BESIDES St Patrick’s Day, March 17 also marks the anniversary of the completion of the Coalcliff to Clifton rail tunnel.
Known as the ‘Gate of Illawarra’, and measuring 1070 yards or just under 980 metres, the completion of the tunnel was celebrated on St Patrick’s Day 1887 with Clifton storekeeper, P. J. Kenna given the honour of placing the last brick in position.
After cheers for the Government, the contractors, and Mr Kenna, the crowd adjourned to the nearby Imperial Hotel at Clifton where several toasts were “negotiated”.
In June 1884, tenders were called for the tunnel to commence, and men began working at both ends in November 1884 in three eight-hour shifts.
At 2pm on Friday, May 7, 1886, the mostly Italian workers broke through from both ends, finalising the drilling works, and lining of the tunnel in brick was begun.
“They assembled in number, singing glees and choruses, according to the custom of their country,” the Daily Telegraph reported at the time.
The completion of the railway tunnel at Clifton, known as the ‘Gate of Illawarra,’ measuring 1070 yards, was celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day by Mr. P. J. Kenna placing the last brick in position; after which cheers for the Government, the contractors, and Mr. Kenna were given; and, having adjourned to the Clifton Hotel, several appropriate toasts were negotiated.
– The Sydney Mail Saturday 26 March 1887.