Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly on the bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling on the dark mutinous Shannon waves.’

The Dead 

James Joyce


Joyce was right but the newspapers – along with the radio and TV – weren’t. Or, at any rate, news of an impending whiteout came in the dark hours of the morning, when most people, ‘are in their bed and after their first sleep’, as Joyce had it (Araby)

I boarded the train in Laois on Friday in the early in mean-looking sleet. But when I lifted my head from reading the late Dermot Healy’s wonderful memoir The Bend for Home, over half an hour later in the Bog of Allen, the flat Kildare bit anyway, the landscape was smothered in a photogenic mantle of snow. So far, so Doctor Zhivago.

There was a problem with the Galway train ahead of us, then a points problem (frozen?), then animals on the track (frozen?). And then there was the queue to join the single line into Houston station after Inchicore. To tell the truth, it didn’t bother me that much. I sat in my seat, read, listened to a bit of music on yousetube (sic) and caught a little of Netflix’s The Outfit, with the wonderful Mark Rylance, late of BBC’s outstanding Wolf Hall adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel. With Mark Rylance activating his humming and hawing mode in the shadow of some dangerous looking duderinos with broad-brimmed hats who were clearly not nice people and wanted to do unkind things to other not nice people.

But for some people nearby on the train it wasn’t a great morning.

A young woman said: I’ve definitely missed the plane.

An older woman said to her older husband: I’ll phone the hospital and tell them we’re delayed for the specialist.

A young man said: I’ve got a court case. If I don’t appear there’ll be a bench warrant out for me. Have to get a note from them in Heuston, so I will.

By the time we reached Dublin, the slush and sleet had already started. A very drippy version of Dr Zh.  Now, Irish rail has improved in leaps and bounds over the years. It’s not quite Swiss, Dutch or Spanish yet but its trains generally run on time, even if the track is a lot bumpier than it should be. (Try the silk smooth ride on the high-speed trains in Türkiye.) And its staff are pleasant. Alcohol, smoking and drugs are all off the menu on the trains. Coffee and snacks are served from a trolley. The bad behaviour of some of what German calls certain Fahrgäste has been nipped in the bud by chaps in Ninja security gear. A stop, chuck off and call the gardaí protocol has made travelling a lot less challenging.

A couple of new lines, upgrades and electrification would really drive things forward. New train sets have already been ordered and there is tentative talk (always tentative) of electrification of the whole network and a high-speed line. I look forward to the day when I can get on a train straight from breakfast by the Lee, in Cork, bypass Dublin (no offence intended, chaps – must rush), to lunch by the Lagan, in Belfast. And perhaps a pint on the way home to my bogside dacha.

Then, how about a train line right down the middle of Ireland, from Derry to Kerry, flanked by a motorway linking other roads at right degree angles, to be called the NBR or – the New Bog Road? As opposed to the Old Bog Road.

Yes, a dream. But so, Once Upon a Time, was the laughable idea of trams returning to Dublin. Now we have the Luas, a start. Plural of which is? Luases? Luasanna (Irish)? Or simple Lise?

Bring on the rail.

No-one has improved on the Victorian idea of putting humans and stuff in wagons over axles and rutted wheels running on parallel metal rails – a low-friction platform in parallel with the earth.

 Well, no-one except maybe the Japanese. And the Chinese. And the Koreans…