Pioneers and Visionaries: Drawings from the Golden Age of Irish Railways



Map of proposed Dublin to Kingstown Railway, c. 1830, Iarnród Éireann Drawings Collection


Ireland was the location of some of the earliest railway developments in the world. The first railway in Ireland was the Dublin and Kingstown Railway which opened in December 1834. At the heart of this project were two men who would become the most prominent names in railway development in Ireland: Charles Blacker Vignoles as Chief Engineer and William Dargan as Contractor. Other prominent railway engineers were William Hemingway Mills, Chief Engineer of the Great Northern Railway, and Sir John Benjamin Macneill, a pioneering railway developer. Railway buildings were designed to make an impact during an era when making an impression was important to attract investors. Many of the railway architects of the time, including Sancton Wood and William Deane Butler, went on to be leading architects of public buildings, not just in Ireland but in Britain also. These, and others, laid the foundation for what would become an extensive network of railways which crossed every county in Ireland. They were engineers and architects whose signatures, sometimes literally, are written all over this exhibition.


Plan, section and elevation of rail, Ennis to Anthry Railway, 1868, Iarnród Éireann Drawings Collection


The engineering and architecture of the early railways has left a heritage of buildings and bridges which are familiar to everyone. There was also a less visible social impact, with the railways bringing employment and accommodation for workers through times of famine and eviction. The fabric of many of the railways remains today as a testament to the ingenuity and vision of railway engineers and architects. This is visible not just in the physical form of what was constructed, but also in the drawings and documents in which their ideas were expressed. Much of this legacy has been inherited by Iarnród Éireann which today holds a substantial and significant collection of drawings from the Victorian era.


Waterford, Dungarvan and Lismore Railway, Kilmacthomas Viaduct, 1874, Iarnród Éireann Drawings Collection


This exhibition shows just a fragment of that legacy and illustrates the wealth of what has survived in the hope that there will be greater awareness of the importance of this collection.


Entrance Gates, Cork Station, 1892, Iarnród Éireann Drawings Collection


The Irish Architectural Archive wishes to acknowledge the assistance and support of Iarnród Éireann, particularly Éamonn Ballance, Cathal Mangan, Barry Kenny, Nick West, Garrett McGuinness, Ken Wade, Denis Sullivan, Colin Hedderly and Michael Ryan.


Milesmen’s Cottages, Sallins, 1884, Iarnród Éireann Drawings Collection


Iarnród Éireann wishes to acknowledge the assistance and support of Colum O’Riordan and Simon Lincoln of the Irish Architectural Archive, without whose help and enthusiasm this exhibition would not have taken place.

Particular place of mention needs to go to Michael Barry for editorial input as Curator of the Exhibition.

Special thanks go also to Ciara McQueirns and Dr Pat McBride of the Paper Conservation Studio for their meticulous work in preparing the drawings for this exhibition.


Lamps – Waterford and Limerick Railway Company, 1883-1885, Iarnród Éireann Drawings Collection