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James Walsh, 2 July 1882 – 8 May 1911

We’re delighted to receive this guest post, contributed by Fiona Forde, one of the people who’ve used our database. Fiona saw our tweet (@RWLDproject) about the case of James Walsh and decided to explore it in more detail, using our database as a starting point and exploring the various other records that might be pieced together to gain a more complete view of the individuals involved in the accidents.

We’re really glad to see this, as it was one of the project hopes that our database would be used in this way – and we’d be very happy to hear from anyone else working with the project information, so feel free to get in touch with us via railwayworkeraccidents[@]



As a family historian, I am always looking for new sources of information.  Recently I discovered the website for the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project.  The database details railway worker accidents in Britain between 1911 and 1915 and includes a number of Irish cases.  The information contained in the records provides much more detail than is found on death certificates meaning it can provide answers for the descendants of injured or deceased railway workers.  Case in point is the story of a young Irishman fatally injured while carrying out his day-to-day work at a railway station close to where I currently live.


James Walsh

On the night of Sunday, 2 April 1911, the Irish Census records that James Walsh was at home in Glounthaune, Co. Cork, where he resided with his widowed mother and three of his brothers.  Little did James or his family know that thirty-six days later his life would be cut tragically short.

Figure 1: 1911 Irish Census, Ballynaroon, Caherlag, Co. Cork. Source:


James Walsh was born on the 2 July 1882 to Bartholomew and Bridget Walsh.  He was one of nine children, seven of whom, survived beyond childhood.  James’ father Bartholomew, a labourer, died on 25 March 1903 aged sixty.  On the 1901 census, James’ occupation is a farm labourer, therefore in the intervening years he became an employee of the Great Southern and Western Railway at Dunkettle, which is located east of Cork City, and was one of a number of stops on the Cork to Youghal railway line which was originally built by the Cork and Youghal Railway (C&YR).

Figure 2: Birth Registration of James Walsh, 02 July 1882.


Dunkettle, Cork and Youghal Railway

In 1854, C&YR was granted legislative sanction to construct rail links between Cork City and the East Cork town of Youghal.  Five years later, on Wednesday 1 June 1859, chief shareholder of C&YR, David Lewis, held a fete in Dunkettle for 800 of the workers employed to build the railway line.

Figure 3: Dinner given by Mr. Lewis of C&YR. Source – Illustrated London News, 16 July 1859.


Five months later Dunkettle Station was officially opened by the Earl of Carlisle.[1]  However, by the mid-1860s, the C&YR was in financial difficulty.  Lewis had spent large amounts of his capital on projects including the purchase of the town of Youghal from the Duke of Devonshire in an attempt to develop it into the ‘Brighton of Ireland’.  When Lewis was declared bankrupt the C&YR Company was sold to the Great Southern and Western Railway in June 1866 for £310,000. [2]

Figure 4: Notice of the opening of the line from Cork to Dunkettle. Source – Illustrated London News, 3 December 1859.


Dunkettle Station operated for the next 100 years as an integral part of the Cork rail service until it was declared uneconomic by Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) and closed on 4 December 1966.[3]

Figure 5: Announcement of Dunkettle Station closure. Source – Southern Star, 11 December 1965.


The last hours of James Walsh

Fifty-five years earlier, Dunkettle Railway Station was to be in the media spotlight again.  James Walsh woke early on the morning of the 8 May 1911 to start his twelve-hour shift which began at 6am at Dunkettle Station.  Over eight hours into his shift, James, an Assistant Ganger, was involved in a fatal accident.  A platelayer or ganger was ‘someone who inspects and maintains the rails and sleepers.’  As platelayers usually work in gangs, the head and assistant are known as Railway Ganger and Assistant Ganger.  ‘Occasionally one still hears the ganger’s horn warning his gang that a train is approaching.’[4]

Figure 6: G.W.R carriage key, telegraph insulator & permanent way gangers warning Bull Horn


Inspector Hornby related that at 2.40pm, James Walsh alerted platelayer J. Power of the imminent arrival of the 2.30pm express passenger train from Cork travelling to Queenstown (Cobh).  Both Walsh and Power walked towards the safety of the station platform, but whilst Power stood facing the oncoming train, Walsh for no apparent reason, started to walk back down the platform ramp.  Whilst doing so, he was struck by the buffer of the engine, and thrown to the side bank.  The report of the accident in a local newspaper speculates that it is possible that Walsh was confused by a train coming in the opposite direction, that is, the 2.15pm train from Queenstown.  This train was stopped and James Walsh was transported to Cork where he was taken by Corporation Ambulance to the North Infirmary, a hospital on the north side of Cork City.  He was tended to by Doctor Hegarty but James Walsh succumbed to his injuries shortly after arriving at the hospital.[5]

Figure 7: Walsh’s case, from the Summary of Accidents and Casualties reported to the Board of Trade during the three months ending 30 June 1911, Appendix C.


Figure 8: Death of James Walsh, as reported in the Cork Examiner, 9 May 1911.


Final Words

James Walsh’s funeral mass was held at 2.30 pm on the 10 May 1911 and he was buried in Templecurraheen cemetery later that day.[6]  The story of James Walsh is only one of nearly 4,000 reports contained in The Railway Work, Life and Death project, and the database is an essential visit for any person with an ancestor who worked for railway companies in Ireland and the United Kingdom.


Fiona Forde is a family historian who holds a Diploma in Genealogy Studies from University College Cork.  If you would like to find out more check out


[1] Illustrated London News, 3 December 1859


[3] Irish Press, 4 December 1965

[4] Kurt Kullmann, The First Irish Railway: Westland Row to Kingstown, (Dublin 2018)

[5] Cork Examiner, 9 May 1911

[6] Cork Examiner, 10 May 1911

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