THE former bus driver who was banned from driving the bus dressed as Santa made a victorious return to his old route for some unfinished business.
Michael Howick rose to fame four years ago after his traditional festive costume was banned by Bus Éireann.
Despite having retired since, Mick longed for one last Santa run on the 214 route with the passengers he’d grown so fond of. His local fame reached stratospheric levels after the costume ban made national headlines back in 2014. Passengers on the route — linking Cork city to Bishopstown — even went as far as organising a protest on his route as a show of support. The demonstration was subsequently televised on RTÉ News and, of course, graced the pages of the Evening Echo.
Mick’s old passengers were overcome with emotion after recognising their old friend, who had been employed by Bus Éireann for 45 years.
“Santa’s little helper” and former colleague TJ Collins joined him for the happy event.
“It’s nice to see the old faces again,” Mick said.
“I remember being very disappointed after being told I could no longer wear the costume. It had been an amazing time of my life. I used to buy lollipops out of my own money for the passengers getting on.
“The Santa costume always got a great reaction. Passengers were constantly photographing me with their phones. It made my work day so much more enjoyable. I found the time passed a lot more quickly. My sister lives all the way in Clare but still spotted the story in the paper. Her words to me were “only you Mick!”
Mick is still keen to see the ban lifted so other drivers can adopt the tradition.
“I’d like to see every bus driver dressed as Santa this time of year,” he said.
Mick praised his old friend and colleague TJ for helping make Santa’s “comeback” a reality.
“My old costume was somewhere in the attic but I wasn’t able to locate it,” Mick said.
“I bought a new one in town but discovered there was no beard with the costume a few minutes before the bus arrived. TJ saved the day after rushing to buy me one in a nearby shop.”
Passenger Anna Marie O’Shea from Togher who set up a Facebook page to have the ban lifted in 2014 spoke of the outpouring of love and support for Mick on her regular route.
“There was an unbelievable reaction on the Facebook page. We were getting messages from as far away as Canada. I don’t know why Bus Éireann won’t allow Santa costumes. They claim it’s health and safety. However, Dublin Bus do it so I don’t see why it can’t be done here too.”
Santa’s appearance gave a lift to Mick’s former passengers, some of whom find Christmas difficult.
“My wife Jacqueline and I would have been 40 years married on St Stephen’s Day so Christmas is difficult for me,” Donal Murphy said.
“We married in 1978 and renewed our vows in 1996. If she was alive we would still be married today. Jacqueline was everything to me.”
The Togher man expressed his joy at seeing Mick again.
“He was a really great bus driver,” he added.
Meanwhile, three-year-old Emily Belle McCarthy from Wilton was thrilled to receive some chocolate treats from “Santa.”
However, her dad Trevor said her biggest present this year won’t be coming from St Nick.
“She’s going to have a new baby sister or brother this June, but we’re keeping that a surprise,” he revealed.
“On Christmas Day we plan to roll up the scan and tie it with a ribbon. When she opens it we’ll explain that it’s a picture of her new brother or sister.”
Trevor confessed he is unsure what her reaction will be.
“She has said before that she wouldn’t like a brother or sister, but hopefully she’ll feel differently on the day.”