusual and enigmatic piece of Dublin's history from the turn of the last century. The Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway began operations in 1888, providing a valuable transport link between the populous town of Blessington, deep in County Wicklow, and Terenure, in the southern suburbs of Dublin.

The Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway ran with much success for many years, but with the advent of better road transport, and inherent difficulties with the line and the terrain, the tramway began to go into decline. Despite a number of attempts at rationalisation, the line finally ceased operations at the end of 1932.

The Early Years

The growth of Irish railways took off rapidly after the first railway line from Dublin to then Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) opened in 1834. Ireland quickly developed a network of railway lines and companies which served almost all the main towns around the country, with Dublin at the hub of no less than five main railway terminii.

As the nineteenth century progressed, the town of Blessington became extremely isolated, and although the town itself was an important centre, with it's own monthly fairs, the surrounding countryside was remote and sparsely populated.

An early proposal was put forward, about 1864, for a railway link between Trinity Street in Dublin, which would have become the most centralised station in the city had it ever materialised, and Rathcoole, with an extension to Ballymore Eustace, just three miles from Blessington. The new railway would be called the Dublin, Rathmines, Rathgar, Roundtown, Rathfarnham and Rathcoole Railway (the DRRRRRR), Roundtown, significantly, being in the immediate vicinity of what is now known as Terenure. None of this, however, came to fruition.

The Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway

In 1880, a 3' narrow gauge light railway was proposed, running from St. Patrick's Cathedral in the city to Blessington. This proposal also fell through, as Dublin Corporation would not permit steam traction on the streets of the city. This scheme became the forerunner of the standard gauge tramway to be built between Terenure in the suburbs, and Blessington, using the Irish standard gauge of 5' 3", with the Dublin horse drawn trams providing the necessary link between Terenure and the city.

On Wednesday, August 1st 1888, the Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway (the DBST) opened for business. The first train was the 8:35 a.m. mail train leaving Terenure for Blessington. The morning mail from the G.P.O. in Dublin arrived by horse drawn tram, and among the first passengers to board the train at Terenure were the engineer and contractor for the new line, Messrs. Fraser and Ward, and the secretary of the new company, Mr. Walker. The train finally got under way at 8:45 a.m., with the sunshine blazing for the inaugural run, and with a number of stops along the way, arrived at Blessington at 10:20 a.m., a total running time of just over an hour and a half for the fifteen and a half mile trip.

The Blessington and Poulaphouca Steam Tramway

An extension of the line from Blessington to Poulaphouca was proposed, a distance of four and a half miles, and the Blessington and Poulaphouca Steam Tramway was incorporated. Through running from Terenure using DBST rolling stock did not begin until 1896, and in the meantime, a long car pulled by two horses carried passengers between Blessington and Poulaphouca. The Blessington & Poulaphouca company remained a separate concern until it's close in 1927, and services on the line were run by the Blessington & Poulaphouca, using the rolling stock of the DBST. A small stone by the side of the road marked the end of the DBST line and the beginning of the Blessington & Poulaphouca.

One final extension to the line was mooted in 1897, the Central Wicklow and Glendalough (Seven Churches) Light Railway and Tramways, a grandiose title for what would have been a grandiose railway, linking the outer end of Poulaphouca with Hollywood, the Wicklow Gap, Laragh and Rathdrum. Who can tell what the journey time would have been from Rathdrum, rising to some 1,600 feet above sea level to cross the Wicklow Gap, and back down to Poulaphouca and Blessington, transferring to the Dublin United tram at Terenure for the final leg of the journey into the city? What is certain is that the development, running and maintenance costs for such a line, running through a mostly mountainous, barren and forbidding landscape for very little revenue, meant that this rather ambitious proposal never got off the drawing board.