1919 Accident Involving The Muskerry Tram

Captain (and Brevet Major) Ashley Elliott Herbert Fetherstonhaugh of the 14th (Kings) Hussars was the only son of Captain Cecil Digby Howard Fetherstonhaugh, whose family seat was at Bracklyn House, Co. Westmeath. He had been born in Scotland on July 3rd, 1886 and baptised in Dorset, England on August 12th. He was educated at Wellington (1901-4) and on September 19th, 1906, he came as a Gentleman Cadet from the Royal Military College as a second lieutenant to the 14th Hussars. On January 18th, 1908, he was promoted to lieutenant and on December 24th, 1912, to captain. He served with his regiment throughout the Mesopotamian campaign in the First World War.

On March 20th, 1919, he was based as a Staff Captain at Southern District Headquarters at Victoria (now Collins) Barracks in Cork. He had arrived at St. Ann’s (Hydro) Hotel in Blarney on Wednesday night, accompanied by his wife and mother, and was being driven to work by his chauffeur, William Rabbit. At the inquest held in the military hospital at Victoria Barracks on the following day, by Mr. Coroner J J McCabe, solr. and a jury, Rabbit testified that he was driving, with the Captain seated on his left. They left Blarney at 8.30 with no set time for their arrival in the city. They travelled by the Inniscarra road and it was the first time he had driven into Cork by that way. He later agreed that it was a roundabout way of getting to Cork from Blarney.

Approaching Leemount railway crossing at a speed of 24 or 25 mph he was unable to see if a train was coming, but did see a woman put up her hand and braked. He then saw the train coming near him and pulled to the left to try and avoid it. The train hit the car in the centre and pushed the car ahead of it through the gate onto the enclosed section of line at Leemount station. The front wheels of the car hit the gate-pier on the right and the car was wheeled to the right on a pivot and thrown on its side on the embankment. He was thrown out of the car down the embankment and the captain was either thrown out or jumped out when the motor was wheeled around. He next saw the deceased about ten yards up the railway, lying on his back in the water-table.

The witness stated that he had been in the deceased’s employment for three months and had been driving cars for nine years. He was not familiar with Cork roads and did not know that there was a level-crossing at Leemount. A staff officer mentioned at the inquest that Mrs. Fetherstonhaugh desired to have it stated that Rabbit was a very careful driver and had been in her employment for 12 years.

Miss Hannah Long, gatekeeper at Leemount station, stated that, in accordance with her duties, she was on the road when the train arrived at the crossing about six minutes to nine on the previous morning. She had a clear view of the Inniscarra road for about a quarter of a mile and saw a car coming towards her. The car was then at Mr. Pratt’s lodge and the train near Moxley’s (Leemount) bridge. She put her two hands up to stop the motor when it was about thirty yards from the crossing. The train was then coming on to the cross at a slow pace and ran into the car on the crossing. It was the first accident there in her thirty years of level crossing duty. She said there were hedges at each side and motors coming down the Inniscarra road could not see the trains. She gave ample time to stop the motor by holding up her hands. In reply to a question, she said if the motor got through she would have been killed as it would have run over her.

Wm. Dwyer of Blarney Street, the driver of the train, stated that the train left Cork at 8.35 o’c to proceed to Blarney. Arriving near Leemount, he observed nothing only a clear road, but when the train was three-quarters away on the crossing, approaching the gates, he just barely got sight of a motor car dashing across the train. The engine struck the motor from the right side, the buffer having caught it. The train passed the crossing at a rate of five or six mph and went about its own length after the collision. Train was composed of four coaches, two vans and seven wagons. He had been an engine driver for thirty years and had never had an accident.

Lieut.-colonel James Henry Curtis, R.A.M.C., Ballincollig, said he had been summoned to the scene and had seen the dead body of an officer in the water-table. Deceased’s body was very badly lacerated and death was due to shock and haemorrhage.

Following submissions from the railway’s solicitor that the company was in no way responsible for the collision, and tributes to the deceased and expressions of sympathy from all concerned, the jury returned their verdict. They found that, in accordance with the medical evidence, death was due to shock and haemorrhage, expressed the opinion that the occurrence was accidental, tendered deep sympathy to the relatives of the deceased and recommended that the railway company should provide a red flag to be shown when trains were approaching Leemount station.

Military Funeral 

The Cork Examiner, “Cork Motor Fatality”, March 24th, 1919

Captain Fetherstonhaugh’s remains….. were taken from Victoria Barracks, Cork to Glanmire Railway on Saturday, where they were entrained for interment at the family burial ground, Westmeath. They were removed with full military honours and the sad procession, as it wended its way from the barracks to the Glanmire station was imposing and impressive, the cortege being extremely large. The coffin was borne on a gun carriage and was wrapped in the Union Jack, and on it rested the deceased’s cap and Sam Brown’s belt. Six Staff Captains acted as pall bearers, and the General in command of the Southern District followed. Then came a detachment of soldiers carrying arms reversed, and along the route the Dead March was played. At the station, parting volleys were fired. 

The Irish Times takes up the story:-

“The late Captain Ashley Fetherstonhaugh”, March 28th, 1919

……He was accorded a military funeral from the Victoria Barracks, Cork to the railway station, and the remains were transferred under military arrangements to Westmeath. They were interred in Rathconnell Churchyard, in the presence of representatives from all the county families in Westmeath and a large concourse of people…… 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected a standard memorial plaque on his grave, noting its location as ‘about 16 yards North-West of Church’. Its Memorial Certificate for Ashley is shown, with a view of the Church in a less-overgrown state than at present. Sadly, Rathconnell Church, which was built in 1798, with a gift of £461 and a loan of £370 from the Board of First Fruits, was closed in 1963 and the entire site has now reverted to nature and is mostly covered in dense vegetation, including the Captain’s grave. The pad-locked old entrance gate leads to a short avenue but the remainder of the approach is now across a large field. Rathconnell Churchyard is noted for a quirky addition to the architectural heritage of Westmeath. The Cooke free-standing beehive-shaped mausoleum, set within a cylindrical pit, was erected in 1835 by a local landlord, Adolphus Cooke (1792-1876) to house the remains of his father, Robert. Adolphus was a local eccentric with a strong belief in reincarnation and designed the tomb to look like a beehive as he believed his father would be reincarnated as a bee.

The above excerpt was taken from a much larger article titled ‘Fatal Accidents in 1912 and 1919 Involving the Muskerry Tram’ by Chris Synnott, which appeared in Issue 9 of the ‘Old Blarney’ Journal. A limited number of ‘Old Blarney’ back issues are still available by contacting 087 2153216, or www.blarneyhistory.ie

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: wbriangabriel@gmail.com Tel: 087-2153216