Ciara Kenny

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A cracked and cigarette-stained fáilte

On a recent trip back to Dublin from my home in London, I had the opportunity to view Ireland as a tourist would. The sight wasn’t pretty, writes Conn MacGabhann.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 01:00


On a recent trip back to Dublin from my home in London, I had the opportunity to view Ireland as a tourist would. The sight wasn’t pretty, writes Conn MacGabhann.

I am delighted to hear that Ireland could be the ‘Olympic getaway’ for Londoners as announced by Tourism Ireland this month. Being an Irish Londoner myself, it sounds very seductive especially as my allocation of tickets for beach volley ball never came through.

I do, alas, have a few minor quibbles with the huge advertising campaign that Tourism Ireland is embarking on. Having landed in Dublin by ferry and plane in recent months, I had the opportunity to view Ireland’s Fáilte or more accurately Dublin’s Fáilte as a tourist would. It was harrowing.

From both the ferryport and the airport, I arrived by bus at Busáras, the national hub for bus services. Its decor and mosaics are in decay not in the sense of Moscow’s magnificent and still proud underground but of a disused swimming pool in Mullingar, with the cracks, in frosted pvc fittings, shown up by tobacco stains.

I was told at the counter that they could not accept payment by card (not just mine but anyone’s). It was indeed like Moscow in the good old days, a worker’s paradise where money was no longer needed. However, I suspected that the bus driver would not see it like that and went in search of a cash machine.

The chaps milling around the concourse and waiting area seemed similarly unconcerned about money. They appeared to be in a kind of trance like state – absinthe or Conan-Doyle’s tipple, I had to assume they were some kind of artists’ collective.

Sadly, some of our foreign visitors might be forgiven for being a little concerned at their first few steps into Ireland’s gateway, Busáras. It’s so familiar to many of us living outside Dublin that it just seems a crazy Tijuana jumping on point that we take for granted. We are so used to it, so used to queuing for a bus to Cork at one gate and then finding ourselves on an all expenses paid trip to Newry, that we treat it as normal.

Every time I fly from Ireland to America and see all the enchanting adverts for Ireland I wonder how I could leave Ireland. Then I remember Kafka’s Ireland – Busáras and its crazy transport system. When I read about Minister for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring launching Tourism Ireland’s ‘Escape the Madness’ campaign for the London Underground, I can only think, ‘he hasn’t been to Busáras lately.’

Waiting outside a crackhouse in Parnell Square one morning a few days later, I was wondering does nobody think this is a wee bit odd in the middle of Dublin. I spend my working life going in and out of prisons across England and working with people with drug problems and yet it was only the joint on the top deck of the 40 bus that helped calm my concerns for the state of the country.

The smoker and the others who intermittently got on and off the bus gave me an education I’ve never had in prisons in Britain. Each of about ten people told about the reason for their early morning journeys, they spoke of addictions, their appointments, their arrests and saving up prescription ‘blues’ and ‘pinks’ for the weekend. I mentioned these experiences to friends living in Dublin and they said it was just ‘that route’ or this route. But I wondered should people have to put up with it on any route or in any area.

My recent trips to Dublin have been surreal. Huge and very visible social problems are apparent from your first step into Busáras, on the streets and on the buses but like the bus driver on the 40 and myself and the other passengers we pretend it’s not the case. Of course, there are many and greater social problems in London but I have travelled on public transport in Deptford, Brixton and Tottenham at all hours of the night without much trouble and when there is trouble it is always challenged by the driver and police.

But then in London, I have been on buses with senior cabinet members and members of the Lords. I wonder when the last time Enda Kenny got the 40 bus. When I see the ads appear on the Piccadily Line urging me to come to Ireland and ‘Escape the madness,’ I’ll hope they spared a few posters and spent the money on a lick of paint for Busáras. For now, I’d rather be in Stratford.

Conn Mac Gabhann is manager of the Traveller Project in the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain.