In the 19th century Broadstone was one of the most well known areas of Dublin, however very few people even know where it is today. From 1817 this area was home to one of the major transport hubs in 19th century Dublin, containing a major railway station and a canal harbour. This area rose and fell in prominence among Dubliners as new forms of transport came and went.
The aqueduct and canal that once linked the site to the Royal canal are gone almost without a trace and what was a glorious Neo-Egyptian railway station (left) is now a bus depot and garage badly in need of repair. After digging around I found some sketches and photo’s illustrating what the area was like in its heyday over a century ago.
Broadstone is located north west of Dublin between the city centre and Phibsboro. It is known today from buildings like the Kings Inns or streets like Constitution hill and Western Way but in the 19th and early 20th century it was best known as one of the major rail stations and canal docks in Dublin. Its architecture was impressive from the aqueduct spanning Constitution Hill to the train station itself.
As late as the 1780’s it was just green fields at the edge of Dublin but revolutionary changes in transport saw Broadstone transformed. In the 19th century it became a key location in Dublin only to fall out of use a century and half later as a new revolution in transport made it redundant. The start of Broadstone’s rise began with the first major revolution in technology in the 18th century – canals.
In 1789 a royal charter constituted a new company – the Royal Canal Company which was to construct a canal between Dublin and the upper Shannon (the Shannon river is Ireland’s largest river and the major waterway in the west of the country). In its charter Broadstone was identified as a location for one of the major canal harbours in Dublin. In 1790 construction of the canal began on a route that ran east-west about 500 metres north of Broadstone.
As stipulated in the 1789 charter a dock had to be constructed at Broadstone but this was not an easy task. The company cut a smaller canal – The Broadstone canal towards the site of the proposed harbour but quickly came up against the newly constructed North Circular Road. Here they built a humpbacked bridge to carry the road over the canal – Blacquiere Bridge named after the one of the directors of the Royal Canal Company. However the greatest challenge still lay ahead of them.
Five hundred metres south of the Blacquiere Bridge the Broadstone canal met Constitution hill – a road which was substantially lower than the level canal. This road could not be arched over the canal so instead the canal would have to cross over the road on an aqueduct. The Royal Canal Engineers constructed what became known as Fosters Aqueduct (left) named after the last speaker of the Irish house of Commons John Foster.Once the canal crossed the Constitution Hill a large harbour was dug to serve as a terminus.
In 1802 the Broadstone section of the canal opened starting with a limited service to Newcastle near Enfield, 30 km south west of Dublin. By 1817 the Royal Canal, which was constructed from east to west, reached the Shannon River and Broadstone was then the major harbour for connections between the city and the midlands.
Very quickly it faced competition of sorts as the 1820’s saw the development of Ireland’s first regular transport service by road – Bianconi Stage Coaches. These threatened the market for the canal boat passengers. The Royal canal company countered this through the development of what were known as fly boat services – a daily barge that trevelled from Dublin as far west as Mullingar.
While canal was massively costly and labour intensive to construct it quickly became outdated as a form of public transport. In 1845 a new railway company The Midland and Great Western Railway Company purchased the entire royal canal and its harbours. They had little interest in the canal itself – they wanted to use the harbours and flat land beside the canal to construct a railway to the west of Ireland. The Midland and Great Western Railway Company identified the harbour site at Broadstone as a major station site.
In 1848 they had carved a new train line (left) from the harbour running north along the western edge of Phibsboro running under the North Circular road. Once this line opened in 1848 carrying a train service from Broadstone to Mullingar and the canal could not compete for passenger traffic. With a maximum speed of only ten miles an hour the demand for canal passenger boats collapsed over night.
Statistics from the other major canal in Ireland – the Grand Canal show just how much the railway affected passenger traffic on the canal in this period. Between 1845 and 1851 traffic, first class fell by 90% from 32,008 to 3,194 while second class fell from 79,217 to 18,328. (Hart , H.W. (1968) The Passage Boats of the Grand Canal Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 22, No. 1 pp. 176-186 Old Dublin Society.)
