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
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