An Irishwoman’s Diary on taking the bus

All aboard for a quirky jaunt

It could have been a scene from a slapstick comedy but it was just another rural bus journey between two west of Ireland tourism havens.

And with all the talk these days of rationalising and cutting back the State-subsidised service, my memory of a bizarre jaunt through the wild west roads of Mayo and Galway in the late 1990s has been reinvoked.

But I am not only chortling to myself as I relate this colourful yarn. The service that Bus Éireann’s tapestry of rural routes provides has always been much more than an economic contract to keep remote communities connected to their urban outposts. Even to this day, despite the increased dominance of urbanised values, this meandering facility underpins a cultural quirkiness where cold efficiency is subjugated to friendliness, warmth and a soupçon of chaos.

It’s a sweltering hot summer’s day in the late 1990s and since I have not yet learned how to take charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle (long story). I am standing at the Octagon in Westport awaiting the 3.20pm bus to Galway.



The plan is to meet my sister, who is travelling on the train from Dublin, in the Quays bar at 5.30pm for a night of shenanigans at the anarchic arts festival. The bus is late, dead late, but I am happily distracted by the cosmopolitan buzz of tourists thronging the pathways. Eventually, at 4.10, the sun-scorched bus trundles around the corner, shudders to a halt and the driver jumps out, wipes his brow and hurtles towards the nearby hotel for a pee (probably) and a bottle of Lucozade.

I find my seat, surround myself with my bags (to discourage company) and open the last chapter of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We are now weaving our way through the traffic and on to the winding Ballinrobe Road. Being a seasoned rural bus traveller, I take no notice of the shuddering stops and exuberant starts at every second byway and boreen along the way.

It’s a Friday and the senior citizens of rural Mayo and Galway have collected their pensions and are on their weekly shopping sprees. At each stop our kind bus driver removes himself from the wheel and helps his elderly charges down the steps, carrying their bags.

“See you next week, Mattie, and don’t be drinkin’ all your pension or the missus will kill you.”

“Two pints and half-one is my limit these days, I’m afraid.”

“Now there you are, Mary, hope those hens are still layin’.”

I nod off, my head bobbing up and down like a rag doll, and waken again in the village of Cross to a tall young man standing over me. He is politely asking in perfectly clipped English, may he sit beside me and would I care to move my “looghage”.

Not being into small talk, I close my eyes again, and hope I won’t snore.


It is the sounds of city suburbia that awaken me the next time and a female passenger who is frantically explaining to the bus driver that she has a connection to make to Cork; she is a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding the following day. The Angelus bell is tolling on the radio and the fact that we are careering around the same roundabout for the second time has caused her some concern. My German companion is making a note in his diary and the traffic is moving at a snail’s pace.

It wasn’t until I noticed we were passing the same hotel for the third time that I realised all was really not well. The bridesmaid-to-be is now showing serious signs of stress and sways up the aisle again, gesticulating to the driver.

“Here it comes. Here comes my bus.”

Honking horns

And there it is, the Express to Cork is cruising towards us. Without a minute’s hesitation, our bus driver floors his brakes with the agility of a rally driver, abandons his perch and is out in the middle of the road attempting to flag down the express.

He valiantly ignores all the honking horns and shouts from passing cars. But his bravery is to no avail. The bus beeps as it flies by.

He returns a broken man and, in a speech from the dock, confesses to us that he is new to the job and is totally lost.

“Does anyone know where the bus station is in Galway?”

My German seat companion has his map out in a flash.

“I can help to guide you to the bus station.”

We all clap when the bus driver, with the help of his German navigator, eventually pulls in to Eyre Square.