The Great Northern Railway was an Irish gauge railway company in Ireland. It was formed in 1876 by a merger of the Irish North Western Railway (INW), Northern Railway of Ireland, and Ulster Railway. 

The Ulster Railway was the GNRI's oldest constituent, having opened between Belfast and Lisburn in 1839 and extended in stages to reach Clones in 1863. Clones, Co.Monaghan, was a large town to be served by the Great Northern Railway's Dundalk to Enniskillen line, which opened in June 1858. Clones was also the junction for the GNR line north to Armagh and Belfast, and south to Cavan. The station at Clones was therefore very large, consisting of a large two storey stone built structure. There was also an extensive goods yard adjacent to the station, as well as a concrete built roundhouse for locomotives, one of the few in the country. Today the station site is now occupied by an industrial complex, although the concrete built locomotive shed and one of the two platforms remain in situ. The lines through Clones closed to passengers in 1957, and to goods in 1960.

Internet of the 1800's

Railways made it possible, for the first time to move large quantities of goods and people at speed over long distances. Fuelled by a mania similar to the internet revolution, railways began to spring up all over the country. The first railway in Ireland was the Dublin to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) Railway and it was on this line at about 9am on Wednesday the 17th of December 1834 that the locomotive ‘Hibernia’ became the first passenger train in Ireland. Within a year it had transported over 1 million people, the railways were in business. 

The first railway to service parts of County Monaghan was the Dundalk & Enniskillen (D&E) Railway. The first section of the D&E from Dundalk to Castleblayney was opened in 1849, reaching Clones in 1858. The second line to service parts of Monaghan was the Ulster Railway, which started in Belfast and was eventually extended to Monaghan Town in 1858 and then on to Clones via Smithboro in 1863.

Following various company amalgamations and Acts of Parliament the Great Northern Railway of Ireland GNR(I) was founded in 1876. When the company was founded most of their rail network was already in place and they only opened a small number of lines and these were mostly branches off existing routes. 

Railway Trip Dublin - Bundoran

Railway Trip Through Clones



  • Clones Had 4 branch lines
  • Clones Operated as a junction from 1858 until 1957.
  • The line from Clones to Cavan crossed the border in 6 different places

For many of the workers in Monaghan the railway was a way of life, something their fathers and brothers had worked on before them. The earliest workers who built the railway were known as ‘navvies’ who took their name from the navigators who had previously built the canals. During the 19th century, building railways as a ‘navvy’ was ranked as one of the most dangerous occupations, exceeded only by mining and seafaring. In addition to bringing employment in the construction of tracks and buildings, people were needed to man the trains and run the stations. Stationmaster, Engine Driver, Fireman, Guard, Clerk, and Signalman were some of the many positions available. The railways allowed many people with little formal education to become highly skilled members of staff. For those lucky enough to secure a position on the railway, assuming good behaviour and obedience to company rules, it was a job for life. 

People at The Clones Station

A railway legacy

The infrastructure of the railways was built to the highest standards, incorporating fine architecture and using good quality materials. A railway legacy of built heritage is dotted throughout County Monaghan, contributing to the character of our landscape and townscapes. There were 17 stops and 15 railway stations (10 of which are still standing) in County Monaghan. Structures including railway bridges (cut stone, brick, concrete, iron, access bridges), viaducts, signal boxes, goods-sheds, stations, stationmasters’ houses, workers’ cottages, platforms still stand marking the route of the railway, in addition to some original furniture such as lamps and gates.

The architectural style of the stations varies widely. There are two storey and single storey stations. Some were built using stone; others use brick while other stations used a combination of both. Monaghan Railway Station is a red and yellow brick single storied building, with five larger central bays flanked by nine bays on either side. Monaghan Road Station is a cut stone building which was often used by the Dawson family of the Dartry Estate. Some of the stations were plastered. Creaghanroe Station, the last to be built was built almost entirely using timber and actually resembles a railway carriage. Clones Railway Station was demolished some years ago, but still has a very unusual and fine engine shed. Legend has it that during a visit to Milan, a member of the local Madden family, major shareholders in the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) visited a new railway engine shed constructed alongside a turntable. Impressed by this station, he had the plans copied and a replica built in Clones. It was built in 1926 of precast concrete.

Clones Rail Trains & Buildings


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