The Times We Lived In: Clearing the way for the Howth tram

Published: May 30th, 1956. Photograph by Jack McManus

Rail worker Thomas McGlue with his shovel fixing the tram line, with two crew members. Photograph: Jack McManus / The Irish Times

Rail worker Thomas McGlue with his shovel fixing the tram line, with two crew members. Photograph: Jack McManus / The Irish Times

 

Talk about giving your mates a dig-out. There they are, hanging around in their spanking posh uniforms, but who’s doing all the hard work? As always, it’s the man with the shovel.

The Howth tram is a legend on Dublin’s northside. It followed a circular 8km route from Sutton station along Greenfield Road to St Fintan’s cemetery, then past the Baily post office to the summit of Howth hill, down into the station at Howth and back to Sutton again.

The route was conceived by the Great Northern Railway in 1901 as a way to bring more customers – and, of course, tourists – to Sutton and Howth at a time when the hills and winding country roads of north county Dublin were a challenge for buses to negotiate.

Our photograph shows rail worker Thomas McGlue – he’s the one wielding the shovel – fixing the tram line as two crew members look on. Happy days, when a public transport glitch could be solved with a bit of straightforward elbow-grease; think how long it takes to sort out the mayhem when, nowadays, a lorry careens into a Dart barrier.

Though the driver and conductor look smart enough to be employed on the Orient Express, the Number Seven tram doesn’t seem to be in particularly good nick. Nor, so far as we can tell from this image, is it exactly besieged by customers. What the image doesn’t show, however, is the view from on-board the tram, which was spectacular.

To his caption the photographer has added, “They would not like to see the trams go out of service”. Two years after this picture was taken, however, CIE took over the GNR’s operations south of the border. A year later the tramway was closed down and, despite heroic efforts from a group of dedicated volunteers, has not re-opened. These days tram number nine can be seen at the National Transport Museum of Ireland at Howth Castle. Number seven, alas, is no more. It was broken up in Sutton in 1960.

Arminta Wallace

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