Thursday 19 September 2019

Tom McCaughren: 'Revolutionary bus scheme is OK, but for us catching the old 15A is just the ticket'

Plans to solve our transport problems come and go but tried and trusted ways can be the best, says Tom McCaughren

Godsend: Memories come flooding back for journalist Tom McCaughren as he’s about to board his treasured 15A bus. Photo: Damien Eagers
Godsend: Memories come flooding back for journalist Tom McCaughren as he’s about to board his treasured 15A bus. Photo: Damien Eagers

Tom McCaughren

When, as a teenager, I came from my native County Antrim to join the reporting staff of The Irish Times I remember watching rows and rows of cyclists lined up at O'Connell Bridge, all waiting patiently to catch the eye of the garda who with his long white cuffs and white baton would signal them to go. And when he did it was like 'the off' at the race track.

There was, I found, only two ways to travel in Dublin in those days and that was either by bicycle or bus as there were very few cars. As a country boy, the bus seemed a much better option and one in which I got the opportunity to meet some of the city's great characters.

One day as I grabbed the silvery bar at the back of the bus and swung aboard, a small man in a long coat who was standing at the gates of Trinity pointed his forefinger at us and shouted "bang, bang; bang, bang". To my amazement the other passengers returned fire with their forefingers smiling broadly as they did so. It was then I learned that they had been engaging in a traditional 'exchange of fire' with one the city's great characters, Bang Bang.

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It was on the bus going towards Terenure that I also met another great character, the itinerant barrister known affectionately as 'The Pope' O'Mahony. He was at the back, his black gown rolled up under his arm. I was at the front but it didn't stop him carrying on a loud conversation over the heads of the other passengers who turned this way and that as they followed every exchange and tried to figure out what we were talking about.

When I moved to Whitehall Road, the bus was still the main mode of transport for many of the people who lived there, among them a much quieter person by the name of Mairtin O Direain. The Irish language poet, I discovered, was one of my neighbours. He was a long way from his native Struthan on Inishmore and considering the transport problems there, the 15A must have seemed like a godsend.

For over half a century, the 15A has been a godsend for all the people who have lived on Whitehall Road, providing them with a lifeline to Terenure, Rathgar, Rathmines and the city centre. For those of a certain age, the bus would have taken them to see films in the Stella in Rathmines, the Classic in Terenure, the De Luxe in Camden Street and the Capitol, the Metropole or Ambassador in O'Connell Street.

All that has changed of course, but the 15A hasn't. Nor has our use of it to shop in these once separate villages of Dublin. In Terenure, where once was the tram depot we now have Aldi and around the corner, Lidl. The Catholic Church is there too, of course, just opposite Aldi, and at various places along the crossroads are restaurants to make your mouth water, pubs and pub grub, shops to look and linger in... All very convenient and all we have to do is take the 15A almost outside our door.

But now there are people planning to take the 15A away from us in a plan called Bus Connects and though some of us who live on Whitehall Road are retired and maybe not as nimble on the feet as we once were, it will make life very difficult for us. For if the plans go ahead we will have to make several bus changes to get where we want to go.

To shop in Aldi or Lidl in Terenure, even go to church there, we would have to take two buses each way. To go to Rathgar to shop or go to the Presbyterian church, we would also have to take two buses each way.

As I understand it, to take our grandchildren to swimming lessons in Swan Leisure in Rathmines, or to school in St Louis's or St Mary's or collect them, it would take no fewer than three buses each way. Same if we were going into Georges Street where we now get off the 15A.

It seems the planners want to carve up the city to give us a new and more efficient service. But taking away the 15A won't make it more efficient for us.

For many older people it will mean being confined to their houses; no more shopping, no more socialising, at least not the way they used to do and are entitled to do. And ours, it must be said, is only one of many areas that will face similar problems.

It seems the people who want to give us a better bus service are planning a six-lane carriageway that will take passengers down through Templeogue and funnel them through Terenure, Rathgar and Rathmines. A carriageway from Rathfarnham will also take passengers through Terenure. Little wonder the cry from Terenure is: "Don't turn our village into a carriageway!"

And then there are those who, if the plan goes ahead, will lose part of their front gardens - gardens like those between Terenure and Rathgar and between Rathgar and Rathmines where the high arched entrances for horse-drawn coaches bear testimony to the fact that the houses and gardens are part of our history and a feature of the city.

Protests are coming from all these areas. Kimmage too. Among the submissions is the suggestion that the millions it will cost to do all this should be spent on a metro or underground system instead. But will anyone listen?

On the 30th anniversary of Mairtin O Direann's death, Declan Collinge wrote in the Sunday Independent that in Ar Re Dhearoil (Our Wretched Times), O Direann described Dublin in the 1950s as an urban wasteland. I wonder what he would think of Dubin today if instead of being able to board the 15A outside his bungalow in Whitehall Road for the short journey to the Terenure Inn, he had to take two buses there and two buses back just to share a glass of sherry and a few anecdotes with a friend.

Would the craggy giant of Aran think Dublin had improved since the 1950s?

Or, considering the way it's planned to carve up the suburbs now, would the thought of an urban wasteland enter his head again?

Somehow I imagine it would.

Tom McCaughren is a former security correspondent for RTE and the award-winning author of books for young people including the 'Run With the Wind' series

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