Irish railways (5ft 3in gauge)
Alan O'Rourke

Historical backgroundSteward and Staff

Between 1834 and 1920, Ireland acquired a rail network of 3,442 route miles, some 537 being narrow (3′) gauge, and the rest broad or standard gauge of 5′ 3″. The last public narrow gauge line closed in 1961, although there are now several preservation schemes and Bord na Móna has an extensive network of lines for harvesting peat from its bogs. Andy Cundick is the HMRS steward for the 3′ gauge lines and I handle enquiries about the broad gauge.

PHOTO: Some people think I am holding an Irish cudgel, or even a shillelagh, but it is a large pattern ET staff for the Patrickswell-Ballingrane block section on the now closed North Kerry line between Limerick and Tralee. There is an Irish town called Shillelagh in Co. Wicklow, and from 1865 to 1944 it was the terminus of a sixteen mile branch to Woodenbridge Junction on the Dublin-Wexford line.


MGWR Connaught modelPHOTO: David Malone’s 4mm fine scale, 21m gauge model of Midland Great Western Railway D-class 2-4-0 Connaught, built at the company’s works at Broadstone, Dublin in 1887. The engine is finished in the MGWR dark green livery and with the “fly away” cab, a romantic if impractical design often used by Martin Atock, the company’s locomotive superintendent from1872-1900. Connaught was withdrawn in1922, but one of Atock’s final design of 2-4-0s was still in service at the end of steam on CIÉ in 1963. [photo David Malone]

In 1924-5 all lines, broad and narrow gauge, in the newly formed Irish Free State were amalgamated into the Great Southern Railways. This merged with the Dublin United Transport Company (which operated ‘buses and trams in the capital) in 1945 to form Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ). This was fully nationalized five years later, when the new concern also absorbed the  Grand Canal Company. Since 1987, the railways have been operated by Iarnród Éireann (IÉ), or in English, Irish Rail (IR). A programme of modernization and rationalisation, including the ending of steam traction in 1963, has left southern Ireland with a radial network of main lines from Dublin, very few cross county links and commuter services in Dublin (partly electrified) and Cork. The system is now almost entirely a passenger one, the railway having lost the once heavy traffic in beet, cement, fertilizer and keg beer. The only freight flows now are one route for container traffic; ores from Tara Mines to Dublin Port; and log wood from the west of Ireland to Waterford.

The northern and cross-border lines struggled on, suffering even more extensive closure in the post-World War Two period. Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) now operates just one main line from Belfast to (London)Derry; a short branch to Portrush; and commuter service around Belfast. The only cross-border line is now the Dublin-Belfast route, with train service between the two capitals operated jointly by IÉ and NIR.


Modelling Irish broad gaugeCork, Bandon & South Coast Railway coach model

PHOTO: A 7mm scale model of a full third coach from the Cork, Bandon & South Coast Railway, assembled from an Alphgraphix etched brass kit. The CBSR had some very short bogie coaches to get round the sharp curves on some of its branches, the shortest only 32’ 10” over head-stocks. Up in the north east of Ireland, the Belfast & County Down Railway had some six-wheelers that were 37’ 6” long. [photo Roger Crombleholme]

The main problem for the modeller is the Irish gauge of 5′ 3″, imposed when it became clear that each new Irish railway company was rather randomly choosing its own gauge. Most modellers adopt one of two solutions:

  • Choose the nearest gauge as used for modelling British railways (0, 00 etc)  and ignore the difference.
  • Adjust the gauge to suit a recognized scale, so as to be able to use commercial components.

So, in 4mm scale, the commonest current practices are:

  • 00, as there is growing support. In fact, if you are willing to compromise on the gauge, you can now get all the stock you need for a CIÉ “black and tan” diesel era layout ready-to-run.
  • 21mm gauge, usually, but not always, to P4 standards

But, there are other approaches, such as using 3.5mm scale on EM gauge track, and I know of one modeller who works in S-scale, with correct 5′ 3″ gauge.

The following supply models, kits and components for the Irish modeler in a variety of scales:


Information sourcesValentia Harbour model

PHOTO: Andy Cundick’s 4mm fine scale, 21m gauge model of Valentia Harbour terminus in Co.  Kerry. The prototype opened in 1893, and until closure in 1960, was the most westerly railway station in Europe. [photo Andy Cundick]

The Irish Railway Record Society
Drawing officers Richard McLachlan (UK) and Anthony McDonald (Dublin area)  -

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland

New Irish Lines: published twice yearly with information on prototypes, new products and modeling projects.

The HMRS archives also include many useful drawings and photographs of Irish locomotives and rolling stock. My own interests are supposed to be the older locomotives and stock inherited by the GSR in 1925, but over the years, I have dabbled in other Irish broad gauge companies and as long as you don’t want to model something obscure even by Irish standards (like the Cork & Macroom Direct Railway), I can probably find you a few drawings to get started with.



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