At a meeting of the inhabitants of the neighbourhoods of both Trim and Athboy in June of 1846, the motion was brought up that both towns would benefit from the construction of a railway line connecting the towns to Dublin. Athboy was, in the 1830s and 1840s, a place of very little trade and improvements in transport to the markets and fairs would have been quite beneficial. At the time transport from Athboy came in the form of regular car services which ran from Darling’s Hotel and The Sun Inn. The coaches ran from Darling’s Hotel every morning except Sunday, from six o’clock, and every day at twelve from the Sun Inn. The cars also serviced Granard, Castlepollard, Cloghan and Oldcastle. The following October a meeting took place of the landowners, rate payers, and inhabitants of Meath to discuss the importance of bringing the railways to the county either by act of parliament, by grand jury, via the superintendence of the board of works or by the founding of a railway company. A Mr. Napier proposed that it was both of interest to the country and a great public utility at any time, as well as the added importance of creating employment at a time of famine. The creation of such public works as mentioned was deemed of high importance by Lambert Disney, Agent for the Earl of Darnley, who was present at this meeting in October 1846. Napier also proposed that the proposed line take the route of Kells going to Navan, then to Bective, Killmessan, and Dunboyne before joining the Midland Great Western Railway line at Clonsilla and branching at Trim and Athboy. At the meeting it was also resolved to approach the Lord Lieutenant and the General Secretary about the matter. A committee was formed to undertake the task and Rev. Robert Noble of Athboy was one of those elected to the committee.
The first sod was turned in the construction of the railway line between Trim and Athboy by the Duke of Leinster in 1858 and by 1864 that line had been connected with the Navan to Dublin line of the Dublin and Meath Railway Company. The line was built with the intention of improving the livestock trade for the export market. The Athboy railway station was opened on 26 February 1864. The 1882 revised Ordinance Survey map shows the station as it was, situated across from the Fair Green on the road to Trim. The station included a signal post, engine shed, turntable, tank and weighing house. Two lines of railway led from it heading towards Trim. By the publication of the next Ordinance Survey map for Athboy in 1910 the station had expanded to include another line of track and a Goods Shed. More than a year after the line had opened a report of the August fair in Athboy in The Freeman’s Journal tells that it was attended by purchasers from Dublin, Drogheda, Manchester and Liverpool. The attendance of English based purchasers to a fair in a rural Meath town could only have been made easier and more efficient by rail travel. Arriving at Athboy was made especially easier on fair days as the railway would put on special trains for the fairs. For example, for the January 1868 fair the Freeman’s Journal advertised a special passenger train departing Broadstone Station in Dublin at six o’clock in the morning destined for the fair at Athboy.
Not only did the railways create a way of bringing both people and livestock to the fairs and markets in a more efficient way, it also brought with it new employment opportunities. The operation of a railway station created the requirement for jobs such as porters, points-men, railway guards, level-crossing men, gatekeepers, and stationmaster.
In 1870, John Thompson was the clerk in charge of the station, but by 1881 he had been replaced by stationmaster George Simpson and from about 1894 onwards the stationmaster was George Bowles. Not only were these jobs created by the railway’s arrival but the railways brought such people to Athboy, as well as their families. George Bowles was born in Castlebar in county Mayo and arrived in Athboy from Galway some time in the 1890s with his wife Julia and three children daughters Francis and Olivia and son Charles. George and Juila Bowles raised three more children in their Athboy home, daughters Ethel, Louise, and Violet. Bowles and his family were still in Athboy by 1911. George Bowles, then forty-seven, was still the station master, but his elder children were no longer living with him. The Bowles family are a mere example of how the coming of the railways to Athboy brought with it more than just tracks and trains and signal posts. It also brought jobs and with those jobs came people who had families and who in this case moved across the country to work on the railway. These families, in turn grew up and became part of the fabric of the town.
This could not have happened without the railways. Likewise the livestock trade and the town’s weekly markets and fairs were important factors in both the arrival of the railway to the town and the success of the station. It was also a means for people to travel. Travel was now faster and people who could afford it could travel on excursions, although it seems the poorer classes did not begin to use rail travel until the twentieth century. As a result of the railways the community in Athboy was opened up for new residents, new areas of employment and the town’s economy was impacted by the ability to bring in cattle and other livestock dealers from various different locations.
The railway station closed in 1958, just shy of a century in operation. The reason for this was that, at the time, it was felt that the bus and motorcar had surpassed the railway in terms of popular methods of travel. The station in Athboy was not exactly a hive of activity by this time either. Today the station has given way to houses and apartments. What remains of the line are a few gates and some particularly humped-back bridges on the Trim Road.