Saturday 16 December 2017

'The strike has left us so confined - it's like 100 years ago'

Anne Reilly in Athboy, County Meath. Photo: Tony Gavin
Anne Reilly in Athboy, County Meath. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'I'm completely confined," says Gay Woods, thoughtfully. "It's an interesting feeling. This is what life was like 100 years ago - you stayed in your village and that was it."

One of Ireland's best known folk vocalists with bands Steeleye Span and Auto Da Fé back in the 1970s and 1980s, Ms Woods (68) retired to the small town of Athboy, Co Meath, about six years ago.

She liked the atmosphere, describing it as "funky".

It's not quite the same now though, she says. Now firmly part of the Dublin commuter belt, the town is congested with traffic and everybody relies on their car. She is thinking of moving.

Public transport links will be the first thing she will look into, she says, having given up her car at the same time she moved to Athboy.

The train station there closed in 1947 but the bus service was excellent, with a bus to Dublin almost every hour and another regular service to Navan.

A schoolbus travels down the main street in Athboy. Photo: Tony Gavin
A schoolbus travels down the main street in Athboy. Photo: Tony Gavin

"I'm really pro-bus. There are just too many cars around. The pollution is dreadful," declares Gay.

She remembers fondly her time living in Holland when you could hop from small village to small village using the excellent public bus service.

"Here, we have to keep pleading for our bus service," she says.

And sure enough, the public transport links in Athboy declined over the years.

Gay Woods, former singer with Auto da Fé and Steeleye Span.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Gay Woods, former singer with Auto da Fé and Steeleye Span. Photo: Tony Gavin

They cut the Navan bus route which meant that you could no longer get to the seaside on public transport.

The current bus strike has now left her stranded.

"I'm completely confined," she says simply. "It's very strange."

She is not alone. The Athboy to Dublin bus route is a busy one, particularly in the mornings when it is often packed to capacity past Trim.

John Joe Hiney in Athboy, County Meath. Photo: Tony Gavin
John Joe Hiney in Athboy, County Meath. Photo: Tony Gavin

The service is used by a wide cross-section of people - from students commuting to colleges right across the capital and beyond, to those working in Dublin as well as the retired and the elderly heading off to hospital appointments.

With a population of over 2,400, Athboy needs a viable public transport link.

"It's worrying, to be honest," says John Joe Hiney, from Ballivor, who says the bus is a very important part of the fabric of the local community.

He uses it himself mostly to visit hospitals, partly because it cuts out the hassle of driving but also because many hospitals do not welcome visitors' cars in their car parks, he explains.

Read more: SIPTU set to ballot Dublin Bus, Irish Rail members for industrial action in sympathy with Bus Eireann

But he admits he has often spotted just one person travelling on a double decker bus and has wondered how sustainable the service is in the long run.

"I'd understand how it would be tough to keep them going," he says.

One local businesswoman tells of a friend of hers who works in a charity shop in Dublin and of other local people currently commuting to work in taxis paid for by their companies. She wonders how much longer this can continue.

"They'll have to sort it out soon," she says of the strike.

However, a local farmer talks sharply of "sending in the army" to drive the buses in lieu of the workers.

The strike is a disgrace, he says. But he claims to have seen "two buses one after the other", travelling through the town, both practically empty.

"We have to ask how long the taxpayer is going to pay for that," he demands.

Parents, too, have been greatly discommoded by the strike.

Anne Reilly, who works in Athboy, had to drop her son to Maynooth, a 45-minute drive away, in the morning so he could get a lift to Blanchardstown College where he is studying.

She was waiting for a call to see what time she had to pick him up from Enfield - "A good 40-minutes drive," says Anne.

It's stressful for her son who is preparing for his final exams, as well as being a major inconvenience and an added expense with the petrol.

Another mother who preferred not to give her name was also furious on behalf of her son who is going up and down to work in AIB.

He is driving up and down while the strike continues, "but you couldn't drive up and park in Dublin for the price of a bus ticket," the woman points out.

Between taxis and the goodwill of neighbours, the people of Athboy are struggling through for now.

But the question on their lips is how much longer are they expected to wait for their independence to come and go from their own town as they wish?

Irish Independent

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