Lansdowne & Ball’s Bridge station was opened 150 years ago on 1 July 1870 by the Dublin Wicklow & Wexford Railway and helped develop the Royal Dublin Society, the Irish Champion Athletic Ground and later the Rugby stadium.
On weekdays on and after the opening day, the 8am, 9am and 10am trains from Bray and the 5pm, 6pm & 7pm trains from Westland-row[sic] to Bray began calling at Lansdowne Road giving it a commuter service. On Sundays the hourly trains between 1.15pm & 5.15pm from Westland-row to Kingstown stopped at Lansdowne Road to facilitate locals going to Kingstown to enjoy the promenade and listen to bands playing in the People’s Park.
It was another 20 years, 1 May 1891, before the City of Dublin Junction Railway opened the line between Westland-row and Amiens Street giving direct railway access from Lansdowne Road to the North side of the city. In 1872, Ball’s Bridge was dropped from the title of the station.
Lansdowne Road Station and Sport
The Lansdowne Road stadium was the brain child of Henry Dunlop, the organiser of the first All-Ireland Athletic Championships, a decorated track walker and engineering graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, founded the Irish Championship Athletic Club in 1871. Dunlop founded Lansdowne Football Club in 1872 and that club has played rugby union ever since at the grounds, being one of the most successful rugby clubs in Ireland. During the construction of the station, some 300 cart loads of soil from a trench beneath the railway were used to raise the ground, allowing Dunlop to use his engineering expertise to create a pitch envied around Ireland. On 11 March 1878, Lansdowne Road hosted its first international rugby fixture, against England, making it the world’s oldest rugby union Test venue.
On Sunday 28 May 1871 the magnificent grounds and pleasure gardens at Ball’s Bridge were open for a series of monster Athletic Sports and Musical Promenade. Selections were played by the bands of The Irish Times, The Foresters’ Band, 11th Regiment 2nd Battalion and 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. In the evening the entire of the Exhibition Palace was thrown open for musical promenade and band selection as well as art exhibitions. Until 5.30pm there were athletic events – some confined to military personnel.
An early example of Victorian life at Lansdowne Road was on Monday 22 June 1874 there was a major sports event at the adjacent Irish Champion Athletic Ground (ICAG) which closed in the evening with two military bands playing and a fireworks display. The DW&WR stopped the Up 6.55pm & 7.55pm Express trains from Bray and the Down 9.45pm & 10.45pm Express trains from Westland-row to facilitate people on the South side wishing to enjoy the event.
During week commencing 17 August 1874 the was a major cricket tournament at the ICAG and the railway stopped five of its Express trains to and from Kingstown.
On Tuesday 18 August there was a cricket match between London Clown Cricketers and Eleven Gentlemen of Ireland. A large attendance, many of whom arrived by train, watched the proceedings with much interest and amusement. In the afternoon the band of the 2nd Battalion 2nd Queen’s Royals attended and enlivened the proceedings by the spirited strains of military music.
Lansdowne Road Station and the RDS
The opening of Lansdowne Road station gave the Royal Dublin Society, whose show grounds at Ball’s Bridge were close to Lansdowne Road station and the railway, the idea of constructing a siding to connect its premises with the Dublin Wicklow & Wexford Railway at the South end of Lansdowne Road station. At that time show animals were being taken from around the country by train to Kingsbridge, Broadstone and Sherriff St (Great Northern Railway (Ireland)) and driven through the streets of Dublin to the showgrounds – a somewhat hazardous adventure particularly with many tramcars about.
The RDS allocated £2,500 for the project and Mr Jackson Goulding of the RDS supervised the construction using labourers who were paid four shillings a week less than the Trade Union rate – a matter that drew comment from the construction unions. At their February 1893 meeting the DW&WR felt the siding cannot fail to bring traffic to the company, and must be of great advantage, and we shall, of course, do everything in our power to make the connection as useful to the public as possible.
The Lansdowne Road Siding
The siding, 500 yards in length, was connected by the DW&WR to their Northbound line at a point two hundred yards South of Lansdowne Road station. A special train, to mark the opening of the siding, traversed the line on Friday 7 April 1893 and was made up of twenty wagons, two guards’ vans, and two passenger carriages. The arrival of the train was marked with much pomp and ceremony. The siding terminated at a platform beside the cattle sheds where the animals would stay for their short duration and be examined by a veterinary surgeon before going to the show grounds.
The first use of the siding was on Monday 17 April for the Spring Cattle Show which started the following day and the new facility was much appreciated. Thereafter the railways conveyed horses and cattle from all over the country to the siding. The Horse Show normally started on a Tuesday and on the Monday of that week the Great Southern & Western Railway normally operated a special train of horse boxes from Cork to the siding with riders and their mounts joining en route. All the railways had horse boxes, a two compartment 4-wheel vehicle about 20 feet long about a quarter of which was a seated area for the riders and the remainder for up to two horses.
For show jumping events military personnel and their horses travelled to the siding from Kingsbridge Military Platform (adjacent to Military Road), the Curragh, Tralee, Fermoy and other military towns. Prize cattle for the cattle shows, later the Spring shows were taken in cattle wagons to the siding. People attending events at the RDS tended to take buses as they stopped at the entrance rather than the trains which were a long walk from the entrance. The siding was removed in 1971 as horses and cattle were being taken in specialised road trailers direct from stables and farms to the RDS.
Originally the railways had difficulty providing capacity for rugby matches at Lansdowne Road with most followers just travelling from/to the city centre. Most suburban carriages over the decades were former mainline stock cascaded to suburban use with just doors at each end, narrow aisles or corridors, and toilet compartments. The construction of the East stand in 1927 and the West stand in 1954 increased the stadium capacity and the carrying problem for the railway.
The opening of the DART in 1984 made the handling of rugby supporters much easier as the high-capacity carriages were designed for suburban use and have wide automatic doors in one-third/two-third position along the vehicles. In 2007 the stadium was closed for the construction of a new stand with a capacity of 51,000 people for games or 65,000 for concerts and about the same time all the platforms on the DART, including Lansdowne Road, had been increased from six to eight carriage length giving a further 33% capacity per train.
In 150 years, Lansdowne Road station has changed from facilitating passengers enjoying a Victorian afternoon listening to bands playing at sporting events or going to the RDS for a cattle or horse show to being a basic commuter station occasionally dealing with large numbers of rugby supporters when matches are played at the adjacent stadium