The coming of the Railway Line
The people of Borris would have been hugely excited to witness the arrival of the railway in their small town - bringing with it the promise of travel and adventure as well as trade and commerce. The sight of a steam engine speeding through this pastoral Carlow landscape must have been an unbelievable and exhilarating sight to all who watched. The GS&WR (Great Southern & Western Railway)railway had already reached Bagenalstown and Kilkenny by 1850. Now it was the turn of the people of Borris to witness this new revolutionary form of transport come through their own town.
Scorteen Mill – An important Flour and Corn Mill below the Viaduct
The Mountain River which rises high in the Blackstairs Mountain was an important feature in Borris until the middle of the 20th century. The area directly beneath the viaduct was the location for Scorteen Mill, a large corn and flour mill during the 18th and 19th centuries. A weir and mill race harnessed the power of the river to drive the mill wheels. Remains of the mill buildings and walls can still be seen in the area below us. This Granary building is all that remains of the Scorteen Corn and Flour Mills. Corn was spread across the four floors to dry prior to being ground for milling and making flour.
Borris – A Magnificent Railway station
The first sod for the Bagenalstown and Wexford Railway was cut by Lady Harriet Kavanagh in Borris on New Year’s Day 1855. The section of track (8 miles) through flat terrain to Borris was completed three years later by 1858. This incorporated a slight diversion South-Westwards to include a stop at Ballyellin for Goresbridge. The wonderful granite stonework and craftsmanship on the station buildings in Borris is testament to the engineer William Le Fanu’s exacting and high standard’s of building throughout the whole line. The remarkable architectural detailing and skills of Carlow’s stonemasons is also very evident everywhere at Borris Station and its ancillary buildings.
Constructing the Viaduct
Witnessing the Viaduct structure emerge from the ground albeit over a two year period was an amazing sight for the people of the locality. They observed an army of stone cleavers, masons, carpenters, carters and navvies build the magnificent structure as it rose to a height of sixty feet over the valley floor. The pillars are built using local limestone while the parapets, string courses and keystone feature dressed granite. Stone was carted to site, carved and dressed, then winched up by pulley and positioned in place.
Kilcoltrim Hill and Cutting
Another major engineering challenge extending to almost a mile was Kilcoltrim Hill. An army of workers mined though the hard limestone cutting using pickaxes, crowbars and shovels. Gunpowder was used for rock blasting, quarrying to a depth of 80ft in places. A number of workers were injured in excavating the Kilcoltrim cutting by rock falls and one report that a worker was blinded directly as a result of flying debris following blasting in the cutting. When completed the cutting was checked regularly for falling rocks and many a serious rail accident was prevented by observant rail workers. Streams run along both sides of the track through the cutting.
William Richard Le Fanu (1816– 1894) (Left)
Railway engineer and Commissioner of Public Works. William Le Fanu was born in 1816 in Dublin. Son of a Church of Ireland Clergyman he grew up in Abington,
Co. Limerick and studied Engineering in Trinity College, receiving his BA degree in 1839. His elder brother was Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, later well-known as a Gothic novelist. The Borris to Wexford Railway line was excellently engineered as a mainline with bridges designed to accommodate a double track along the entire route.
Borris Lace was introduced to the South Carlow town around 1857 by Lady Harriet Kavanagh of Borris House to provide much needed employment. In 1857 Lady Harriet Kavanagh visited Corfu and was so impressed by the specimens of old Greek Lace that she bought some pieces. Lady Harriet, who also bought some specimens of tape laces from Venice and Milan, felt that they could be copied in Borris by the local women, thus enabling them to add to the small earnings of their menfolk.
Borris, Co Carlow is a small but perfectly formed Georgian estate town with buildings constructed with local granite flanking the North side of its gently sloping high street. Dominating the town on the opposite side of the street is Borris House, the ancestral seat of the MacMorrough Kavanaghs, descendants of the Kings of Leinster. In Lower Borris, at the other end of the high street, the clock tower of the Sacred Heart Church rises over the town like an exclamation mark. Borris’s magnificent 16-arch viaduct is another legacy of Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh. He instigated its construction and was instrumental in bringing the railway to Borris. This line from Wexford to Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown) was operational from 1858, finally closing to passengers in 1931. The old station house still stands in the aptly named Station Road. Note the photograph caption above dating from around 1890 stating Borris, Co. Wexford. Borris is in fact in the County of Carlow!