SITTING on the Youghal Community ‘Fun Bus’ for just 15 minutes is a tonic when people start to tell you things.
They tell you crap jokes.
They tell you they once scored a goal for Cork when they were ace footballers.
They tell you about their gout and their heart problems.
And they tell you just how much they value and love the ‘fun bus’.
“If I couldn’t get on the bus, I’d be a prisoner in my own home.”
“I’d be knackered if I couldn’t get the bus, get to Aldi or get to the bookies.”
Chris O'Connell, the assistant on the Youghal Community Bus, which is marking its tenth anniversary, loves his job.
“The people on the bus put me in a good mood every single day I meet them,” says Youghal man Chris, who dressed up as a woman to take part in the Cork virtual mini-marathon last year.
“ I raised funds for the bus by going up and down the town of Youghal, ending up at Lidl, one of our generous sponsors,” says Chris.
“The response was great. I was like a child running up and down the town!”
In high heels?
“No,” says Chris, smiling. “I had my runners on. I did my own mini-marathon! People commented on my calves! I got lots of compliments. It was great cráic!”
The cráic on the fun bus is great too.
“I often have to help people on and off the bus,” says Chris.
“And I assist them carrying their shopping home, helping them into their homes. They say that’s the only ‘cuddle’ they get all day! We enjoy the banter.
“The people on the bus all know each other and the group is like our own little social club. We swap jokes and tell stories and we have a really fun time.”
Chris has made life-long friends on the fun bus since he began working on it through a Secad scheme in 2019, and now as a volunteer.
“It’s good for my health and for my mental health,” he says. “I’ve met really nice people.”
He’s lost some nice people along the way.
“Of course, we miss all those who have sadly passed,” says Chris, “including Lesley Cullinane, a former director of Youghal Community Bus, who tragically died last year at a young age. We all miss Lesley.”
Where do the passengers on the bus go when they are picked up at their door?
“A lot of them go shopping to do their weekly shop,” says Chris.
“One or two may want to go to the GP or pick up a prescription at the chemist. Often people visit a friend or relative and go for a cup of coffee or some lunch.
“They call us during the week to book in and we collect them at their door and drop them back again to their door. They say they enjoyed a lovely day out.”
How did the fun bus get going?
“Ten years ago, Tony Phelan, a former director, broached the idea of a community bus,” says Michael Beecher, present director and former member of Youghal Town Council.
“Tony had a son with a disability and the bus was Tony’s brainchild. We thought it was a great idea.
"Youghal is full of housing estates and it is full of hills. Older people or those with a disability may find it difficult to get in and out of town.
“Getting the community bus on the road seemed like a great opportunity to address any issues like this for people.”
The community bus is a bus for the people.
“The bus belongs to the people of Youghal,” says Michael. “They contribute towards a fare and those contributions help run the bus.
“Youghal businesses have been really generous with sponsorship over the years. We’ve kept the bus running because of their amazing generosity.”
Everybody benefits because of the fun bus.
“People who come on the bus for work experience really enjoy it,” says Michael. “And it gives them a great understanding of dealing with people and an appreciation of life.”
Shy people come out of their shell.
“You might get shy lads on board,” says Michael. “That soon changes!”
Covid didn’t stop the fun bus either.
“We had half passenger capacity and the driver and assistant were screened off. Sanitiser was used upon boarding the bus.
“Some people were terrified and didn’t travel on the bus during Covid; unfortunately, they were more isolated as a result. But now, things are returning to normal.”
The fun bus is back — and so is the craic.
“The jolliness on the bus is back big time,” says Michael. “Our regulars have become members. They sign an application form to become a member.”
How is one eligible to join the ‘jolly club’?
“People over 60 can apply and people with a disability or with mobility issues can apply to become a member,” says Michael. “The bus is for the people of Youghal. It belongs to them.”
Was he always a member of the ‘jolly club’?
“I was in the coal business,” says Michael. “Then I got a health scare and had to change tack.” But he never took a back seat.
“I was voted in to the town council numerous times over the years,” says Michael. “Being involved in community affairs is great.”
The camaraderie on the fun bus is great.
“People get a great kick out of the sociability it,” says Michael.
Everyone gets on board.
“We have a wonderful committee,” says Michael. “Tony is still with us as PR. We miss Lesley Cullinane. She was a great lady. It was such a shock to all of us when she died last summer.”
Michael, like the fun bus, is still going strong.
“Aboard the bus, we have a great bit of fun,” he says.
“We sing songs, and tell yarns, some of which I can’t repeat! There’s a lot of double-meaning involved.”
Please tell me one of those stories.
“When we meet again maybe,” says Michael conspiratorially. He adds: “Things are returning to normal. The bus is up and running every day. Now we are 10 years old, we are seeking charity status and hope to expand our services offering wheelchair access to facilitate wheel-chair users.”
Michael and his crew are proud of the bus that provides a great service and sociability.
“The service is unique to Youghal,” says Michael.
“We are all friends and we are all delighted to have the bus on the road.”
Margaret Carey, one of the bus regulars, said: “I use the bus on Thursdays to go into town. It is a pleasure to get on it. It is so handy because I don’t drive and I don’t want to keep asking my husband to drive me. We all help each other out on the bus. I’ve known all the drivers since I began using it when I was 60. I’m 69 now! They were all lovely. We have great fun and a good laugh. It is a community bus.
“I know a man who lived in the UK since the 1950s. When he came back to Youghal; he saw so many changes. The driver on the Community Bus took him all around the town pointing out new businesses and new places. The man was delighted!”