Pat and Alan Donnelly with TFI Local Link Longford Westmeath Roscommon manager Damien O’Neill and the brand new bus ready to take up service to Longford
The 865 Granard to Longford service has been running since 1927, with three generations of the same family behind the wheel - The Donnelly Pioneer Bus service, based at Carragh, Granard.
“We started the run in 1927 running from Cavan to Longford and then were based in Longford running to Cavan eventually we settled in Granard and operated both ways. We never stopped the run in all those years except for the year of the big snow in 1947.”
Pat Donnelly has a photocopy of a photograph showing his family’s trusted bus trying to gallantly force its way through a bank of snow that was as high as the windshield.
That year Arctic winds pounded the island followed by the most powerful blizzard recorded. The temperature rarely rose above freezing and snow fell in thirty of the fifty days between January 24 and St Patrick’s Day “At least we tried to get the bus out,” smiles Pat.
The fully accessible new bus, with low floor access that sits in Donnelly’s yard waiting to take up its new role as the 865, is a significant investment for the family business.
“Local Link is crucial for firms like ours. This run, that has served the area since 1927, was at risk five years ago of never running again. Local Link Longford Westmeath Roscommon stepped in and saved it; we had to tender for the service and thankfully we won it,” explains Pat.
The 865 offers three services daily between Granard and Longford 6 days a week; and also connects the two towns with evening services on Friday and Saturdays.
It travels through Brown's Cross, Willowsbrook, Ballinalee, Esker Cross, Enybegs, Killeter Cross before landing in Longford town where stops include the train station and stops proximate to the retail areas of the town centre.
“I left school at sixteen,” says Pat, “to join my father working on the buses, when he passed away, my brother and I joined our mother in running the business. This is the third generation operating Donnelly’s Pioneer Bus Service.”
Down through the years their buses have carried people between Longford town and Cavan town and served their rural community delivering agricultural stock, tools and even chicks from the market towns into their hinterlands.
“Donnellys have, in the face of a global pandemic, invested in this route and bought a new bus,” says Damien O’Neill, Manager of Local Link LWR.
“Rural Transport is so important to rural communities. It gives them independence and connects the communities to their nearest market Town and also to national transport links operated by Iarnrod Eireann and Bus Eireann.
We work closely with all our operators to provide affordable accessible public transport and we appreciate the amazing work they have been doing especially since the pandemic hit.
“Our operators are a crucial link in rural areas and they have not missed a single day of operation. We have had to change how we do things and many of our operators are now shuttling groceries home to our passengers to support their decision to shield from Covid-19 and stay at home.
Since we have moved to level 5, our capacity has reduced to 25 percent to create significant social distancing for the safety of our passengers and drivers.
A link between Granard and Longford, as provided by the 865, is an important rural service and it's great to see this new bus out on the road.”