The Suirway Bus

Where would we have been without the Suirway bus?  In the Cheekpoint of the 1960’s to the 80’s when cars were scarce and escape from the village was required the choices were few; shanks mare, boat or the Suirway bus!

Suirway Bus has been serving the area since 1928 when the Lynch family of Parkswood established it from a site at Knockroe which is still the base.  As a child I remember Seamus Lynch was the manager/owner, who would sometimes step in to drive a bus.  The present owner is his son Brian.

One of my first memories of the bus was the sunday morning service.  Each Sunday morning, and holy day of obligation, it came over from Passage East and picked us up and dropped us at the gate to Faithlegg Church for 9am mass.  It was an amazing service in that Willie Elliott the local bus driver attended mass too, so it went at the time mass ended, not to any bus schedule and this included an extra 45 minutes for a funeral, if such happened on a Sunday morning.  Not many bus companies could/would offer that.

Another early memory was the trip to town.  We were living in Coolbunnia at the time and the bus stopped at the side of the road just by the Reservoir.  It was a big thing to be sitting up the front, where you could see everything at its best and the highlight for us was passing Willie & Carmel Hartley’s who had yet to develop Jack Meades from a local pub into its present form.  At the time they had an agricultural contractor business with dozens of tractors and all manner of machinery which we feasted our eyes on from off the bus.  How we wished it would go more slowly, they more we would see!

This service ran on a Friday and Saturday from Cheekpoint.  The Friday run left the village at 9.30am and returned from the quay in town at 3pm departing from down by Dooleys Hotel.  Saturday had a few more runs.  9.30am, 12noon and 3.30 from the village returning from the quay at 11.30am, 3pm and finally 6pm.  And it wasn’t just a transport service, it was also a major social event as people caught up with each other, shared news, found out what was happening in neighbouring villages as they chatted at the bus stop.  But I think it might also have been unique from another perspective.

Our mother did her grocery shopping in Darrers Stores, long an institution in the town, and it was situated where McDonalds and Argos now reside.  One of the services the store offered was the dropping of the grocery shopping to the busses leaving town.  The names of the families were written on the bags and these were stacked at the end of the cashiers desk awaiting collection.  On Saturdays that pile grew very large with shoppers from Portlaw, South Kilkenny and Passage, Woodstown and Dunmore East also availing of the service. At bus times a driver and helper dropped them down in a car and lifted them onto the busses.  Many was the time we were told to be waiting for the 3pm bus and the driver would hand out our bags only to be told our mother had gotten off at the hospital or the church or would be home on the 6pm bus…Darrers and Suirway were ahead of Tesco home delivery by 30 years at least!

A Darrers Bag, very faded unlike my memories of the store

The drivers I remember best were Willie Elliott of course, Aitsey and Percy Hutchinson, Gerry Kane Roggie MaGrath and for years our school bus driver Jimmy Brown.

The worst part about the busses of course was the school bus service.  Once we hit secondary school age, we had to take the bus to town.  Given that we were only 20 minutes away this should not have been a problem, however, the bus we took was also doing a second school run and so departed from the Cross Roads at 7.30am which meant we were in the De La Salle at least an hour earlier than most everyone else!  The only advantage to the bus leaving from the Cross Roads was that you could dawdle your way up and “miss the bus” on occasion.  As there were so few cars travelling the route, it sometimes meant you could get a day off school.

For some reason we seemed to get the worst busses in the service for going to school.  Older, ricketier sometimes damp or downright wet.  I think the most bizarre event I remember was an evening returning from school when we broke down on Redmonds Hill after dropping Margaret Doyle and Caroline Mahon at Woodlands road.  Our driver that evening was Roggie McGrath.  Roggie had a bit of a reputation for grinding the gears.  Anyway this particular evening he stood up and announced that we could go nowhere unless he could get the engine started and back into gear.  However in order to do this, for some reason he had to let off the hand-break!  Now given our position on one of the steepest hills in the parish this was a bit of a conundrum.  So Roggie called for volunteers to stand behind the bus and to hold her in place whilst he attempted this engineering feat.

Banter and blackguarding aside, I think we all thought it a bit risky as we took up position at the back of the 10 ton bus, probably a little heavier as the less foolhardy refused to move from their seats.  Roggie shouted to ready ourselves which was relayed back.  As we took the weight I wondered briefly what would happen if we couldn’t hold it, where would we jump, would it roll right over us.

As the weight came on, there was a brief moment of panic and then the bus coughed into life and started to roll…forwards up the hill!  But then it was a case of running, as Roggie couldn’t stop again and the only way to rejoin the bus was to leap on as she climbed up the hill.  To be honest I think my mother thought I was making it up when I told her over the dinner.

If I recall right the first of the services to be disbanded was the Friday town bus, followed by the various Saturday runs.  Sunday mass followed, but the school bus still runs, and still at 7.30am.  Mind you given the homes and resulting traffic on Dunmore Road this is probably of necessity now.  I guess in time the car replaced the necessity of taking the busses to town.  The relocation of stores out to larger shopping complexes certainly didn’t help to attract the country folk into the heart of the town either of course.  But the bus was about more than transport, it was a vital social link too.

Thankfully a new bus service started the Friday to town route in the Spring of 2009 and this was later extended to Wednesdays too  Operated by Deise Link for the Rural Bus Service it runs a minibus which is often full which shows there’s still an appetite for communal transport in the area.  Transport is after all only one element of the local bus!

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