Recollections of the Erne Bus


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Johnny Goan

The most notorious Clarke driver was Johnny Goan (nicknamed Johnny Goin' Goin' Gone) who ran Erne buses into the ditch several times before my father solved the problem by offering him higher wages to come and work for him. Johnny Goan remained a leading personality on the Erne Bus Service until it was compulsorily acquired by the Ulster Transport Authority in 1957.


Bringing home the chassis

He was a small, stout man who could whistle and sing to entertain passengers.  One of his most arduous jobs was to drive each new Leyland bus chassis from Belfast. In the early days only the new chassis was bought from England and the body was built in Ireland. Magee's coachworks in Irvinestown built several bus bodies. My cousin Jimmy Murphy also built bus bodies during the war years. As driving a chassis was a very cold job Johnny had to stop at each town between Belfast and Enniskillen  to warm himself up with some whiskey. He always arrived in Enniskillen very drunk and was laid up for a couple of days after with "a bad cold".   As there was not much road traffic at the time he was never caught drunk driving. He and my father remained good friends always and it was Johnny who was at my father's bedside, holding his hand, when he died in 1967.


Tax Avoidance Scheme

Buses had to be registered separately in Northern Ireland and in the Freestate, with considerable taxes to be paid in both jurisdictions. When DeValera's government introduced tax concessions for buses assembled in the Republic of Ireland, my father took advantage of this by having each new bus dismantled at the border and brought across in bits and pieces to be re-assembled in the Freestate. One of these dismantled buses was transported to a garage beside Sweeney's Hotel in the Port in Ballyshannon to be reassembled. All went well till the job was finished and then they found that the bus was too big to get out through the garage door! They had to toss the front of the garage to get it out.


The War/Emergency

During the War Years the bus service boomed because very few people could obtain petrol or even rubber parts for cars. There were special concessions for buses but my father had to keep a car for bus inspection on each side of the border at one stage because he was not allowed to drive a Freestate car into the north or a Northern one into the south because petrol rationing was so strict. Later that rule was relaxed.


Saving Fuel and Keeping Sober

Special instructions had to be issued during war rationing to drivers not to let the engine run when they let passengers off to do errands or collect shopping as this wasted fuel. It was routine for country women to shop in Ballyshannon, take a later bus on to Bundoran and then, on their way home, make the bus wait in Ballyshannon while they picked up their shopping. This often took up till half an hour and on a fair day the bus had to wait to gather all the men from the pubs. As the driver usually took responsibility for rounding up the men he was sometimes less than sober by the time the bus took off again. One such incident happened after a Belleek fair. I remember my father having to take out a second bus because the bus from Bundoran had gone over a ditch at a place called "The Sandy Garden" when the driver, Hughie Quinn fell asleep at the wheel. Nobody was hurt. Hughie was sacked but was reinstated a few days later when his wife gave my father a good telling off, declaring  "A man must have his drink."



Smuggling was a way of life in the war years. Once a bus, complete with passengers, was impounded by  British customs because the driver was smuggling a box of nails from the North. They were held till my father paid 50 for their release. Demand for bus seats to Bundoran was so great in summertime that maids were often sent as early as ten o'clock to the bus garage to sit all morning on a Bundorn bus seat and hold it for her mistress who would then take the seat when the bus came up to the Diamond at one'clock.


The love interest

My father wooed my mother on the Bundoran route, bringing her sweets at first and then progressing to a present of a gold watch, the first watch in my mother's family. He tried to ingratiate himself with my mother's father, a loyal orangeman who had no intention of letting a Catholic marry his daughter, and once stopped the bus to offer him a lift when he was driving a sow on the road. My grandfather accepted and hauled the sow on board.



My mother's family used Lough Erne, which was just across the road, as a bathroom. She and her sister were once down there having a bath in readiness for going to Bundoran when the bus arrived. Someone at the house waved it down for them and all on board were regaled with the sigh of the girls having to skulk back into the house to get dressed. Naturally the bus waited till they were ready.



n the late 1930's my father persuaded my mother to come to the London Motor Show with him to look at buses. She set off from home on her bicycle with her suitcase on the carrier, pretending she was visiting her brother in Brookborough. When she and my father had looked enough at buses in London they went on to Paris where they went to the Follies Bergeres and my mother saw the most appallingly sinful show on earth. A week later she arrived back home on her bicycle and told what a nice time she'd had in Brookborough. There followed an elopement in 1940 and marriage in the Rock Chapel Ballyshannon.



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