Broadstone Depot: an inner-city icon

The façade of the old rail terminal today. Photo: Edward Ryan

Two students waiting at the Broadstone Luas stop seemed completely unaware of the building behind them.

When asked what they knew about it, they had little to say.

Dylan Donegan said, “I wouldn’t know anything about the building,” while his friend Caoilte Morrisson had a similar level of knowledge: “I wouldn’t know anything about it either, unfortunately.”

For many of us, the large building in Broadstone is a mystery. We see the constant flow of buses coming and going from the building, and some of us pass by it getting off the LUAS without a thought about it. 

Indeed, the former Broadstone Station, now the headquarters of Bus Éireann and one of the many Dublin Bus depots, remains one of the most recognisable landmarks of the city with its grand, imposing ‘neo-Egyptian’ design. 

However, not many of us know the full history of the building, the events that have played out there, and the going ons in its present form. 

So, let’s look back at the history Broadstone station and examine the story of this iconic building. 

Broadstone was once the terminus of the Midland & Great Western Railway (MGWR) that connected Dublin with the west coast of the country. 

The royal canal company ran regular boats towards Mullingar on the canal that ran through this area of Dublin. It allowed for the transport of freight throughout the neighbouring counties. 

The exterior of the old station building as seen from TU Dublin, Grangegorman. Photo: Edward Ryan.

In 1845, the MGWR purchased the Royal Canal Company, as it sought to build its line towards Mullingar along the lands owned by the canal. 

The headquarters for the MGWR were built on the site of the harbour at Broadstone. This was what became Broadstone Station. The building was built by John Skipton Mulvaney, and it was really in a prime location, with nearby courts and close access to the city and markets. The canal could link up with the railway at Broadstone and transport goods across the country to towns and cities like Galway, Athlone, Sligo, Westport, and even Clifden and Achill. 

The site also contained the MGWR railway works and a Steam Locomotive motive power depot. 

In 1856, a shocking crime was committed in the station. On Friday, the 14th of February, the body of station clerk George Little was found inside his locked office upstairs in the station after he failed to show up for work. His body was found facing east, towards an open window which is believed to have been where the murderer made his escape. According to newspapers from the time, £200 worth of “notes, gold, and silver” was also stolen.

By 1877, the MGWR had lost interest in the canal trade, and so received permission to close 150 yards of the canal and fill in the harbour, thus allowing them to extend the forecourt of the station.

The opening of Spencer Dock in 1873 had removed the need for a replacement harbour to be built. 

The station was occupied during the 1916 Easter Rising. Rebels blew up the tracks and sent a steam locomotive out of control in an effort to prevent the arrival of British reinforcements. It was retaken by the Royal Dublin Fusiliers the following day. In 1920, during the War of Independence, Irish Volunteer Joseph Howley was assassinated at Broadstone by the Igoe Gang, a team of plain clothes Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men.

Passenger services to and from Broadstone were ended in 1937, when the MGWR decided to move their operations to Westland Row (Pearse Station). From then until 1961, the station served as a maintenance garage for trains and a bus depot, the latter being its main role today. 

An Irish Omnibus Company bus outside Broadstone in the years after it became a bus depot. Image: Bus Éireann.

The MGWR was merged with the Great Southern & Western Railway and the Cork, Bandon & South Coast Railway in 1924 by the Dáil. This merger led to the formation of the Great Southern Railway, which controlled most of Ireland’s railway network outside of Donegal and Northern Ireland. 

The government merged the Great Southern Rail (GSR) with the Dublin United Tramway Company in 1945 and created Coras Íompar Éireann (CIÉ), which took over the running of the state’s transport network. In February 1987, CIÉ divided its operations into three companies: Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), Bus Éireann, and Dublin Bus. Broadstone subsequently became the headquarters of Bus Éireann.

Inside the maintenance shed post renovation. Credit: Dublin Bus.

Today, Broadstone is one of the most important depots on the Irish bus network. Each day, dozens of buses pass in and out of the mammoth site for inspection or deployment onto different routes. This was the result of massive upgrades of the complex that were completed and officially opened in March 2021. It greatly expanded the capacity of the site and modernised it also. You can watch a video that explains the work here. 

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