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An Irish works accident

This weekend the 175th anniversary of the Inchicore Works in Dublin will be marked by an open day at the Works. The actual 175 was reached last year, but … well, you can imagine why things were postponed. Opened in 1846, the Works remains operational to this day; as we might expect of such an environment, it produced a number of staff accidents, some of which appear in our free project database.

So far in the publicly-available data there are 8 cases in and around Inchicore – with another 6 to come in the data release we’re working on at the moment. Grades involved included those we might expect to find in and around a major works: boilermaker’s labourer, fireman, fitter’s helper, wagon maker, wagon lifter, and labourer.

These 14 cases between 1900 and 1939 appearing in our data would not have been the only accidents at the Works – they are those which were investigated by UK state-appointed railway inspectors. Interestingly, 13 of the cases occurred before 1921, but the last – the subject of today’s blog post – occurred after partition.

Michael Dowdall was a fitter for the Great Southern and Western Railway Company (GSWR), working in the wagon shows at Inchicore. Just after 3pm on 9 August 1921 Dowdall went to the stores. To get there he had to cross two lines. As he was crossing, some empty wagons were being moved. The engine driver moving the wagons felt a jolt ‘and on hearing a moan, driver Breen stopped the engine’ finding Dowdall had been knocked down.

Inspector JPS Main felt that, as movements on these lines were infrequent, the weather was bad and because Dowdall was ‘an old and valued servant, with a thorough knowledge of the place’, Dowdall probably stepped out of the stores without looking and into the path of the train. Main felt that the engine crew weren’t keeping a sufficient look-out and were running at too high a speed.

Main felt that it was ‘better practice […] to arrange the doorways of stores and sheds so that they do not give right on to a line of rails.’ He recommended that in this case the entrance to the stores should be moved from the side of the building (near the tracks) to the end, or a barrier erected to prevent staff from walking straight out on to the lines. Further, any movements along those lines should be stopped by the entrance and a check be made to ensure no-one was leaving the building; and speed should be limited to 5mph. Finally, Main recommended that ‘every possible effort should be made to impress upon an employee the necessity of stopping and looking in both directions before fouling, or attempting to cross, a set of rails’ (1921 Quarter 3, Appendix B).

Dowdall was not killed instantly, but survived long enough to be transferred to Steevens’ Hospital. He died an hour after arrival. He was 53 years’ old, and had been employed by the GSWR for around 30 years. He was reported as leaving a large family behind.[1]

The Inchicore United Workmen’s Club met two days after Dowdall’s death, extending a vote of sympathy to Dowdall’s widow and children. They noted that Dowdall’s ‘tragic death has occasioned widespread regret’, before arranging for a deputation to attend the funeral and adjourning the meeting.[2] The jury at the Coroner’s inquest ‘added a rider to the effect that the railway company were to blame for the accident, which was due to the system under which employees had to cross the line to the stores in the course of their duty. They suggested that a bridge or subway should be erected at the place.’[3]

Until December 1922 south of the border technically remained a part of the UK, but this accident was the only from the south to appear in our new data run. So what happened to the other accidents that would have occurred in this period? Who investigated them? Were they investigated by a state agency? And if they were, do any records survive? How we work with the post-partition Irish accidents is something we are investigating and keen to do!


[1] Cork Weekly News, 20 August 1921, p.5.

[2] Dublin Evening Telegraph, 11 August 1921, p.3.

[3] Belfast Newsletter, 12 August 1921 p.7.

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