The Blacksod bus


Photo: Irish Emerald Gifts

Before the Blacksod bus was the Blacksod bus, it was the Belmullet bus … if you follow me. It left Ballina at six pm sharp and meandered its way through Crossmolina, Corrick, Bangor, Geesala (on Saturdays and Mondays), onwards through the Glen, up Fanny’s hill and into Belmullet.

That was until 1950. Then in 1951 it trickled the last twelve miles to Blacksod. My father drove it. From what I gather he was the first driver, before that he drove the road freight CIE lorry back there, once carrying a brand new US bomber that landed in the fields of Elly before wrecking itself on the lazy beds.

To understand the bus you got to understand the times. Van Morrison captured it in “The Days Before Rock ‘N’ Roll”. Very few cars, the delivery from the bread vans of O’Hara’s and O’Donoghue’s and the road freight truck, Ruddy’s beer lorry from Ballina, a travelling salesman and the post car. The bus was the link with the village and many points in between.

My father left home six days a week at 08:15 and returned around 20:45. From May until the first week in October he did the Pilgrimage run to Croagh Patrick. In essence I hardly knew the man but others vouched for him many years after he went to the great bus depot in the sky. His sturdy bus, whom he nicknamed and cared for as if it was a Formula One car was his pride and joy, brushed out last thing at night, an occasional bucket of water thrown where the twisty bends at Bangor allied to a swilling pint leaving its residue on the floor.

Standing six feet six and weighing around eighteen stone of loose granite, you couldn’t miss my father. His pockets were deep and full. In the right-hand coat pocket was a list of notes looking for everything from knickers, corsets, false teeth to be left in or collected. His right-coat pocket also had a list that contained requests to collect a length of chain, an engine part, a dry or wet battery, day-old chicks or a tube for a burst tyre on a bike.

After docking the bus in Ballina and counting his fares, he crossed the road to his cousin’s pub, Rouse’s. There he had a medium and a whiskey and swopped stories with the lifers within. On a table he sorted his notes, in to Hanley’s for the knickers and corsets, not a word spoke bar the proffered note. Down to the International Stores for the batteries or up to Jones for the radio parts, McConn’s and Archer’s for anchor chain and engine parts, Meenaghan’s for meat and Carney and Hunt’s for groceries that weren’t to be found on the sea front.

Dinner was in Brogan’s, a read of the papers and then back up to the bus. Down to the middle of town and parked outside the Gilmartin’s pub beside the bus station. I hated the bus station, it stunk of Dettol, was pea green and dismal. It reeked of misery and depression. He then started the trek to the various shops, stores and betting offices … Oh I forgot to mention that he laid on the bets for the boys from behind. He delivered Dodie Shevlin’s copy to the Western People, Dodie’s ‘Erris Notes’ that we hungered for. A quick trip into Rouse’s and Gilmartin’s along with Moclair’s, to root out his flock for the journey homewards. “You’ll have one yourself Tom?” the patrons offered. Occasionally he did, an old tin box full of gold and silver medals under a cupboard testify to forty years of safe driving.

The bus was the link, my father the visible face of that link. “Cheep cheep” went the chicks, ducks in the overhead storage area, bicycles on the roof, anchors and a chandler’s shop in the boot. But the route driven daily from 1950 until 1974 was also a route of pain and sadness interspersed with joy. The harvest saw the bus wend its way to Faulmore, Glosh, Tarmon, Eachleam, Tirrane, Elly and Belmullet collecting the men and youth for the seasonal picking beyond in Blighty. Early spring saw the girls heading to the factories in Coventry, Luton and Birmingham. Tears shed until Corrick tower disappeared.

My father saw that his flock got the proper bus or train to Dublin before setting off on his own search for the village beyond. Remember he was a bus driver not a travelling salesman. His job was to drive but he saw his vocation as a server. Come Christmas the return journey from England began. Not all but definitely the fathers, often the younger generation remained beyond. Anxious, until they saw the grey head six foot six man and his sturdy steed, the returning heroes knew that only one leg remained before the last lap and the sweet scent of the home turf.

The packed bus, lit up for Christmas, headed, packed to the gills towards Crossmolina. “Have we time for one here Tom?” asked an elder. My father nodded. “Just the one then”. In they went and the shepherd and flock traipsed out, voices singing the December air. The same thing happened in Corrick, McAndrew’s in Bangor, McAndrew’s in Glencastle. Finally they reached Belmullet and into Agnes Gaughan’s. “An cean deirneach Anseo Tom” the men announced. Miraculously year in year out the bus on the Christmas run ran only about twenty-five minutes late.

Later years as people prospered they took a direct route to Dun Laoghaire with a hackney van. They felt that they betrayed my father but they didn’t. Once, as a hackney flew the trip from Dublin to Blacksod, a suitcase parted company from the roof containing a family’s Christmas presents. As Tom’s bus meandered around Commons house in Duleek, its lights picked up an errant suitcase in the middle of a foggy road. The bus stopped and the suitcase was placed in the boot. The next morning a mournful and slightly embarrassed returned grafter hailed the bus on its way through Eachleam. “Sorry for not travelling with you Tom” went the opening line. “You might keep an eye out for my case; I lost it between Dublin and here”. Suitcase and owner were reunited a minute later.

Last year someone called my name out at home. An elderly man came to me. “I knew your father, one night I had a few too many, we lived across the river, he walked me across the old stream and left the bus and passengers on the road side … I’ll never forget him”. I laughed, kinda pride and kinda embarrassment.

The men of Tarmon went to lift the beet crop of the autumn of 1951. My father ferried them to Ballina. From there they made their way to Dublin, stayed in a lodging house and attended Mayo’s last winning senior final. That evening they got taxis to Dun Laoghaire and crossed to Holyhead. They did their bit for the Fair County. So did the footballers. Ni fheicimid a lethid daioine aris. I didn’t really know my father but others did. It’s thanks to them that I have such memories. Nollag Sona do gach éinne.

