The Building of the Railway through Bray Head


In 1844 the Newry Telegraph recorded that the chairman and directors of the Great Western Company and the Dublin and Kingstown Railway plan to extend the Atmospheric Railway from Dalkey by Bray and Wicklow to Wexford and Waterford. The company had commissioned Mr. Brunel to proceed with the survey. Later that year Brunel was due come to Ireland though this did not occur and was cancelled.

In August 1846 The Statesman and Record of August 28th, recorded that on Tuesday the 24th of August the Great Engineer Brunel of the railway from Kingstown to Wicklow Railway was in Dublin. On this day Brunel walked from Kingstown round to Bray Head. It was recorded that he said he “would be greatly disappointed if the line to Bray was not completed by that day twelve Months”.

Brunel designed three tunnels for double track, though only a single track was laid. These tunnels were built by the great contractor, businessman and philanthropist William Dargan. The tunnels were named the Brabazon a 210-yard tunnel, the Brandy Hole a 300-yard tunnel and the Cable Rock which was a 143-yard tunnel.

The railway journey around Bray head was 3 miles in length. The first engineering feature coming out of Bray is the Bramstones Tunnel. The first viaduct was fraught with difficulties as when it was near to being complete the whole fabric was swept away and carried to sea over one night.

The turning of the first sod of the Railway

The raising of first sod of this section of the railway occurred at Bray Head occurred on the 25th of August 1847. The place selected was a small piece of table land seventy feet above sea level, close to the Brandy Hole. It was a heath and fern clad hillside. The person who raised the first sod was The Earl of Courtown, who was the chairman of the board of directors of the railway company. After the sod was raised a feu de Joie was fired. This firing of guns was followed with others sods being raised by the following dignitaries, starting with Sir Thomas Esmonde and followed by Mr. Muggeridge (secretary of the Railway company), Colonel Acton, Mr. Symes and Mr. Kane (both solicitors for the company). After this event a diner was held for invited guest at Quins Hotel in Bray. Amongst the guest at this diner were the Earl of Courtown (who was in the chair), Sir Thomas Esmonde, Mr. George Roe, Mr. James Pim Jun., Mr. James Fagan M.P., Mr. Muggeridge, Colonel Acton, Mr. George QC, Mr. Otway, Mr. J.  Power, Sir Nicholas Fitzsimon and others. The great Engineer Brunel was expected to be at the turning of the first sod, though must have been detained on pressing business in England.

Work begins on Bray Head

At the start the forty men were employed by the railway company to clear the approaches to the works at Bray Head and when this work was completed more men were hired. The contractor for the rock cutting and tunnelling was recorded as an Irishman named Mr. Burke.

In January 1848 it was recorded that the works on the railway at Killiney and at Bray Head were proceeding as rapidly as the nature of the cuttings will admit and that Mr. Brunel “minutely examined the works during his recent visit, and expressed himself well pleased”. (Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow and Dublin Company, southern Reported and cork commercial Courier Thursday 20th January 1848, page 2). 1848 was the year that two men working on the Railway at Bray Head died.

In 1849 successful blasting was recorded at Bray head to the works of the section of the Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow railway. Over 15,000 cubic yards of rock was removed in an instant. The rock hurled down the cliffs into the sea.  Five holes of up to 25 feet, were drilled of a diameter of 4 and a half inches into the rock and the charge had about 4008 lbs. of gun powder, all under the direction of Messrs. Doyle the contractor for this part of the Line. The work was under the superintendence of Mr. Copeland a Civil Engineer. Hundreds gathered to watch the works going on including Mr. W Purdon (the company’s engineer), Messrs. Gibbon CE, Copland CE, Denton CE and Sir Robert Kane and Mr. James Pim Jun. Later that year works stopped on the railway works.

