By Peter Newell
There are some roads the names of which are familiar to people around the globe, such as the Appian Way in Italy, the Silk Road in China, the Stuart Highway in Australia, the Burma Road of World War 2 fame, route 66 in the U.S.A., or the trans American Highway reaching from the tip of South America to Alaska. But the road that had the greatest impact on the people of the Annaghdown/Corrandulla area when it was built was the Curraghline.
Before it existed the means of getting to Galway City was by boat on the lake or by road through Claregalway. The Curragh Line is the stretch of road from Corrandulla Barracks to Carrowbrowne, a distance of approximately 6 miles. By any standard it was a major undertaking, given the difficult terrain it had to traverse from black alluvial clay in some places some fifty or more feet in depth to peat over white marl in others. Other places were a complete quagmire not to mention the added complication of two rivers and a number of streams and drains.
Work started in the 1860’s with the construction of two sections, the first from Carrowbrowne to the Clare River at Curraghmore, the second from Cloonboo to the Cregg River at Addergoole. The bridge at Addergoole, which was single span, was completed in order to carry materials for the section between the two rivers and the materials for the north abutment of the much wider bridge across the river Clare. This would indicate that most of the materials came from the the areas of Annaghdown and Corrandulla, as the means of transport was horse and cart, thus providing a welcome boost for the local economy.
The construction of Curraghmore bridge must have seemed like one of the wonders of the world in its day given the difficult terrain and the width of the the river, not to mention the depth. It consisted of three spans, two abutments and two piers. Four coffer dams made from heavy planks were constructed. The abutments were completed, cantilevered derricks were built on either side to permit the removal of materials for the piers. Girders were run from one bank to the other, and steel sheets laid across the girders to take the roadway. Complete with rails and protecting walls the bridge was ready for traffic.
The remaining stretch of road from Cloonboo to Corrandulla Barracks was then completed. This section was worst as the ground resembled quicksand in its behaviour. It continued to swallow material as fast as it was put in place. Miss Perry (who incidently was, in her day, the only lady engineer in these islands), suggested a hazel mattress and dried peat foundation. This method worked and the road was stabilised.
The Curragh Line was then complete. Traffic at the outset, and for many years afterwards was horsedrawn. The economy of the area around Annaghdown parish changed dramatically as the locals could now access markets and fairs with greater frequency. The minutes of the Grand Jury and of the County Council that succeeded it showed that the road deteriorated in the first few years to the point where emergency works had to be carried out at Curraghmore Bridge due to the subsidence at the abutments.
Road maintenance was contracted out to individuals who tendered for the work, and contracts were awarded for periods of four years and nine months. The rate of pay was initially 2s-4d per perch increasing to 3s-0d in 1914. By then the Curragh Line had become an established feature on the landscape.
During the latter years of the War of Independence, Curraghmore bridge was blown up. This was a major setback. It was still possible, though very dangerous, to cross on an arrangement of planks. During this time three republican activists who had rested in Baranna for a few days had decided to leave at night to avoid discovery by the Black and Tans. They had a horse and trap for transport and decided to go by the Curragh Line to Castlegar. The night being dark, however, they missed the planks on the bridge and all three were drowned R.I.P. Their names were Fahy, Clancy and Quinn.
The District Council minutes show that by 1924 the bridge still had not been repaired. An improvement scheme was put in place in 1925, which increased the width and height of the roadway. It was only by the 1930’s that the road was tarred for the first time. It then became the main Galway to Castlebar road and was allotted the numer N59. I suspect many are unaware of the change which took place in 1976 when this number changed to N84, which has left the route much further down the list for any major improvements up to the present day.
From the time the Curraghline was first tarred, after the major improvements and up until the late 1950’s it was a very level and comfortable road. Motor traffic had increased somewhat and maximum loads on trucks would have been around eight tons. By the late sixties, however, articulated trucks had arrived with much heavier loads, this lead to a marked deterioration in the condition of the road. The bridges in particular showed signs of overloading and strain. Both bridges were rebuilt. During construction people again had to take the route through Claregalway for a few years. This brought into focus the usefulness of the Curraghline and showed what it must have been like in the old days of horsedrawn transport.
Let us dwell here on some of the people along the Curraghline. The pubs in Cloonboo, Regan’s and Corbett’s (formerly Fahy’s and Hynes’s) were, and still are great ports of call for travellers on the route. The late Michael Leonard of Addergoole, a true gentleman born and bred, who knew everyone who travelled the road, even those from the far reaches of Mayo. He knew the registration nembers of every vehicle regularly travelling the road.
