As much a so­cial club as a bus, the Tal­low to Dun­gar­van lo­cal link goes the ex­tra mile for its iso­lated pas­sen­gers, writes Jen­nifer O’Con­nell

It might be one of the slow­est bus ser­vices in Ire­land, but none of its pas­sen­gers seem to mind. For many liv­ing in iso­la­tion in Wa­ter­ford, tak­ing the Tal­low to Dun­gar­van lo­cal link is far more about the jour­ney than the desti­na­tion, writes Jen­nifer O’Con

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

Austin O’Brien – an­tiques dealer, un­der­taker, taxi driver and, right now, bus op­er­a­tor – pulls up in his sil­ver sa­loon car to the spot from where the 9am weekly Lo­cal Link Wa­ter­ford ser­vice from Tal­low to Dun­gar­van was sup­posed to have de­parted four min­utes ago.

The bus will be leav­ing slightly late this morn­ing, he ex­plains, due to the fact the in­tend­ing pas­sen­gers are in the post of­fice col­lect­ing their pen­sions.

When I looked at the timetable, I won­dered whether this was the slow­est bus ser­vice in Ire­land. I drove the 32km from Tal­low, a vil­lage on the Cork- Wa­ter­ford bor­der, to Dun­gar­van in less than half an hour. But the 9am ser­vice is not due to get into Dun­gar­van un­til 10.40am. Now, I’m start­ing to see why.

When we find the bus out­side the post of­fice in Tal­low, driver John Mur­phy ex­plains there is a direct route, but this ser­vice takes the scenic route, col­lect­ing be­tween 16 and 20 peo­ple on the way.

But we can’t leave yet, he adds. We’re wait­ing for pas­sen­ger Liam Kirby to col­lect a pre­scrip­tion in the chemist.

Kirby, who is 73, ar­rives and takes his seat op­po­site Joe O’Ke­effe, and the bus fi­nally sets off, snaking its way up into the misty hills around Bal­ly­duff and Ballysag­gart, go­ing on to of Lis­more and Cappo- quin, be­fore fi­nally pulling up at the big shop­ping cen­tre in Dun­gar­van.

Ru­ral buses don’t al­ways run on time, but even by those re­laxed stan­dards, this not your typ­i­cal pub­lic bus ser­vice – and it’s not de­signed to be. Op­er­ated by Lo­cal Link Wa­ter­ford, and part of a na­tional net­work of ser­vices funded by the Na­tional Trans­port Author­ity as part of an ini­tia­tive to tackle ru­ral iso­la­tion, this is one of hun­dreds of ser­vices weav­ing across some of the most re­mote parts of the coun­try. Some of the routes run like more con­ven­tional ser­vices, stop­ping only at sched­uled stops. And then there are routes like this.

It started in 2003 and was only ever sup­posed to run for two or three years, says Teresa Fen­nell, the ad­min­is­tra­tor for Lo­cal Link Wa­ter­ford. “But then the take- up was so good. And when you give some­thing to peo­ple who are iso­lated, you can’t just take it away. They see it as their bus now.

“We have peo­ple who get on the bus just to see other peo­ple. They’d have a cup of tea in Lis­more, and then get back on the bus home. The bus trip is re­ally the whole point,” says Fen­nell.

Mur­phy has been driv­ing this route for two years – and his own route in a dif­fer­ent part of the county be­fore that. So he knows how im­por­tant th­ese ser­vices are to peo­ple in some­times frac­tured lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. One Jan­uary, he picked a woman up af­ter the Christ­mas break. “She said: ‘ John it’s great to see you, I saw no one over Christ­mas’. So you can see how some­thing like this is a great thing for older peo­ple.”

Kirby and O’Ke­effe are on a mis­sion this morn­ing. It is the day be­fore the Aintree Grand Na­tional, and they both have to see a man about a horse. O’Ke­effe is not rush­ing into any­thing – he’ll check the odds in Dun-

We have peo­ple who get on the bus just to see other peo­ple. They’d have a cup of tea in Lis­more, and then get back on the bus home

gar­van first, and then he’ll take an­other bus to Youghal later be­fore mak­ing his de­ci­sion. The smart money is on lo­cal man Davy Rus­sell. He hands me a slip of pa­per with three names on it – “Tiger Roll” is the top one. I put it in my pocket and for­get about it, kick­ing my­self when I find it sev­eral days af­ter the Michael O’Leary- owned horse wins the Na­tional, rid­den by Rus­sell.

As the bus winds along the coun­try roads, stop­ping at town­lands whose names are like play­ground in­can­ta­tions from long ago – Cooladoody, Mo­col­lop, Cooleishal, Af­fane – Kirby says he knows this area like he knows the back of his own hand. He was the post­man here for 28 years. “I started off on a push bike, it was that long ago. I was still the tem­po­rary post­man af­ter all that time, and I stayed that way un­til they brought a younger man up from Cork to re­place me. So I came out of it with noth­ing,” he says.

He lives alone, he says, al­ways has. “I made an at­tempt once,” he says. He is talk­ing about re­la­tion­ships. “But it didn’t work out. We were al­ways best friends, but it just wasn’t to be and that was it.” She mar­ried some­one else, but they stayed friends. She’s not well now, he says, and turns to look out the win­dow for a bit.

We re­verse into Teresa O’Ke­effe’s drive­way and wait for a few mo­ments for her to come out. Mur­phy doesn’t seem to mind. Not much fazes him. He reg­u­larly helps pas- sen­gers into the house with their shop­ping. He sees that as part of the ser­vice. A lady once asked him to pick up a Christ­mas tree for her. “I put it on the bus and brought it back up home for her. We’ve brought a few tur­keys home in our time too. “Dead ones,” he adds. When O’Ke­effe boards, she takes a clip­board from him to write down the names of all the pas­sen­gers. She takes the bus “90 per cent of the time”. “Peo­ple would be lost only for it. We’re like a big fam­ily now. If there’s any­thing wrong, we’d know.”

She has lived in her pretty, well- kept house all her life, tak­ing care of her mother un­til she died 2 ½ years ago. Six weeks ago, there was an­other blow when she lost a sis­ter to lung can­cer. “It comes that way,” she says. “There’s noth­ing you can do about it. You have to get on with it, or you’d be gone quare al­to­gether.”

Now she lives with her two dogs, “two fine big fel­las”, a col­lie and a husky. She got them af­ter a break- in two years ago. She had just gone out to get new brake pads for the car, and she de­cided on a rare whim to treat her­self to her din­ner out in the mid­dle of the day. When she came back, she no­ticed im­me­di­ately that the door was ajar. The guards gave out to her later for go­ing in. “They got a few bits and pieces only. But the place was ran­sacked.”

So the dogs are a great com­fort th­ese days. She walks a good five miles with them ev­ery day, and has lost 4 ½ stone since she got them. And they’re bril­liant guard dogs. “Don’t walk up be­hind them,” she laughs.

Se­cu­rity is a fre­quent topic of con­ver­sa­tion on the bus. Last year, their 90- year- old neigh­bour Paddy Lyons . . . was sav­agely beaten to death

Pas­sen­gers on the Tal­low to Dun­gar­van lo­cal link bus; and ( op­po­site page) driver John Mur­phy who takes the scenic route, col­lect­ing up to 20 peo­ple. PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MICHAEL MAC SWEENEY/ PRO­VI­SION

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