Blog Archive
21st May 2014


Bray and the railway - the history

Get more out of your next visit to Bray with Avoca Tours Mobile Audio App, to bring you to coastal walks and other attractions. Tony Kelly of Avoca Tours traces the link between William Dargan, the father of Irish railway, and his vision for the Co. Wicklow town.

For over 175 years, trains have been departing Dublin to convey passengers across Ireland; however no train route can compete with the breath-taking beauty and dramatic landscape of the Dublin to Rosslare line. One man’s dream, determination and personal commitment made this coastal train line possible.  His name was Carlow born William Dargan, known affectionately as ‘the father of the Irish Railways’.

William Dargan

After spending the previous 10 years establishing himself as an engineer of the highest standing, Dargan won the prestigious contract to build Ireland’s first railway from Dublin to Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire in 1831 and after the successful completion of this line, William Dargan had established himself as an engineer of the highest ranking and placed him in a prominent position as an Irish public works contractor.

Looking back through the history of the Irish railways Brian MacAnongusa in his short paper ‘William Dargan, Great Railway Building and Patriot’ (2010) tells us how William Dargan became involved in building most of Ireland’s mainlines, including Dublin to Carlow and Kilkenny; Thurles to Cork, including the 1,355-yard Cork tunnel; Mallow to Fermoy and Tralee; Mullingar to Galway and Tuam; Malahide to Balbriggan; Drogheda to Portadown and Banbridge; Lisburn to Armagh; Belfast to Ballymena, Randalstown and Portrush; and Belfast to Holywood and Newtownards. Among the other railways Dargan constructed were Cork to Passage; Waterford to Tramore; Waterford to Limerick; Mullingar to Longford and Cavan; Newry to Warrenpoint; Dundalk to Castleblaney; Limerick to Foynes; Limerick to Ennis; Howth Junction to Howth and the extension of the Dublin & Kingstown Railway to Dalkey.

But it was the coastal town of Bray in County Wicklow and the Dublin to Wexford line that Dargan put a lot of his energies into. Bray is a location whose previous residents include great literary greats like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.  Its more recent movie history with the location of Ardmore Film Studios in the town has seen the rich and famous continue to visit.  This is a town which, in the 19th century, boasted cable cars to take tourists to the highest point of Bray Head, a magnificent building housing Turkish baths, and a vast esplanade. 

Bray Turkish Baths

It was a town built on one man’s vision – William Dargan’s. He could see Bray’s potential with its seaside location to become one of, if not the most, desired locations on the east coast of Ireland within easy reach of Dublin by train. In 1841 the extension of the railway in England from London to the seaside town of Brighton had transformed the English town with 250,000 visitors from London who wanted to get away from the city. Dargan’s vision for Bray was to make Bray the Brighton of Ireland.  

True to his vision, within a few years of the arrival of the train to Bray, William Dargan had “laid out a seafront esplanade, built fashionable Turkish baths and a substantial terrace of houses, developed wide roads, a fair green, a market, and helped to install gas lights in the new town. He was also a major investor in the International Hotel which used to stand opposite the war memorial near the railway station. Because of his substantial investment in Bray, William Dargan was elected one of its Town Commissioners in 1860”.  (MacAnongusa 2010).  He was credited with the transformation of this former one-street town into a developed seaside resort that has since attracted thousands of visitors each year.

Bray Bandstand

Sadly William Dargan who had been involved in building most of Ireland’s main railway lines, amongst other projects, was thrown from his horse in 1865.  He never fully recovered and died in 1867 aged 68 years old.  

Bray Railway Station was renamed Bray Daly Railway Station in 1966 in honour of Edward Daly, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. The eastern platform features an interesting set of murals depicting the history of Ireland’s railways.   

Bray Station Murals

Although the Turkish Baths, cable cars and former scholars are no more, Bray can still boast a fantastic location for that Getaway, with its vast array of seafront hotels and attractions.  Today Bray is once again that bustling town. Why not jump on the Dart, download theAvoca Tours Mobile Audio App and retrace the steps of William Dargan amongst others as you walk through this vibrant seaside town.

The Avoca Tour App has two walks in Bray, The Bray Heritage Walk and the world famous Bray Cliff Walk and 7 other walks throughout County Wicklow.

Bray Head (Photo: Robert Pritchard) 

William Dargan’s obituary below published in 1867 gives some idea of the man himself.

Tony Kelly 

Dargan’s Obituary

(Source: Greystones Archaeological and Historical Society)

(Published 15 February 1867)


William Dargan died on Thursday, the 7th inst., at his residence, Fitzwilliam Square, in this city. Born in the County of Carlow, early in the present century, having received a fair education he was placed in the office of a surveyor. He was subsequently appointed to the post of surveyor for his native county; but this he did not retain for any time, from a feeling that he could never in that position be able to advance himself as he thought he should do were he free to do the best he could with his talents. Under Telford he was employed on the Great Holyhead Road, the successful execution of which marked him as fitted to be entrusted with the construction of works of greater magnitude. The stupendous docks at Liverpool soon after gave further evidence of his skill in engineering works. By William Dargan the work of forming the Ulster Canal as a means of communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, was carried out. The Railways in this country with one or two exceptions, were constructed by Dargan, and we are informed that at the time of the Industrial Exhibition in 1853, he had on hands contracts amounting to nearly two millions sterling. To enable the Exhibition Committee to erect a suitable building, Mr Dargan advanced £30,000, and further sums required to fully carry out the work, which before the opening amounted to close on £100,000. The profits realized by the Exhibition fell short of the expenditure by £20,000, which loss, as arranged, fell on Mr Dargan. In recognition of his services, and as a token of national gratitude for his patriotism and disinterestedness, a public meeting was held, from which resulted the collection of £6,000, and a grant from Government, by which the Irish National Gallery was founded, and a fine bronze statue to this “Illustrious Irishman” erected in front thereof on Leinster Lawn. Mr Dargan was a thorough man of business, fulfilling to the letter every one of the numerous engagements into which he would enter, he thereby secured the respect of all with whom he had dealings. He was several times pressed upon to enter Parliament, but could not be prevailed on to do so. He was also honoured with the offer of a baronetcy, but this also he refused. In him the labouring classes have lost a warm friend, as his endeavour always through life was to elevate and improve the condition of the humble work-man. Mr Dargan’s death will be sincerely regretted by all classes and creeds. The remains of the deceased were conveyed to their resting place in Prospect Cemetery, Glasnevin, and interred in a vault in the “O’Connell Circle.” The coffin was of highly polished oak, bearing a burnished shield, on which was engraved:

Died 7th February, 1867


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