The rediscovery of the tram tracks at Blackrock Pier has created much enthusiasm and many historical questions. Some of the answers may be below:
The tram tracks will be re-incorporated into the pier regeneration project.
Whose vision was it?
Circa 1897 the Corporation of Cork planned to establish a large electricity generating plant. The plant would provide public lighting and operate an electric tramcar extending from the city centre to all of the popular suburbs.
The site of the new plant was on Monarea Marshes (now the National Sculpture Factory) near the Hibernian Buildings.
The Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Ltd, was registered in Cannon Street, London and had a close working relationship with eminent electrical contractors, the British Thomson-Houston Company. This latter English company were appointed the principal contractors.
Who built the street track?
The street track was completed by William Martin Murphy, who was a Berehaven man, but with a company in Dublin (the Dublin 1913 lockout employer). Murphy was the first chairman of the Cork Company.
Leading Cork housing contractor, Edward Fitzgerald, soon to become Lord Mayor of Cork, completed the building of the plant. To provide proper foundations for the large plant, extensive quantities of pitch pine were sunk under the concrete.
Mr Charles H. Merz, one of British Thomson-Houston’s up and coming engineers, supervised the electric tramcar system. He became the secretary and head engineer for the Cork operation. Merz was a native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and arrived in Cork during the laying of track and near completion of the plant.
What were the termini?
Cork was to become the eleventh city in Britain and Ireland to have operating electric trams. Four of the six suburban routes were complete for the line’s commencement.
The eventual termini included Sunday’s Well, Blackpool, St. Luke’s Cross, Tivoli, Blackrock and Douglas.
When did the tram car system officially open?
Eighteen tramcars arrived in 1898 for the opening, which occurred on 22 December.
How many trams were in operation in Cork City at the turn of the twentieth century?
By 1900, 35 electric tram cars operated throughout the city and suburbs.
For 33 years, the Cork electric trams wandered the city and its suburbs, and provided a needed service and employment for 260 employees.
Describe a tram car?
These were manufactured in Loughborough, U.K. All were double deck in nature, open upstairs with a single-truck design. There were minor variations in many of the cars. Six of the trams had a luxury design. They had a longer roof and their ends were curved, which provided extra seating upstairs and a cover for the driver and conductor. Passengers on the lower level sat on two long slated timber seats. Upstairs, there were short seats at either side of a central passageway.
Most tram cars could hold at least 25 people upstairs and 20 downstairs. However, in rush hour situation, some trams were known to have carried 70 citizens. However, a key rule on the tram was that nobody could sit or stand on the driver’s front platform.
What was the fare?
Circa 1900, a single fare to any of the suburbs served by the trams was one penny. The fare did rise up to three and half pence by 1910 but had dropped to two pence by 1930.
What colour were the tram cars?
In the early years of the twentieth century, large white indicator boards at the front of the trams identified their destination. These had the initials of the terminus or where the tram was travelling. For example, Blackpool was shown by B.P. and Douglas by D.S. In the second decade of the 1900s, small rectangular plates in different colours replaced the boards.
Each displayed the full name of the destination. The name was located over the numbers and on the side of the cars as follows; Douglas–white; Blackrock-brown, Tivoli-yellow; Sunday’s Well and Summerhill-red and Blackpool-dark blue.
To identify clearly the trams at nights, the relevant officials fitted lighted bulbs of the different colours. Instead of a brown bulb for Blackrock, a green bulb was used.
Where did the company complete their repairs and alterations?
Repairs and alterations to any of the tramcars were completed at the Albert Road depot. A special tramway watering tram car sprayed water from its large attached tank on both sides of the track in order to keep the durst down. A number of tower wagons, pulled by horses, also operated on the various lines to give access to workers to fix any cables if necessary.
Were there any track problems?
On the majority of the routes, there were outbound and city bound tram tracks. However, on a number of routes, especially the Douglas and Blackrock routes, single-track sections were in operation. Thus, when the driver reached the end of the loop and therefore, the entry to a single-track section, he left his platform.
The driver then went to a box on an adjacent pole, flicked a switch, which turned on a light on the pole at the other end of the track. This warned any drivers of any approaching trams. Of course, this is also the first evidence for electric traffic lights in Cork. Problems were encountered with several reports of trams having to reverse or passengers changing trams for the convenience of the relevant drivers.
Who used the trams?
In the first decade of the 1900s, the electric trams did played a large part in providing much needed public transport. Professional men living in the suburbs and working in the city used the service regularly.
Young recruits used the service to travel to Victoria Barracks, so that they could train for the Boer War (1899-1900). The International Exhibition, which graced the lands of the Mardyke in 1902 / 1903, coincided with the trams working overtime as Corkonians packed into the cars to travel out the Western Road.
Hurling and Football matches at the Cork Athletic Grounds, located near the Marina brought much business on Sundays on the Tivoli and Blackrock lines. Many citizens would travel to Tivoli to catch a regular ferry service across the river.
What happened the trams?
From 1925 onwards, a new form of public transport appeared on the streets in Cork that of the motor bus. In 1926, Captain A.P. Morgan, retired officer of the British Army, financed and introduced four Daimler double decker 44 seater buses.
City Commissioner, Philip Monahan, later to be an eminent City Manager, governed the motor bus affairs. Soon buses were running form the city centre to the south west, south east, south and north western suburbs.
The electricity supply as a private development in Cork was hindered by the Irish Free State’s Shannon Scheme – hydro-electrification plant of the late 1920s.
New tarred roads replaced muddy suburban and urban roads. Thus, cycling without severe struggling became more possible for Corkonians.
On 30 September 1931, the final abandonment of the trams occurred. Fireworks, cheering and souvenir collecting were all aspects of general public’s final goodbye.
Key sources of information:
A detailed history of the trams can be found in Walter McGrath’s (1981) Tram Tracks Through Cork, available to consult in the City Library on the Grand Parade. Also check out the online newspaper archive for the Irish Examiner at www.irishnewspaperarchive.com.