“Are you going to town tonight?”
“I might do”
“How are you getting home?”
“I’ll get the late bus”
“It’s gone”
“Oh that’s gone with a good while”

The late bus is no more. After four years of tightening our belts, cutting extra notches on belts to assist further tightening then finally selling our belts and replacing them with baler twine, the demise of one more rural service should not be a big shock. Yet I still feel a pang in my heart for the disappearance of The Late Bus.

Bus Eireann Route 233 from Cork to Macroom – specifically the ‘via Coachford’ variation – was as much hard-wired into my still-forming brain as grey slacks and Easi-Singles. And as time went on, the 10:30pm departure would play an increasingly important part of my life.
When I started using it is a matter for debate – literally. As a frequent member of Deerpark CBS debating team, I was occasionally around town late on a school-night. Many of the debates were organised by Concern so usually it had been a long evening tearing the strips off the IMF’s destructive financial governance of Guatemala or castigating the replacement of rainforest with beef farms. After a few 50p burgers in Mandy’s, I would go to Parnell Place for the final leg of the journey home.

The late bus was the grown-up bus. There was no horde of grey/green/navy jumpered adolescents swarming around the concourse waiting for the man with the bus labels to put Via Coachford on the inside of the windscreen. There was no crush to get to the back where all the ‘craic’ was.
Other than the occasional mutterings of a passing ‘quare-hawk’ – a mysterious group who are believed by the mothers of the world to haunt the dark – the after-hours bus station was a more sedate place. You waited with the other People of the Night. You were part of an anonymous collective who remained tight-lipped about their reasons for being out late.

During college, the Late Bus often played another role. It was the Rubicon between two very different types of night out. It was the pause-button in a drink-aware ad, the refusal of The One That’s One Too Many.
Get on it and the worst that would happen would be 40 minutes of excruciating bladder-related pain. But it was worth it. You got your heated-up dinner and breakfast the following day.
Miss it and the night could end with you shivering on the kitchen floor of the Victoria’s Cross student accommodation because there’s nowhere else to sleep as Gavin is on the couch with “yer wan in First Year Dairy Science”.
The Late Bus went ‘all over the place’ to gather up the waifs and strays of the night. After leaving the city, it went out the Lee Road, soaring high above the flood plain before sweeping down to the twisty bridge at Leemount. It paused briefly at the junction there. Those of us for whom the bladder pain had now spread to the lower back silently urged the driver to take the shortest route home. But it instead, it doubled back towards the Carrigrohane Straight and into Ballincollig where the passengers were complemented by The Man Who Wanted To Talk To The Driver.

This is a man that you never see in an ad for Bulmers Irish Cider. In fact, Bulmer’s Ads are probably the most unrealistic portrayal of rural drinking you will ever see in your life: A crowd of people with good skin and hair congregating in a marquee on the edge of an orchard while Steve Earle sells out? How are they all going to get home I wonder? Is Bulmers going to lay on a fleet of minivans?

The true image of rural drinking is a single man in his fifties, who lives somewhere between Inniscarra and Macroom, getting on the late bus in Ballincollig at closing time and chatting loudly to the driver about that ‘bad bastard of a bend’ and in general about ‘the hoor of a road’.

Not that the bus-driver cared one jot for the hooriness of the route or the parentage of the bends. He handled the potholes, twists and narrow bits with ease. But he listened politely as the man in the front passenger seat gave his views on bus-driving. And he dropped him right at the door of his house or at the end of his lane. And Paddy/Johnny/Micky – having suffered no inconvenience except for a rather unsteady descent of the vertiginous steps of a Salvador Caetano Enigma Coach – was safely home. What is his fate now?
Of course all of this is probably misty-eyed nonsense.

The Man Who Wanted To Talk ToThe Driver and I were sometimes the only passengers after Ballincollig so presumably the route was costing far too much. And you can still get to Macroom, just not along our road.

No doubt the powers that be considered something as revolutionary ‘a smaller bus’. But I don’t think the patrons of a late bus would like to be crammed together in a people carrier. At that time of the night everyone wants to be alone with their thoughts, a good distance away from the other passengers. And the generous personal space afforded by the late bus was, I suppose, its downfall.
The Half-Ten Macroom Via Coachford is no more. It will be missed.

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