Trains, Coal and Turf: Transport in Emergency Ireland


Peter Rigney

Based on a wide range of sources, this book describes how the GSR kept trains moving, as the main transport provider during The Emergency.

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The GSR operated all railway lines which lay wholly within Éire, and was the main transport provider during the Emergency.

Rigney describes how the company coped to keep trains moving, and challenges the view that Emergency rail service was one of unremitting chaos. In fact, the experience of the GSR in these years was similar to railway companies in other neutral countries.

The GSR was Ireland’€™s biggest coal importer, one of its largest single employers, and its biggest owner of engineering workshops. It played a key role in the Anglo-€“Irish trade diplomacy which helped the Allied war effort, kept the Irish economy ticking over and was the main means of transporting turf to heat homes.

The book is based on a wide range of sources such as the British and Irish National Archives; the Archives of the Irish Railway Record Society; national and provincial newspapers; the trade press; and of memoirs written by railwaymen of the period.

The author also examines such diverse themes as soap rationing, fuel poverty and desertion from the British forces. He also shows that wartime trade co-operation was much greater than previously thought. The Emergency experience caused Irish railway managers to move towards diesel locomotives earlier than their counterparts in Europe and particularly their counterparts in Britain.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Illustrations and Plates

List of Tables



  1. Fuel Supply and Crew Skill
  2. Government Takeover
  3. Coal Crisis: A Comparative Perspective
  4. The Politics of Trade, 1940-1942
  5. Turf
  6. Road Transport
  7. Mobilisation
  8. Coping Strategies
  9. Towards the End of the Emergency





About the Author

Peter Rigney is Industrial Officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He holds a doctorate in history from Trinity College Dublin, and is co-author of The Parliament of Labour, a history of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. He has written a number of articles for the Journal of the Irish Railway Record Society.