25 thoughts on “The Blacksod bus

  1. As usual a brilliant read John Cuffe. Happy Christmas one and all. We love our football on this thread but some things are more important (not many mind!).

    The best of health and happiness to you all and all the best for 2015.

    Neil Kinnock had a famous speech about there being no platform upon which his ancestors could stand. Thanks willie joe for providing our own platform here on the blog.

    Mayo for Sam.

  2. Well written John.
    the quest goes on for sure and we have the players, please God the management can wring that few percent out of them and win the shaggin’ thing. There has been some fair ould changes in the world even in the last 10 to 20 years, what will the next 20 bring?
    Mayo to finally do themselves justice?
    I think they’ll do it sooner than later.

    Happy Christmas to all and best of luck to all and our dear Mayo teams in 2015.

  3. A beautiful piece John. I have fond memories of your father and the many times we took the bus together on our way to Athenry. Happy Christmas!

  4. Lovely piece John! Happy Christmas to you and yours, and also to everyone on this site, especially WJ.

  5. I travelled on the bus , a lovely man, I remember our td joe leneghan used to travel on it, no airs or graces, I wonder how many tds use the bus now.anyway john as I said last week I always enjoy your writing so keep it up .and if we ever get sam I hope to welcome it at corick bridge have a good one

  6. Brilliant piece John.

    That Bus was the first leg of the immigration journey for so many people from our area, some of whom never returned.

    I often remember my Father talk about the bus and the sadness surrounding those who were forced to leave the area.

    May they all rest in peace this Christmas.

  7. Lovely article John. The bus out was the way for many a Mayo person. They took with them their heritage, their memories, their music and their football. But the Green and the Red stayed foremost. They are among the biggest associations in places like New York, London and elsewhere. By the way a great (current) footballer was welcomed home from Australia tonight on the 9 o’clock news by his mother. Anyone else spot it? Could be another addition to a significant squad for 2015.
    Happy Christmas to all and special best wishes to Willie Joe and your family.

  8. Spotted that alright bohola. It’s fair to say that poor Trevor got upstaged on this occasion though!

  9. Roger Milla summed it up, Willie Joe gives us a great platform. For that we are truly grateful , happy Christmas one and all.

  10. Nice piece and very apt for the season that is in it. 1951 is so long ago that it is hard to imagine what life was like then and as each year passes the number of people who remember that great Mayo win is diminishing.

    Sometimes opportunities are lost other times they are just missed to be captured at a future date which is what I hope happens to all of the excellent suggestions that were made on this blog in Sept/Oct last. I am thinking particularly of the fundraising ideas, volunteers to assist with fundraising and just a general willingness to help out Mayo GAA in whatever way possible which of course was epitomised by PJ’s attempt at getting elected to the County Board.

    Happy Christmas to one and all and particularly WJ for all his work in keeping this site up and running.

  11. Very nice read John. Happy Christmas to all the readers and posters on this wonderful site and thanks to WJ for all his hard work. Lets hope 2015 is one to remember.

  12. Thanks JC, enjoyed that, reminds me of how we regarded the Castlebar train, the 1 o clock hearlded happiness, the 3 o clock heartache.
    Happy Christmas to one and all and thanks WJ for fantastic site.

  13. Great piece John. The emigration bit hit home with me, not because I or any of my family had to take that route but it brought back memories of a bus journey I took from Charlestown to Galway the day after New Year in the mid sixties. I was 16 at the time and seeing fathers parting from their wives and families on the roadside at the end of boreens on the route from Charlestown, Swinford, Kiltimagh and into Claremorris where they all embarked on the second leg of their journey really hit home with me. From that day I was resolved not to have to take that route through life. Thankfully I have been able to keep that resolution.
    Strangely I do not recall the same partings on the rest of the route into Galway.

  14. That’s a great piece by John cuffe it takes me back to another era when my father paddy jones had a shop in ballina(he of the electrical parts that John mentioned in his article) Our shop had numerous customers from west of the town. I must show my mother who is 93 the piece by John. She worked in the shop all her life and I’m sure she’d rem the bel mullet bus. My father had the first television in ballina in the late 50s and I can remember the queues of people coming to our house to see bbc images of cricket from the Belfast transmitter through a veil of snow ( the reception was dreadful long before the Sligo transmitter). People would gasp with excitement when occasionally they would see a feint image through the snow. The weather of course had a big bearing on the reception. Isn’t it amazing to think now in such a short period of time that we can pause live hd matches by the touch of a remote control. We never thought in those far off days that we in 2014 would still be waiting 63 years to press the pause button on a mayo captain raising the Sam maguire. God please let it be soon. With each passing year my memory is fading. In a short time perhaps someone will play the 51 match for me and tell me we’ve just won the all Ireland and god help us I,ll believe it.

  15. Being a Bekan man I should not be familiar with the territory and the way of life described in the piece. But, because of the 11 years I spent working in Ballina, I am. North Mayo is a place close to my heart. What a wonderful evocative piece of writing.

  16. beautiful piece by John Cuffe. This man is a seriously good writer “The Tolstoy of Blacksod” would be an adequate description of this son of Tom Cuffe.

  17. Hi John, what a fantastic story, although I never met you I definately met your father, being from Binghamstown myself it’s many the box of day old chicks ( not sure about the knickers) your father would have dropped into Murphys pub, the bus was indeed was a link with the world beyond the bridge in Belmullet .
    Up Mayo.

  18. What a lovely piece, although I don’t live there, it brings back memories for me because Agnes Gaughan that you mention was my grandmother . Thank you for sharing this with us all .

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