The intention behind the making of toll or turnpike roads was for road users to pay for the cost of maintaining and repairing the highways by paying specified tolls depending on the class of traffic they moved. ‘Turnpike’ means a barrier-like gate. It was located at a Toll House and this is where the toll fee was paid.
Before toll roads came into existence the road maintenance and repair was the responsibility of the parish through which the road traversed as the locals were considered to be the main users. Occupiers of the land had to provide labour and equipment for 6 days each year and landless labourers had to provide labour only also for 6 days annually. Bridge building and new road construction was the responsibility of the grand juries (the equivalent of the current councils) and the costs were covered by levying a tax on the inhabitants within their area of jurisdiction.
The volume of through-traffic on the roads grew
From the early 1700s export trade mainly cattle, butter, linen, wool and their associated products and by-products rapidly increased as did the number of fairs and markets and consequently the volume of through-traffic on the roads grew, leading to rapid road surface and structure deterioration. The roads mainly effected were those leading to the ports of Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Drogheda, Dundalk and Limerick.
Dublin to Kilcullen Bridge
In order to relieve the burden on the local inhabitants of the parishes through which the through-traffic passed and who did not benefit from it, Acts of Parliament were enacted to establish toll roads; the first given such status in 1729 was the one from Dublin to Kilcullen Bridge.
Each toll road had charge over a fixed length of road usually 30 miles for a fixed period of time, usually 20 years. The toll road trustees were given the power to collect specified tolls from the users of the designated road length and to use the sums collected to pay for maintenance and repair of the road and to repay any loans incurred with the setting up of the trust, with interest.
The number of toll roads increased as the century advanced and besides the traders of merchandise, the roads were used for passenger coach transport and mail coach services. With the increase of coach usage the needs of travellers for places to eat and rest as well as for horse refreshing or changing gave rise to the growth of the Inn or Tavern systems.
Competition of the railway
One of the last toll roads sanctioned by Parliament was the Dublin-Blessington-Baltinglass-Carlow in 1829 and it was in existence until 1856. The decline of this toll road was due to the competition of the railway which had begun operating to Carlow in 1846 and the evasion of tolls by many travellers using grand jury roads which were improving all the time.
An example was given for the toll gate at Merginstown where from the 1st July to 31st December 1855 the estimated total daily traffic was 6. Evaders could bypass this toll gate by travelling the road through Donard and Hollywood Glen. These factors contributed to the poor financial situation which the trustees and government had to face. Most toll roads around the country were in similar positions. Eventually the government abolished all toll roads in Ireland in 1858 and the roads were taken over by the Grand Juries.
The modern toll roads with service stations are the descendants of the 18th/19th century toll roads.