When Corbett’s added the petrol pumps it added a new dimension to Michael’s life as he enjoyed nothing better than to visit there and speak to all those who stopped for pertol and visit the pub. I don’t think he drank alcohol himself at all. Then there was Tom Mulryan who was a a natural wit with a ready answer for every question. His father, Pat ‘Cormac’ though confined to bed for several years could tell the identity of every horsecart in the locality by the clacking sound it made as it travelled past his house.
A great beacon day or night, on what could be a lonesome road was Feeney’s in Curraghmore. They were in the parish of Claregalway at Curraghmore and traditionally travelled by boat along the river to Claregalway for Christmas morning Mass, no mean feat. There was also Tom Boyle, the remains of whose house still stands across from McGaugh’s Garden Centre. It was a sight to watch him get off the bus from town and see all the hens come out to meet him, on the expectation of something good from the bag. Then the Coady family in Carrowbrowne, a family long resident there and very helpful and hospitable in every way.
Some personal memories and impressions of the Curraghline. My earliest memory extends to 1947 when, at the age of four, we set off early on a Saturday morning for town on a horse drawn trap. With new candles in the lamps and a heavy rug to cover us for fear it rained we struck out for town. The first mile and a half was on a sand road as the side roads were un-tarred then. Having got out on to the Curraghline at Cloonboo and headed for town on the tarred road I can still remember the sounds of the horse shoes on the tar, a sort of echoing clip clop along with the sound of the rubber tyred trap. Seeing Cloonboo castle fade into the mist before falling asleep under the rug and awakening in Lydon’s yard in Eyre Street. The trap was parked and the horse stabled for the day. The sights, sounds and tastes of that day will never leave my memory. The lovely glass of red lemonade and ginger snap biscuits in Lydon’s, the sausages and mashed potatoes washed down with more lemonade at Aunt Bridget’s looking out on Eyre Square and the smell of new toys and playthings in Glynn’s toy shop. Back then to Lydon’s to harness up and light the lamps for the journey home none of which is remembered except for being carried in from the trap by my father on arrival.
In later years there were many trips by horse and cart to the bonham market and the potato market, but none have lived on so vividly in my memory as the first trip in the horse and trap with my parents and brother.
There were also trips by bus. The service was quite good, four each way per day, the fare was 1s-8d for adults and 10 pence for children. It was a great adventure to be sent to town on bus for a few messages, and to be able to get Beano and Dandy and Our Boys or the Ireland’s Own. The town seemed so big and different from the surroundings at home. Later on, we were allowed to stay with our aunt and go to the pictures, which was a whole new world altogether.
This then was what the Curraghline meant to a young boy in the 50’s. An escape, a conduit to bright lights and excitement and also a way home when you realised that home might be alright after all. It was also the road to the horrors and tortures of visits to the dentist, not, I might add for the fancy work they do nowadays, but for pulling teeth and often half your gums with them.
Later still there was the business of going to the fairs with cattle which meant joining up with the neighbours and all leaving together around midnight up the Curraghline for the fair which started about 4am. Sometimes we were lucky, the cattle were quiet and stayed on the road but more often than not they took to the bog and would have to be pulled out with ropes. The fairs were and institution in themselves with all the bargaining and unwritten codes, the feigned insults given and received, down to the whole business of luck-penny. Anyone who had come through the era of the fair day would have been fit to lecture in the Harvard Business School. The fairs died out in the early seventies with the establishment of the marts.
This then is some of the story of the Curraghline with the memories and feelings it evokes. Were the project to be undertaken in today’s world, it is quite likely it would not get off the ground at all. What with feasibility studies, investigation of title, compulsory purchase orders along with environmental impact studies and the welfare of some species of snail or another.
By any standard it was a major undertaking, given the difficult terrain it had to traverse from black alluvial clay in some places some fifty or more feet in depth to peat over white marl in others.
It was a bleak road in bad weather where the wind appeared to be against you regardless of which direction you travelled. In the late 30’s Galway County Council decided to plant some ash trees along the road, which they duly did. However, most of them were pulled up again by people going to fairs, as an ash plant (or fas as they were called) a much-prized item for cattle droving.
At the present time the road is in a sorry enough state, carrying levels of traffic far in excess of that for which it was designed, and this is the way it is likely to continue until proper funding and materials are made available to put it right. In the meantime, as we all travel along its length bumper to bumper at peak times, try to resist the urge to overtake, a practice which is as bad as any other form of queue jumping, only a lot more dangerous. Instead spare a thought for the wonderful people who put the road there in the first place.
This article was first published in Anach Cuain 2002.