Paul Healy’s Week – 21st October 2016

Planning to visit the Beacon Hospital recently, I knew one thing for certain: I would not be driving there.

  I’ve developed a phobia about busy motorways, intimidating bridges, long tunnels (and Brendan Howlin).

  My excursion from Roscommon provided me with a first proper insight into the wonders of Luas.

  When I lived in Dublin many years ago – back in the black and white days – there was no such thing as Luas, just a lack of taxis…and plenty of dreary, yellow buses, driven in those days by either salt-of-the-earth Dubs or streetwise culchies.

  The other day, I started my journey with a train trip to Heuston Station. Back in the 1980s, and indeed up to more recently, travelling by train was often an unpleasant experience. Trains in Ireland tended to be dirty, inadequate, not to mention late. Even up to ten or fifteen years ago, when Seamus Duke was hosting his current affairs show on Shannonside – correctly diagnosing that “we’re on the hind tit here in Roscommon” – Iarnród Éireann troubleshooter Barry Kenny was a guest so often he was as well to move into the studio. Invariably, Kenny’s solemn duty was to explain away the latest complaint from a disgruntled rail traveller from out west.

  Happily, to quote from that old television favourite The Incredible Hulk, a startling metamorphosis has occurred, and these days, travelling on Irish trains is a pleasure. Barry doesn’t call or write anymore. There’s no need to. Rail travel is back in fashion and it’s great.

  Boarding the train, I was going to bring a few gadgets with me, so as not to be exposed as a dinosaur by other passengers….with their tablets, ipads, iPhones and earplugs. But in the end, I stayed loyal to tradition, and bought an actual newspaper. The middle-aged man in front of me stayed engrossed in his tablet for the whole journey, but a young woman across from me actually had an Irish Times. A middle-aged west of Ireland woman chatted to two foreign tourists about their time in Ireland. She apologised for all the rain.

  “Rain, rain, rain. Our summer? Oh, it can rain in the summer too. That’s what you get when you’re an island. We’re surrounded by water. It’s lovely today, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to rain.”

  Forced to explain the mad Irish weather to strangers, tormented like the rest of us by it all, she smiled and raised her eyebrows, before reassuring herself and the tourists that the rain would surely come later in the day. Any time we’ve been in ‘the city’ over the years, we’ve gone for the taxi option, never even contemplating joining the bus/Luas population. Isn’t that latter world only for Dublin residents who know their way around the place?

  But, reckoning that a taxi to ‘the Beacon’ and back would be very costly, I decided on arrival at Heuston Station that this was the day I would exit my ‘comfort zone’ – and step into the strange world of buses and trams.

  A Luas jaunt into Abbey Street was followed by the short walk to O’Connell Street. I probably haven’t been on a bus in Dublin since I was a kid – I can now reveal they don’t accept notes any more! ‘Ask a passenger if they have change’ the driver advised when I discovered I had no coins. An old lady obliged.

  I got sitting beside a man who, having witnessed my attempt to pay with a fiver, probably thought I was from the Dark Ages. No point in telling him I used to live in Dublin, I suppose.

  It was only when I eventually got to Sandyford that I realised there’s a Luas stop there. I was on a voyage of discovery. So, an hour or two later, when it was time to return to the city centre, I became a 21st Century traveller. I’ve been on the Luas before, but now I actually understand the routes and all that goes with it! Happily lacking the intense, claustrophobia-like feeling you get on the London underground or New York subway, the Luas is really excellent.

  There were about twelve people in immediate proximity to me, and seven or eight of them were on their mobiles. Two foreign nurses, presumably just finished work in the Beacon, stood a few feet away, one of them reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t know how she got on with it because she got off at Kilmacud. One young woman who was talking non-stop to two friends suddenly took a call. She proceeded to tell the caller that she had already got a job, but one of her friends might be available.

  ‘They want someone to start straight away!’

  Back at Heuston Station, the various staff are so friendly they can only be great ambassadors for the country. The barman was so friendly it seemed only courteous to have a cold Dublin pint of Guinness before hopping on the train home. Total cost of train trip, bus to Sandyford and two Luas journeys was less than €37.

 There’s no moral to my story whatsoever, except perhaps that public transport is good value – and Fifty Shades of Grey is still big in Kilmacud.