The Erne Bus Service, based in Enniskillen and providing a service from Clones and Cootehill to Bundoran, was founded in 1929 by my father, Maurice Cassidy, who came from Letterbreen Co Fermanagh. He left home in 1909 to take up a scholarship at a teacher training college in Dublin but was dismissed from college on his first day there because he could not sing. Ashamed to go back home, he shipped out to Glasgow and got work as a conductor on the Glasgow trams. He then worked his passage as a steward on a ship to New York and jumped ship there. He remained in New York till 1928 working as a tram and taxi driver. He also dabbled a little in illicit distilling and liquor transporting during prohibition which once resulted in his spending a night in jail in Mexico. In 1929 he lost most of his savings in the Wall Street Crash and returned to Ireland with only a little money and a dream of opening up the country roads with a bus service.
Getting the Chevrolet down the lane
His first bus was a second hand Chevrolet bought in England and shipped over to Ireland. He was licensed to provide a service from Enniskillen to Bundoran via Derrygonnelly. His family were astonished at this ambitious plan. His Aunt Anne, an old woman who could remember the famine, was on her deathbed as they waited for the bus to arrive from England and her dying words were: "How Maurice is going to get the bus down the lane?"
Freedom to Roam
The country people were delighted with the new bus service. My mother lived at Leg, near Roscor, on the Enniskillen Bundoran route and remembers the day her mother mustered the courage to put up her hand and stop the bus at their front door. She returned later, thrilled with the new freedom and independence of being to go to Ballyshannon and Bundoran without having to wait for a man to harness a horse into a trap, and all for half a crown return fare. Her neighbour Mrs Morrow gave her opinion more bluntly: "Wouldn't you rather pay half a crown and ride in comfort than to be out in the rain with a horse farting in your face."
As my father could not provide an adequate service with one bus he borrowed money from his brother with which he bought two Black Marias which were painted cream. Passengers were often brought on the outward journey on the bus and brought home in the Black Marias. My mother remembers returning from a Twelfth of July outing to Lisbellaw in the early thirties in a Black Maria and hearing one man complain "They brought us out on a bus and home in a chicken coop". She also remembers seeing the bus at Christmas, festooned with Christmas decorations on the insides of the windows.
My father did very thorough book-keeping and left record books which show that the cost of running a bus during the early thirties averaged 3d per mile. He started a Dublin express service for ten shillings return which could make the trip faster than the train. This was the first Enniskillen-Dublin Road Express since Bianconi's coaches. An old bearded man once got on the bus near Lisbellaw to go to Bundoran and told my father that he remembered the Royal Mail passing that way with six horses in front and two red-coats armed with blunderbusses on the back.
High Noon on the King's Highway
In the early thirties there were several bus companies operating in Fermanagh, notably Hezekiah Appelby's and Clarke's. Clarke's was the largest company and was determined to put the newer companies out of business. Clarke drivers had orders that when they met a bus from a rival company they were to run it off the road. Hezekiah Appelby whose service ran from Belcoo to Bundoran gave up after a few years and went into the taxi business. The Erne buses however kept going and when a Clarke bus met an Erne bus on the road they played chicken, with one bus winding up in the ditch, much to the delight of the passengers on the winning bus. There were no serious injuries during these episodes as the buses were built of wooden and aluminium sheets over wooden frames and absorbed most of the impact.