Public Transport in Clontarf 1880
The question of the feasibility of laying down a tramway system in Dublin came before the Corporation in 1861. The city engineer at the time, Mr. Neville, suggested that an experimental line be laid sown between the city center and Clontarf. Nothing came of this suggestion and it was 1880 before the first tram service began between the city and Dollymount. The trams, at first, came only as far as Annesley Bridge. These early trams were pulled by a team of horsed, with a ‘tip’ horse to help on inclines such as Newcomem Bridge. The first trams had no organized stops, rather the driver halted the tram when signaled to do so.
Clontarf had a tramshed or stable on the site of the present day bus garage. The first section of this track to be electrified was that between Dollymount and Annesley Bridge and the4 first electric tram ran on it on November11th, 1897. On March 19th, 1899 the rest of the clontarf line to the city center (Nelson’s Pillar) was electrified. This was the first electric tramline from any suburb to the city center. (The very first electric tram in Dublin ran in 1896 on the Dublin Southern Districts Tramway Company line between Haddington Road and Dalkey. A power station operated from Shelbourne Road for this line.) Clontarf tramshed was extended to include a new power station which remained in operation until 1906 when the powerful Ringsend station was opened. The Clontarf line was a pioneer in both Ireland and Britain for the use of high tension electric current on overhead wires, with substations.
The route from the city center to Clontarf was operated by the staff o f Dublin United tramways Company. In 1898 the”Clontarf and Hill of Howth Tramshed Company Ltd.” was established and an agreement was made with the D.U.T.C.to run trams from the city to Howth. The D.U.T.C. drivers and conductors would be in charge from the city as far as Dollymount – which was called ‘the junction’. From there the staff of C.&H.H.T.C staff would take over. But two great obstacles had to be overcome before a line could be laid to Howth. One was the fierce opposition of the Great Northern Railway Company who had a railway line to Howth themselves. The other was the strict conditions laid down by Lord Ardilaun of St. Anne’s. These included free access for himself to the foreshore and to his private rifle range, non interference with the free flow of the Naniken River and that only a single track be laid along the St.Anne’s section of the tramline. In fact it turned out that the section from Mount Prospect Avenue to the Whip O Water had just a single track. The Clontarf-Howth line eventually opened in July 1900 with power from a D.U.T.C. generator at Clontarf. It ran via Blackbanks and Sutton – the C&H.H.T.C. had their tram sheds at Blackbanks. Despite the fact that the section mentioned above – with only one line – caused some congestion, a smooth, fast and efficient service resulted.
The trams, or ‘galleons of the street’ as the poet ‘A E’ (George Russel)called them, were surely part of what was Dublin ‘in the rare oul times’. They were objects of genuine interest and love for generations of Dubliners. The trams became part of the social life of the then smaller and more close knit community. the service from the city center to Clontarf and Howth established a reputation for being excellent and frequent. Indeed affairs were of a ‘personal’ variety as staff and passengers were generally on first name terms. As well as ferrying people the trams offered a freight service also – including two from Howth carrying sand and fish!
Trams had no upper saloon covers and ladies who opted to travel in the upper deck were considered ‘bold and daring’. Indeed ‘decency boards’were fitted to spare ladies alighting the steps from any would peeping Toms downstairs! Regular stopping places were now marked by poles with white center section and tickets were of different colors and were punched. Before route numbers were adopted route signs were operated. The Dollymount daytime sign was a green shield and at night two green lights were used. When route numbers came into operation Dollymount became route 30 and Howth route 31.
In the days before the promenade was built along the seafront in Clontarf a ride on the open upper deck of a tram in harsh weather was something of an endurance test. As only a low sea wall separated the tramline from the waves of the sea, storms, especially in winter, aided by Clontarf’s notorious South Easterly gales, very often washed over the wall and choked the tramtracks with sand. This caused endless delays and hold ups. Another problem was that of flooding along the seafront – especially at the seafront end of the Malahide and Howth Roads and (before the new tunnel was built) at the mouth of the Hollybrook River. A special ‘ferry’ or ‘submarine’ tram was built by the D.U.T.C. to overcome this problem. This was a single decker with its floor about four feet above the rails with the engine suitably mounted to escape being flooded and put out of action. The nostalgia of this ‘steps up’ tram lives on. The trams undoubtedly greatly helped entice people to come to live in Clontarf. Like places such as Rathmines, Pembroke and Donnybrook on the south side of the city, a wave of middle class ’emigrants’ came to Clontarf and built the many fine residences which made the area fashionable.
For a time the trams were the fastest vehicles on the road. Their first serious competitors were the early buses- in hindsight it can be stated that the arrival of the internal combustion engine ended the era of the tram. The big advantages the buses had were their speed and manoeuverability. The buses could struggle round all the developing streets in Clontarf’s hinterland – and indeed played a big part in ‘opening up’ that same hinterland- while the tram was stuck to its track. Thus people who might have to walk a mile or more to a tramstop found the bus much more convenient. Open competition developed (which lasted until C.I.E. was formed on the 1st of January, 1945) in which buses literally beat trams to the stops to ‘grab’ passengers first, leaving many trams to run empty. In 1925 Dublin’s first official bus route – City center to Killester via Clontarf – was established. (It was a single decker number 43.) In 1939 the route 30 trams to Dollymount were replaced by double decker buses. (Clontarf is today also served by C.I.E. city bus service route number 44A.) The last trams along the Clontarf seafront were on the Howth line and these were finally withdrawn in March 1941 . July 1949 saw the last trams leave all city streets. In 1959 the Hill of Howth trams were eventually replaced by single decker number 88 buses.
Today the old tramline lies buried beneath the Clontarf Road and with it memories of days that have been. Clontarf at present does not have a railway station but correspondence from C.I.E. states that it is intended to provide a station to serve the Clontarf area on the Howth-Bray electrified ‘Dart’ system.
An extract from The Meadow of the Bull a history of Clontarf by Historian Dennis McIntyre