As full-scale civil war developed in late June, the Republican campaign of destruction against the infrastructure of the nascent Provisional Government increased in its intensity. Across the country, armed Republicans waged war against the nation’s rail network in an attempt to bring the newly established Free State to a standstill. Railway bridges and tracks were blown up, rails removed, locomotives derailed, rolling stock, signal cabins and even station buildings were destroyed.
The Civil War brought untold suffering and misery to the people of Ireland and it also brought unprecedented damage to the country’s infrastructure. Roads, bridges, buildings and the railway system were destroyed during the fighting, leading to a repairs bill which would prove to be a financial burden on the Cuman na nGaedheal government once the conflict ended.
One facet of the country’s infrastructure which suffered extensive damage was the railway system which was viewed by the anti-Treaty leadership as a legitimate target for sabotage and attack.
During the War of Independence there had been some attacks on railway lines across the country but the IRA had been conscious that any major rail disruption could have alienated them from the public and may well have hindered their own operations.
However, those restraints did not come into play during the civil war and the country’s railway system suffered major damage and disruption, so much so, that one politician claimed; “There never has been a case of any country in which such a fierce attack was made on the railway system.”
Ireland had, by this time, a highly developed railway infrastructure and many areas were heavily dependent on it – both economically and socially. Any disruption or damage was liable to cause hardship for many people.
Initially, the anti-Treaty strategy in relation to the railway was designed to prevent the movement of National Army troops and supplies to Munster and the west of the country as well as obstructing the functioning of government itself. During the civil war the damage to the railway infrastructure was so great that its future as a viable means of transport was cast into doubt.
In late July of 1922 the anti-Treaty leadership issued a directive for the destruction of the lines from Limerick Junction to Tipperary and from Waterford to Carrick-on-Suir. The anti-Treaty military leader, Liam Lynch, ordered that railway workers should be instructed not to repair trains or lines.
On 3 August the Irish Engineering Union was told by the anti-Treaty North-Eastern Command that “owing to the use of the railways by the ‘Free State’ headquarters for the conveyance of troops and war material and for the purposes of army communication, the destruction of the railways under ‘Free State’ control is an essential part of military policy.”
The statement also claimed that the main function of the railways at that time was army work and the railway authorities had pledged their allegiance to the Provisional Government. It also claimed that the trade unions were freely co-operating with and assisting the Irish Free State and the British Government in their attempt to exterminate the Republican forces.
The offensive against the railways in the early months of the civil war was particularly intense, especially in areas like South Tipperary and Limerick, both of which were seen as key strategic areas. Kerry and the west of the country were also affected and for most of the war they had little in the way of railway services.
On the 24 July anti-Treaty forces ambushed a prison train in Killurin, Co Wexford, resulting in the escape of some prisoners. Near the end of the month an armoured train was destroyed in Inchicore. In August the anti-Treaty forces destroyed the bridge over the river Blackwater in Mallow which disrupted the Dublin to Cork service.