The Great Southern and Western Railway line from Dublin to Cork was only in operation six years when 18 people died in what is still the island’s third worst railway tragedy, having since been surpassed by the Armagh rail disaster of 1889 (80 killed) and the Ballymacarret Junction (Belfast) disaster of 1945 (23 killed).
At 6:20 pm on 5 October 1853 the piston rod on a locomotive snapped, stranding the newly operating noon express train from Cork at a place 974 yards south of Straffan Station, towards Baronrath in a dense fog and gathering twilight. There were a total of 45 passengers in the two first and three second class carriages.
Edward Croker Barrington, a solicitor for the company who was a passenger on the train, directed John O’Hara, stoker on the train, to signal a warning to a 20-carriage goods train which had been passed in Portarlington and was approaching from behind, so that it might push the train into Dublin. He was gone 15 minutes when the goods train was seen approaching and, reassured, some of the passengers got back on the passenger train. But the goods train crashed into the stationary carriages at full speed, passing through the first class carriage at the back of the train, overturning the second class carriage, shearing the roof off another carriage and driving the rest a quarter of a mile the other side of Straffan Station, reduced to “a heap of ruins”.
William Hutchinson from Clownings was one of the first on the scene, having come to the rail bank to investigate the stalled train. Dr Geoghegan came to tend the injured, and Edward Kennedy who was hunting nearby helped summon aid. The injured were kept in the Station House and three orphaned children brought to Lyons House.
The inquest was performed initially at Straffan Station House and adjourned to Barry’s Hotel at Thirteenth Lock. The victims came from Cork, Mallow, Kenmare, Birr, Laois, Kildare and Dublin, and included Jesse Hall from County Kildare, Daniel and Anastasia McSwiney of Kenmare, TW Jelly of Straboe, John Egan of Birr, Emma Pack of Birr, Kate Hamilton Haimes, (the wife of a mill owner from Mallow, originally identified from a note in her pocket by her maiden name, Kate Smith), Christopher McNally, a solicitor of Dublin, Claire Kirwan from 82 Lwr Abbey St in Dublin, Margaret Leathley from 62 Eccles St in Dublin, Joseph Sherwood a servant boy of the household of Richard Stokes, Cherry Agnes Knapp from London, Margaret Palmer, a cousin of Mrs Knapp, William Bateman a solicitor from Cork, Mrs Latham Blacker from London and four children. A total of £27,000 compensation was paid to victims, the equivalent of €2.37m today,