Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Back on the Rails VII - The Newmarket Branch Line

Since I'm back on the rails again after a long pause, I hope you won't mind if I take a break from the West Cork line to go north and follow a branch line that covered nearly 9 miles, crossing the River Dalua at Kanturk and down towards the River Blackwater where it meets the main line (still open) between Mallow and Millstreet at Banteer. The Newmarket to Banteer Branch Line was opened in 1889, built by local notables who had formed the Banteer and Newmarket Railway Company. After four years it was taken over by the Great Southern and Western Railway.

A daily service ran until 'the Emergency' when, in 1942, it suffered a temporary closure. Only a goods service recommenced in 1956 and was finally closed in 1963. A few Parliamentary Questions set the scene, in 1946, 1948, in 1954 and in 1956.

We are in the Barony of Duhallow, a land of poetry. It boasts some of the most poetic scenery and some of the most poetic placenames in all of Cork, Lyre and Nadd, Assolas and Knocknanuss.

I started my journey at Newmarket. The town was founded in 1620 by the Aldworth family, to whom it has been granted by James I upon the forfeiture by the MacAuliffes, as their market town.  What remains of the terminus station is a small red-brick building now part of 'the Railway Industrial Park.  It sits in a natural valley just below the town formed by a tributary stream of the River Dalua.  The railway follows the valley of this stream and then the River Dalua down to Kanturk.

St. Mary's Parish Church, Newmarket

The beautiful St. Mary's Church was a benefaction of the Aldworths, who gave both the site and a donation towards the building.  The original Altar was a copy of that of the ancient abbey of Quin.

Newmarket's most famous inhabitants are the Currans, the Philpot Currans, who gave eminent members to the Irish Bar and to Irish History, and whose family plot may be found in the Anglican cemetery here.  Sarah was the sweetheart of Robert Emmet, the darling of Éireann.  Her father, John Philpot Curran, was Master of the Rolls for Ireland, who faught the famous case of Fr. Neale prosecuting Viscount Doneraile at the Cork Assizes, which, since Doneraile had no railway, we may conveniently mention here.

Fr. Neale, the elderly Parish Priest of Doneraile, had condemned from the Altar the adulteries of a parishioner.  The parishioner's sister was mistress of St. Leger St. Leger (sic!), Baron and later Viscount Doneraile, who horsewhipped the Priest, safe in the knowledge that a Protestant jury (Catholic Emancipation was 49 years off in 1780) would never convict him.  However, he did not reckon with JPC, who exposed the falsity of the Viscount's witnesses and turned the jury toward's Fr. Neale's case with his eloquence.  The Viscount challenged JPC to a duel, one of five he is known to have fought.

Sisters Aniceta and Petronella, Sisters of Saint Joseph, natives of nearby Meelin and the former St. Joseph's Convent

It's not too far to go to the O'Keefe Institute, built as Aldworth Court or Newmarket House in 1750.  In common with other great houses, it ceased to be a private residence in the 1920s and in 1927, the Sisters of St. Joseph, founded by St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, patroness of the recent Eucharistic Congress (and unofficially who are misunderstood in a good cause by their Priests).

The next stop, the only intermediate stop, on the Newmarket Branch Line is Kanturk.  As the confluence of the Rivers Allua and Dalua (Allow and Dallow, if you prefer) I will come back to Kanturk when I'm exploring the Blackwater and its tributaries.  Sufficing to say that there is a fine remnant of the railway station, if you know where to look on Percival Street below the Church, and the remnants of the bed of the line on either side of the road.

From Kanturk we follow the Railway along the line of the Dallua to where it flows into the Blackwater.  Finally, just crossing the Blackwater we reach the connection between the Branch and the Main Line at Banteer.  Banteer Station, on the main Dublin-Tralee Line, was opened in 1853 and continues as a passenger stop.

Near Banteer is Knocknaclashy, the site of the last open battle of the Confederate Wars.  I have already covered the execution of Bishop Boetius MacEgan in May, 1650.  A year later, in July, 1651, as the forces of the Catholic Confederation fell back behind the Shannon Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry and later Earl of Clancarthy, held the last outpost in his native lands.  His forces moved from Killarney towards Mallow in the direction of the stronghold of Limerick.  They were intercepted near Banteer by Broghill's Parliamentarian forces, who won the skirmish.  Lord Muskerry's forces fell back upon Killarney.  From that point, the war was one of siege and the destruction of the Catholic Confederation assured. 

The final Catholic heritage point about Banteer is the dedication of the Church there to St. Fursey who was the son of a Munster Prince but was born in Galway and is best known for his missionary works in Britain, especially East Anglia.

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