Roddy L’Estrange: Blinking lights and other revelations for Vinny

Trip to annual outdoor mass offers a chance for bus driver to unwind

‘For those of you who aren’t able to come up and receive Holy Communion, please turn on your hazard lights, and we’ll come to you.”

At that, Vinny Fitzpatrick suppressed a giggle. "It's all about the service," he thought.

Vinny had just completed the loop of Lady’s Island, a spit of land reaching out towards the sea in Wexford’s south-east corner.

He felt invigorated for he loved the sea breezes, the salty tang and cry of curlew. As Betjeman penned it in his wondrous poem Seaside Golf, there was "splendour, splendour everywhere".


The Sunday afternoon was pleasantly warm and he’d thought about indulging in a ‘99’ only to be reminded of the messy events of week ago.

Even so, the burly busman felt a sense of inner well-being, which was uncommon for he wasn’t the character who dived inside himself to look around.

The pilgrim’s walk had taken 30 minutes and while he was on his own, he never felt alone.

Every fifty paces or so, he was brought up to date by judiciously placed tannoys with events on the high altar where open-air Mass was in full oratorical flow.

The attendance was strong and coaches from Clonakilty, Castlecomer and Birr were in position when the final bus, driven by Vinny, nosed its way on to the grass sward, a little way back from the raised altar.

“We’ve just time for a warm-up,” he said breezily as he opened the doors to allow his passengers alight.

They were all of blue-rinse vintage, and long-standing members of the Legion of Mary from Donnycarney, who had been hiring a bus from Clontarf garage for the annual outdoor Mass on Lady Island's for donkey's years.

It was a day return, broken by a pit stop in Ferns for soup and sambos on the way down; and fish n’chips on the way back. And this July Sunday, Vinny was on the driver’s rota.

He could have pulled a sickie but Angie had twisted his arm.

“A break from the city will do you good love,” said Angie. “You’ve been getting all worked up lately over trivial things and need to chill.”

Vinny knew his better half was right. He had been scorpy of late and had also long since kicked religion into touch. He only bothered to go to church now on Christmas Day, and for funerals.

As he heard the lark song over-head and felt the breeze on his chubby cheeks, he was glad he’d come.

He liked the setting, the ruined church set among whispering groves where Rosary beads were draped on branches in memory of lost loves.

"Faith," he thought, "comes in many ways. For me, it's the Dubs, Everton, Bohs and Ruby Walsh. For the worshippers here, it's about prayer, God, the Blessed Virgin and the third glorious mystery."

Vinny felt Jackie Jameson was the closest thing to God he'd come across on a football pitch and reckoned the late Jackie would have loved the lush lawn which fronted the church ruins.

As he completed his circuit, he slipped quietly back on the bus where he spied a sole passenger down the back. She was white-haired, tiny and had her eyes closed as she clasped bony hands around her beads.

Vinny tapped her lightly on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said gently. “Would you like to receive Communion on the bus? They will bring the host to you, if it suits.”

The Legion veteran opened her eyes and nodded. “That would be great, thank you. God bless you son.”

Vinny quickly switched on his hazard lights, and flashed his headlights for good measure, to be sure his bus wasn’t overlooked in the Holy Communion sweep.

After a few minutes, he saw the priest, clad in a fine white surplice, descend from the altar and look out beyond the congregation. There were about a dozen cars with their hazards on, behind which were a row of buses, all blinking too.

Vinny called out to his passenger. “It will be a few minutes before the priest gets to us Ma’am,” he said.

In reply, a reedy voice rasped, “I’ve got all the time in the world, my son.”

Vinny let a smile cross his fat face. “She’s a bit of a character,” he thought.

At that, he settled himself into his cabin seat. He felt content and a little drowsy which was natural after his ambulation around the peninsula. “I’m glad I made it to this peaceful place,” he thought.

It took the priest longer than anticipated to arrive at Vinny’s chariot for he tarried to have a quiet word with his flock, many of whom had come a fair distance to attend the Mass.

As he alighted the bus, apologising for his lateness, he heard a woman’s voice call out. “I’m down the back, Father.”

After the priest offered Communion, and passed on his blessings, he made a note to remind the driver to turn off his hazards, which were flashing forlornly towards the altar.

“Driver,” he said, tapping on the cabin window. At that, the priest stopped.

Vinny was slumped forward; his large hairless head lay against the steering wheel. His pallor was grey and he was unconscious.

In the silence of Lady’s Island, all that could be heard was the tick-tock of the hazard lights.