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Travelling by Bus
Long distance coach travel is by far the most economical way of seeing the country

The image of bus travel in Ireland has changed totally. For years long distance travel by bus conjured up a mental picture of a single-decker Connemara vehicle bumping over the potholes in the West of Ireland, with crates of hens and the odd bicycle perched on the roof rack. Bundles of newspapers were thrown out at shops along the way. The service was wonderfully flexible - the buses stopped any time someone wanted to get on or off!

New Luxury
These days the long distance bus in Ireland is quite likely to be a double decker, complete with all facilities: toilet,video and television.

Bus Eireann, Ireland's national bus company, was formed in 1987 to provide services throughout the country, with the exception of Dublin where it is organised by Bus Atha Cliath (Dublin Bus). Bus Eireann's mascot is the Irish red setter dog which epitomises the company's approach by being friendly, reliable and fast.

The company operates a number of services, including its Expressway network, with over 50 routes linking all major towns and cities in Ireland, and the North of Ireland where they are run in conjunction with Ulsterbus. One of the interchange points is Athlone in County Westmeath, right in the centre of Ireland. In turn this Expressway network is linked in with Bus Eireann's Eurolines coach service which connects over 100 towns in Ireland with 1,500 destinations in Britain and mainland Europe.

These days you can start a coach journey of epic length right here, going from say Galway or Dublin to Bucharest, Casablanca, Lisbon or Moscow. Imagine the thrill of getting on a Bus Eireann bus in a remote village in the West of Ireland and stepping off eventually in Morocco or Russia!

Bus Eireann also runs the city services in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford as well as commuter lines out of Dublin and other cities. Rural routes are important and so too are the school bus arrangements run on behalf of the Department of Education.

Cross Country
But it's the Expressway travel routes that have helped make this method of journeying more accessible and the company has added many more new services and expanded existing routes using comfortable modern buses. Now over 5.5 million trips a year are undertaken. During the summer months overseas visitors use this method of travel to visit the popular tourist destinations and places that are right off the beaten track.

Between 1995 and 1998 the company invested over 24 million to upgrade its fleet, and purchased nearly 200 new air-conditioned coaches of Spanish and Swedish manufacture. It is now one of the most modern in Europe - the Irish equivalent of Greyhound buses in the U.S.

The most recent timetable innovation came in the summer of 1998 with the launch of the hourly service between Dublin and Galway. This route now has 13 daily departures in each direction, between 8.00 a.m. and 8.00 p.m. from Dublin and between 7.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. from Galway.

Bus Eireann, like Ulsterbus - its Northern Ireland counterpart - also runs coach tours in Ireland, many day trips and longer. They organise a number of travel schemes that are well priced for people moving around Ireland. The Irish Rover ticket gives limitless travel on Bus Eireann and Ulsterbus routes for fares that vary from 36 for three days' travel to 130 for 15 days' travel. You can also buy an Irish Rambler ticket for unlimited bus travel in the Republic; costs range from 28 for three days to 98 for 15 days. The Irish Explorer ticket combines bus and rail travel in the Republic while the Emerald Card gives unlimited bus and rail travel throughout Ireland. For 15 days the cost for an adult ticket is 180. Special rates for children who may be accompanying you are also available.

Bus Eireann traces its origins back to the setting up of the Irish Omnibus Company 1926. It developed a nationwide network of bus services under contract to the Great Southern Railways, and in 1945 became part of CIE - Coras Iompair Eireann - the national transport company. Today CIE is the holding company and Bus Eireann trades as a subsidiary. It is a public utility and has to compete with an expanding private sector bus network. Private buses have been running on Irish roads since the early 1920s. In Dublin, where there is now a state monopoly of bus services through Dublin Bus, there were once many competing private companies. If you missed one bus you could be sure there would be another along in a few minutes.

Private Companies Too
For years after the setting up of CIE there were strict controls on private bus companies. Operations of services like the daily Dublin to Glendalough (County Wicklow) bus were something of an exception. This is still going, incidentally, with daily departures from outside the College of Surgeons on St. Stephen's Green.

But gradually restrictions were eased and dozens of private bus firms came into operation. Paul Kavanagh is the managing director of J.J. Kavanagh & Sons of Urlingford, County Kilkenny. Dating back to 1919 Mr. Kavanagh reckons it is now the largest private bus operator in the country, with nearly 100 coaches. It runs a total of 45 daily services around the country. Under its Rapid Express Coaches banner it travels each day between Dublin and Tramore in County Waterford, and Dublin and Limerick. Says Mr. Kavanagh: "People expect high standards, so there are toilets and videos on all our long distance vehicles." But he adds that it's still very difficult to get licences on many routes.

Privately owned too is Ardcavan Coaches of Wexford which runs a daily service between Dublin and Wexford. Their coaches also have the benefits of TV, video and toilets, and the return fare is only 8.

Ardcavan tells us that on Friday nights departures from Dublin are continuous between 4.30 p.m. and 8.00 p.m. If you go to O'Connell Street, Kildare Street or outside the Custom House in Dublin any Friday you will see thousands of country people who live and work or study in Dublin from Monday to Friday, returning home for the weekend and the coaches pick them up to take them back to Dublin on Monday morning. Busaras at Liberty Hall which is the bus station for Bus Eireann will be similarly jammed on a Friday. It is a very Irish phenomenon and has become a well fixed routine over many years.

In addition to all the long distance private bus services, some parts of the country have short runs that are privately operated. Suirway Coaches, based near Passage East in County Waterford runs the daily single-decker route between Dunmore East and Waterford. The one-way fare is just 1.60. Another goes from Dundalk in County Louth to the seaside village of Blackrock; the buses are provided here by Halfpenny Transport of Dundalk. All of these private services complement those run by the state. Such is the competition now that Bus Eireann and the smaller owner-operated firms vie with each other to provide the cheapest and most luxurious travel. And if you are interested in old-style bus and coach vehicles there are some fine examples preserved in the Transport Museum at Howth in County Dublin. _______________

Further Information:

Head Office, Broadstone, Dublin 7. Telephone +353 1 8302222.

Ardcavan Coaches, Wexford. Telephone 353 53 22561

J.J. Kavanagh & Sons, Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny. Telephone 353 56 31106/31272.

Suirway Coaches, Passage East, Co. Waterford. Telephone 353 51 382209.

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