JIM REES marks the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States of America, connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, which took place on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

Few inventions have had such an impact as the steam engine. When the power of compressed steam was understood and harnessed, tasks once deemed impossible could be carried out with relative ease.
It transformed the way things were made and distributed, leading to the Industrial Revolution. It was in transport that the greatest leaps forward were made – first at sea and then by railway.

Throughout Europe and America, rail fever became the order of the day and would last throughout the nineteenth century.

Immigrants had been pouring into the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, the Irish being particularly prominent. Many had settled in coastal cities, usually their ports of arrival, but most had known only rural life.

They were small farmers and agricultural labourers and they wanted to move into the fertile plains of the Midwest.

For many, this meant a gruelling journey by wagon train, but others found another way to get there and be paid for their trouble. They joined the expanding network of railroads as general labourers – navvies.
These men had known hardship at home and were prepared for the back-breaking toil that would get them to where they wanted to go. Their harsh working conditions left them little chance to appear ‘respectable’, and it has to be said that they played every bit as hard as they worked.

They were often considered dirty and untrustworthy, heavy drinkers and generally people of low intelligence and lower morals. They were usually treated with suspicion and disdain.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own