9 March 2014

The Ghost Trams of Dublin

Following the closure of the once vast network of the Dublin United Tramway system in July 1949, the last tram through the city centre was followed by thousands of people wanting to experience the farewell rattle of the metal and wooden CIE double-decker tram No. 252 as it made its last midnight run to the depot at Blackrock in the south of the city. The scenes of near euphoria created by the Dublin public as they said good bye to a tram service - which had operated in and throughout the city all during the years of uprising and revolution - as if they were pouring the collective soul of the city's residents into the farewell to the 'deh trams' experience. Then, under police escort, the final tram was placed inside the running shed at Blackrock, and with the closing of the doors to the depot, an era had come to an end. Dubliners never developed the same sense of affection for the replacement buses they once reserved for the rattling electric trams which sparked, trundled and rang their bells during the late hours through the city's ancient and historic streetscapes.

Within no time, the tracks were paved over, and the trams, along with the overhead electrical wires which had powered them with 600 volts of DC current, were all removed and scrapped. The rattle of the old electric trams could no longer be heard echoing through the city late at night. 

In the 1960's, years after the last tram was out of service, older people in the Rialto neighbourhood of the city began to report on the sound of trams and their distinctive bell sounding in the early morning hours. A nurse at a hospital at Glasnevin, on the north of the city - while waiting for the last bus to take her back home to her flat - claims that a tram filled with people in Victorian attire passed by the bus stop she was waiting at, and then vanished into a 'mist' at the end of the street. The stories of late night ghost trams moving through the city streets went on for decades afterwards. In many cases, we can assume that too much indulgence of libation by some of the city's residents coming home from the pubs may have created this ghostly public transport. However, the stories were far too common and reported by people of all walks of life to be completely shunned off.

If was almost as if the personal and collective human experiences of over a century of the city's residents - often during times of war and conflict - had been so emotionally poured into the tram system raising the idea that the tracks of the tram network still buried under the streets became a kind of magnetic recording device which under certain circumstances, are 'played back'. When one considers the thoughts and feelings of the people inside the trams; with their broken hearts, elations, fears and dreams all captured by the electric current surrounding them, and then recorded into the iron rails embedded into the roadway below, is such an idea really so far fetched? 

So next time you are wandering through the old streets of Dublin late at night, you might be surprised to behold a dark blue, double decker tram rattling through the night festooned with advertisements for Fry's Cocoa and Shaw's Sausages coming into sight, while a young lady in an Edwardian dress ascends to the upper deck, as the conductor closes the 'Modesty Shutter' so her ankles are not visible to the young 'gurriers' on the lower deck. 

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