HANDS ON APPROACH Local Link bus driver Michael O’Haire pictured at Sweeney’s Super Valu in Achill Sound getting ready to bring shopping to those self-isolating in Achill. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Local Link transport dialysis patients in Mayo and the first group of patients have to be in the hospital by 8am so our day starts early. I would be up around half five most days but for me it is not a problem being up that early. We have been doing this service for years so we are used to being up and away in the morning.
We transport dialysis patients from all over, Swinford, Achill, Claremorris, Ballinrobe and out Louisburgh and bring them to the hospital in Castlebar. With the coronavirus, our operations have changed so much because with social distancing no more than two are allowed on the bus. In the beginning, the patients were very uncertain and insecure because they had to go into a hospital environment every day but now they are a bit more at ease with all the precautions.
All the buses have been modified with screens behind the driver and the buses are all sanitized and all the drivers wear a mask. It has been a huge difference but they are all getting used to it.
Before this, once we dropped the patients off at the hospital we used to be able to utilise the driver and the bus for other uses but not anymore. We cannot risk having cross infections anywhere. Now the bus comes home with the driver who cleans it and sanitizes it again and back again to the hospital to take them home.
All we used to do before was keep the bus clean but now door handles and anything that comes in contact with has to be sanitized. We even have to be careful with our clothes when we come home. Thankfully we had no problem with infection.
Local Link is not a mainline service where you’d leave a person off at the end of the road with two bags of shopping. We’d bring the public to their door. We had specific timetables and routes right around the county. It wasn’t just for older people - it was for everyone.
It was an excellent service and covered a huge area. Before the pandemic struck, starting off in Westport, we covered Carrowholly, Kilmeena, Newport, Glenhest, Tiernaur, Mulranny and all the way to Dooagh. That is one area and then we go all the way over to Ballyhaunis and rural areas around Kilkelly, Aghamore and around Swinford and Charlestown and rural areas which had no bus stop.
Good day out
It was a good day out. People used it every week as a means of getting out of the house and a way of chatting to all their neighbours. They’d go to town and some would spend the day shopping and others wouldn’t have much shopping. They really miss it now. A lady told me last week that she would be so happy when the bus comes back she will do a striptease for me. I’m not making that up – that’s the truth!
Early on after the virus started to arrive, I realised that it wasn’t safe bringing elderly people out on the bus. We went around to the supermarkets and the shops that our people did their shopping in and they suggested we would deliver their shopping to them.
Some of the supermarkets said they had an online facility but that was no good to the people we bring into town. Liam Campion in SuperValu in Westport was the first man I asked who followed up on our suggestion and designated a special phone-line for the shoppers. When we arrive, they wheel out the shopping with names and Eircodes on them and we deliver. Achill Tourism does it in Achill and they have it boxed and ready for us.
It is so easy for people because all they have to do is ring the number and their shopping will be with them on Tuesday or whatever day. The system is second to none.
We have ten drivers at this and we deliver to about 60 houses every day so we would be seriously busy. We might be around Westport one day, down in Achill and Newport on another day and over in Swinford, Kiltimagh and Swinford other days.
I’d have Mid West radio on in the bus when I’m going around, iRadio wouldn’t be my thing! My wife Mary also drives a bus and would listen to iRadio but I’m a Mid West type of man.
A lot of the people we deliver to have not been outside their home for weeks and are very glad to talk to you. They love to talk and hear any news you have and ask about people down the road and how they are doing. We never leave without seeing them and ensuring they are okay.
We are busy but well structured and everyone knows that we will be there at this time on that day, every week. We make sure of that. The people don’t have to worry about whether we will be coming or not … we will be there.
The work is rewarding. This is our way of paying back to the people who have travelled with us over the years. Without them we wouldn’t be on the road.
We are 23 years in the taxi business and I love what we do here. I grew up at home with the attitude if you do not like the job you are doing you should not be at it. At the moment we have ten buses working every day now, we’d have three times that amount of buses in normal times, but they are now off the road.
I did all the disco runs down through the years and that was another experience. We did all the concerts to Dublin and Slane and that sort of thing. I could tell a few stories but I won’t! I’ve always believed that what’s said on the bus stays on the bus!
I’m out seven days a week and without the support at home I couldn’t do it. My wife Mary and daughters Shannon, Jade and Natasha all support me and give 100 percent. It takes a lot of putting up with. The amount of times I have said I will be home in five minutes for the dinner and then I get a call and I mightn’t be back for three hours, that is not easy. I never give out about my job though. I love what we do here and that is what makes it easier.
In conversation with Anton McNulty
If money was no object what would you do all day?
I don’t think at this stage I would do anything different and I’d stay on the buses. The buses keep me young
When Covid-19 concludes what will be the first thing you will do?
I am going to breath easy. I will be very happy when it’s all over
Favourite place in the world?
I don’t have to think about this one … my home
What makes you angry?
It takes a good bit but what upsets me more than makes me angry is people who don’t understand and make our job hard … bureaucracy basically!
Three things that are always in your fridge?
Milk, cheese and chicken
Most prized possession?
My wife Mary
What is the most unusual thing you have eaten?
I was in France once and I tried to eat snails, I tried!
Three celebrity guests you would have at your Zoom dinner party?
If Big Tom was alive, I would have brought him, and the next one would be Louise Morrissey and Conal Gallen
Tell us something we don’t know about yourself?
I’m a real worrier but nobody knows it. People say to me that I never worry and I’m as cool as a breeze but that is not me, I would panic inwardly - I try not to hide it!
Who was your first hero?
Seán Lemass, a man I admire for many reasons