The Cavan & Leitrim Railway (1887-1951)


Cavan and Leitrim railway in 1906

The Cavan & Leitrim Railway was a narrow-gauge railway in the counties of Leitrim and Cavan in the north-west of Ireland, which ran from 1887 until 1959. Unusually for Ireland, this 914mm (3ft)-gauge line survived on coal traffic, from the mine at Arigna. It outlived most of the other Irish narrow-gauge lines, giving a further lease of life to some of their redundant engines.

Earily Years

In September 1883, a public meeting in Ballinamore declared that a light railway and tramway would open up the coal and iron districts of Arigna and Lough Allen. The Cavan and Leitrim Railway opened for goods traffic on 17th October 1887 and for passengers on 24th October 1887. The section from Belturbet in County Cavan to Dromod in County Leitrim was light railway, and a tramway ran from Ballinamore to Arigna. At the start both lines were operated by eight Robert Stephenson and Company 4-4-0T locomotives. In later years locomotives from other closing narrow gauge lines were used. Ballinamore was the hub of the line, with the locomotive depot and works. At Belturbet the line connected with the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) broad-gauge branch to Ballyhaise on the Clones to Cavan line, and at Dromod connected to the Midland Great Western Railway mainline from Dublin to Sligo. The line was extended to Arigna in 1920. The line was unique in using native coal mined at Arigna.

Later Years

By the 1930s the Cavan and Leitrim Railway was in trouble due to road competition. The demolition of the carriage sheds as an economy measure only served to worsen the condition of the stock. It survived World War II, but the opening of a power station near Lough Allen using Arigna coal, and not needing rail services, did not help. The line finally closed on 31 March 1959, the last exclusively steam narrow-gauge line in Ireland.


The line consisted of a main line 54km (34mls) long between Dromod and Belturbet with a 24 km (15mls) branch from Ballinamore to Arigna. The Belturbet to Dromod part of the Cavan and Leitrim Railway ran from Belturbet through Tomkin Road, Ballyconnell, Ballyheady, Bawnboy Road, Killyran, Garadice, Ballinamore, Lawderdale, Fenagh, Adoon, Rosharry, Mohill and Dereen to Dromod. The Belturbet to Arigna part of the line ran from Belturbet to Ballinamore and from there through Ballyduff, Cornabrone, Annadale, Kiltubrid, Creagh and Drumshanbo to Arigna. 

Sourced from Wikipedia

Station House New
Station House New

The Station House (L-R) 1959 and Today

Locos History

The first section, some 34 miles, of what became the Cavan and Leitrim Railway (C&LR), from Dromod to Belturbet was opened in October 1887. The branch line from Ballinamore to Arigna followed in May 1888 and in 1920 extended to the coalmines beyond the village. The line was closed in May 1959. On opening the line had a fleet of 8 steam locomotives, which on the 1925 amalgamation, when the C&LR became part of the GSR were designated Class DN2.


At its opening theC&LR had a stock of 8 steam locomotives, all of the same wheel arrangement and built by Robert Stephenson & Co. Locomotive No's 5 to 8 were supplied by the makers complete with skirting over wheels, cowcatcher, bell, and headlamp at the bunker end, typical of a "tramway - type" locomotive for use on open (unfenced) track. These locomotives were fitted with condensing gear and each cab was fitted with duplicate driving controls. In due course all eight locomotives were re-boilered, increasing their working weight from 25 to 27 tons. On delivery the locomotives were un-named and it was suggested that they be named after the Directors' daughters. Locomotive No.1 was named "Isabel" after the daughter of R. H. Johnstone of Bawnboy House, the longest serving director of the C&LR. No.8 "Queen Victoria" lost her nameplates under, what was described as, 'patriotic' circumstances in 1923. The plates were eventually found and the C&LR insisted they should be restored to the locomotive, however within a few days they again disappeared, this time never to be found. At the 1925 amalgamation the C&LR became part of the Great Southern Railways and the above 8 locomotives, the rolling stock and infrastructure passed to the new company (along with a 0-6-4T locomotive, No. 9 of 1904).

No.NameWheel Arr.Date BuiltMarkers No.WithdrawnComments
2Kathleen4-4-0T188726131959Preserved Ulster F&T Museum
3Lady Edith4-4-0T188726141959Preserved in USA
4Violet4-4-0T188726151959Cut up at Dromod for scrap
5Gertrude4-4-0T188726161925Scrapped by GSR
6May4-4-0T188726171927Scrapped by GSR
7Olive4-4-0T188726181945Stopped Inchicore 1939
8Queen Victoria4-4-0T188726191959Cut up at Ballinmore for scrap

All were rebuilt with large boiler 1902-1906 
a) Rebuilt from 1930 with brick arch in firebox to burn hard Welsh coal instead of the soft product from Arigna's mines.


Locomotives were painted green with red lining, later changed to black with red and white lining. Cast brass plates were attached, numbers to cab sides, nameplates to side tanks.


Two examples are preserved, No.2 "Kathleen" can be seen in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum together with a C&LR coach and No.3 "Lady Edith" is in the United States at the New Jersey Museum of Transportation.

Power type
Robert Stephenson & Co.
Serial number
Build date
Total production
3 ft (914 mm)
Driver size
42in (1.067m)
25 long tons (25t)
Boiler pressure
150psi (1.03MPa)
Cylinder size
14 × 20in (356 × 508mm)
Tractive effort
11,900 lbf (52.9kN)
Cavan and Leitrim Railway

Great Southern Railways

CÓras Iompair Éireann
C&L: 1-8,

GSR/CIÉ: 1, 2L, 3L, 4L, 5, 6, 7, 8L
Nos 2 & 3
Two preserved, remainder scrapped