The demise of the canal traffic did not harm Broadstone – it was becoming the major rail station in Dublin servicing the west and in 1850 a major train station was opened at Broadstone. Architects designing the railway station in these early days of rail were not constrained by a design regarded as a typical railway station and at Broadstone The Midlands and Great Western Company built a Neo- Egpytian station over looking Constitution Hill.
By the 1860’s railways completely dominated public transport. As Dublin’s middle class grew
the demand for leisure trips grew amongst this section of the population who had more leisure time and expendable income, the train company tapped this market by offering trips to various events such as races or fairs in the west of the Ireland. This was a completely new phenomenon as previously it was impossible to go to an event like the Ballinasloe horse fair and return in the same day.
The Canal is filled in
By 1870’s it was clear the canal was just an obstacle to the Rail station at Broadstone. Canal traffic at Broadstone had continued to decline particularly after the opening of a new dock where The Royal Canal met the Liffey – Spencer dock. The harbour was more of a hindrance to the train station. Its awkward location meant that the station could only be accessed by a pontoon bridge which could be removed when necessary but given the ever increasing traffic on the railway this was intolerable.
The company drew up plans to completely change the layout of the entire area around Broadstone and it was began to take the shape we know today. In 1878 they partially filled in the canal dock at the railway station. They also constructed a then private road – Western Way (this only became a public road in 1930’s). This new road Western Way accessed the train station across the Aqueduct, which after the canal harbour was filled in, was converted into a road bridge. With the closure of the docks at Broadstone the entire Broadstone section of the canal fell out of use as it served no purpose.
The train station however went from strength to strength. The site was expanded with large workshops opening in 1878. All the Midland and Great Western Railway Company trains were built at Broadstone from this date. The station was not just known as a major public station in Dublin, it was also a workplace for many living in the area. The census returns for 1901 and 1911 showed a significant section of people in the Phibsboro area were employed at the station or in the workshops.
The early 20th century witnessed massive change political, economic and technologically change and this spelled the beginning of the end of Broadstone as a major public station. In 1911 railways saw the arrival of its major rival – road transport, that year The Midland and Great Western Railway Company opened its first bus service. While increasing road transport saw rail passenger numbers decline the declaration of independence spelled the end for Broadstone.
In 1924 the newly formed free state of Ireland consolidated several existing railway company’s including The Midland and Great Western Railway Company into a conglomerate The Great Southern Railway company. As part of the Great Southern restructuring several train stations were to be closed. Broadstone was not part of the long-term plans with preference been given to Connolly station on Amien street. The station was handed over to the bus section of the Great Southern in 1934 and the rail traffic was gradually wound down with the last train pulling into Broadstone at midnight on the 16th January 1937 .
With the closure of the station Broadstone was no longer frequented by the public and began to fade on the city map. As transport needs moved from rail to road the last reminders of the areas days as a canal harbour were removed. First Blacquiere bridge in Phibsboro was taken down in the 1930’s and then in 1951 the aqueduct which was a bottle neck for traffic was demolished.
The canal itself was filled in the 1930’s and transformed into a public park containing Phibsboro library and a playground. Its history was preserved in its name – Royal Canal Park. Ironically Broadstone demise was down to the same reason it had been developed in the 1790’s – because of the demands of new forms of transport.
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Newenham Wright (1831) Ireland illustrated: from original drawings Fisher & Jackson.
Stephenson P.J. (1952) The Foster Aqueduct Historical Record, Vol. 13, No. 2 pp. 62-63 Old Dublin Society
Killeen, M. (1981) Broadstone: Railway Station to Bus Garage. Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 34, No. 4 pp. 140-154 Old Dublin Society
Clarke, P. (1993) The Royal Canal 1789-1993 Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 46, No. 1 pp. 46-52 Old Dublin Society
Hart , H.W. (1968) The Passage Boats of the Grand Canal Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 22, No. 1 pp. 176-186 Old Dublin Society.