The Work that had stopped at Bray Head was recorded in the half yearly meeting of the of the board of the Dublin and Wicklow Railway in August 1852 when, it was reported that works at Bray Head had been resumed and it was intended as early as possible that the works between Bray Head and Wicklow will proceed alongside the works at Bray Head. (Dublin Evening Post August 31st 1852, Page 4)

In the Railway Times of 1853, it was recorded that a great part of the land between Bray and Wicklow was bought. It was also recorded that the heavy works at and around Bray Head had progressed slowly, under a system of small contracts, which the company was necessitated to adopt.

In 1854 the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel reported on the progress of the Railway works on the Dublin and Wicklow Railway and recorded the following about the Bray Head section of the railway.

“South of Bray and towards Wicklow, the works have proceeded very satisfactorily. From Bray station to the cliffs the embankments and masonry are completed. Round the cliffs the tunnels, embankments, and excavations are so nearly finished as to allow of the ballasting of the line, and will be entirely finished before this can be completed. The ballasting and permanent way will now be pushed on in order to afford the means of conveying the materials of the bridges which cross the several ravines in the course of this rather difficult portion of the work; where, from the precipitous form and the height of the cliffs, there are no means of approach to the sites of these bridges except that formed by the railway itself, as originally there was no practicable access, even for the workmen, to the several points at which the works had to be caried on, except by a road which it was necessary to cut along the face of the cliffs as a preliminary work.”

Brunel in this report also briefly mentions that “there appears likely to be less difficulty than we had anticipated from the soft ground at “Morris’s Cliffs”.

The First Trip from Bray to Wicklow

The first experimental trip on the railway line from Bray to Wicklow was on Saturday the 13th of October 1855. The excursion party included Sir Thomas Esmonde, William Dargan, Jas Perry, A Boyle, James Sterling, J F Sterling, J F Waller, William F Darley, Hon and Rev F Howard, Captain Symes Bayley, Joseph Hone, Robert Hone, Robert Warren, J Machen, J E Purdon (engineer), J M Muggeridge (secretary), T L Guinness (solicitor), G Wilkinson (architect), and Mr. Harris (Superintendent).

The train left Bray at 3pm and started going through the Rocky Pass through Bray Head, crossing over the bridges of the most solid construction and through tunnels described as the noble specimens of man’s power and ingenuity before arriving at the first station Greystones, then went on to Kilcoole and then Killoughter and finally Wicklow. The trip was a success, even though the railway stations were not completed at this time. The Party returned to Bray, where they dined at the Breslin Hotel and returned to Dublin at 10p.m.

The Railway line to Wicklow Opens

The Railway line between Bray and Wicklow opened three week after the Dalkey station was opened. The Wicklow line was officially opened on Thursday the 25th of October 1855 and was opened by his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. To mark the opening a train was run from Harcourt Road Dublin to Wicklow. The dignitaries on board included The Lord Lieutenant, the Marchioness of Kildare, Lady Dover, Mr. and Lady Fanny Howard, Mr. Muggeridge, Lord Chancellor and Miss Brady and Sir George and Lady Hodson.

The train left Dublin at 11 o’clock and the first stop was at Bray station, followed by a stop on Bray Head, where the Lord Lieutenant got out to admire the work and the views. It then went onto Wicklow Town, arriving at 1pm and was met by Mr. Tottenham, who entertained the party along with leading residents of the district at his residence Ballycurry near Ashford. His excellency the Lord Lieutenant left Wicklow at half past four to return to Dublin.

The blasted rock cut through Bray Head that was left was later used to fill in the inland section of the Old Dunleary Harbour.


Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow Railway – The Dublin Evening Herald of the 26th of august 1847, No 112, Dublin Page 1

Dublin and Wicklow Railway, Freeman’s Journal Tuesday 16th of October, 1855

Railway Intelligence, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow and Dublin Railway Company, The Statesman and Record August 28th 1846,

Newry Telegraph, Thursday 10th of October 1844 page 1844

Dublin and Wicklow, The Railway Times, 26th of February 1853 page 232

Lyons, Garrett, Steaming to Kingstown and sucking up to Dalkey, The story of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, Londubh Books, Dublin, 2015

The Bray and Wicklow Railway, The Engineer, 9th of July 1909, page 38

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