The first public transport system in Galway was the horse drawn tramway. It ran until World War I when the British army commandeered most of the horses. By this time motorised transport was also providing competition, and this speeded up the demise of the tram system.
The first buses ran in the streets of Galway in 1919, run by The Galway General Omnibus Company. It started with three vehicles, a 20-seater Commer single-decker, a 35-seater charabanc (probably a Lancia ), and a 49-seater Karrier double-decker with an open upper deck. All these buses were chain driven and fitted with solid tyres and they relied on carbide lamps to show the driver where he was going at night. Breakdowns were frequent; the chain coming off being the common complaint, and passengers often had to get out and push.
Philip O’Gorman and Joe Young were among the directors, John Leech was the secretary, and Joe Garvey was the manager. During its first year, the company showed a net profit of £2,000. They were the first to run buses to Ballybrit for the races. During the summer months they ran day trips to Barna, Furbo, and Spiddal. Market services operated on Saturdays from Ballyvaughan, Ballinrobe, and Maree.
One of the drivers, Martin McGrath, was stopped during the Civil War by an officer of the Free State Army, and his bus commandeered. He was forced at gunpoint to drive troop reinforcements to Limerick. Paddy Tierney, who owned a lorry, was similarly ‘conscripted’. After many detours due to blocked roads and ambush hazards, they arrived in Limerick and were billeted in Cruise’s Hotel. Despite the risk of being shot if they were caught, Paddy and Martin managed to slip through a heavy guard and drive their vehicles out of the city at midnight. They were stopped at Ennis and ordered to return. They refused so the charabanc was confiscated and was “never seen in Galway again”. The lorry was not commandeered so they were allowed to continue, but at Athenry, a Free State officer exchanged the lorry for two single rail vouchers to Galway.
All of the bodywork on these buses was built by Fahy Brothers of Forster Street. The crest on the side panels was the Arms of Galway with the company’s full name enclosed in a circle around it; the Irish version appeared in Gaelic script beneath the windows.
In August 1936, the General Omnibus Company was taken over by Great Southern Railways, later to become CIE. It started with a fleet of 15 single-decker buses, and gradually increased this number. It introduced the first double-decker on the Salthill route in 1956, and over a period of time developed other routes around the city.
Our photograph today dates from c1950 and shows a number of buses lined up at what was then the Salthill terminus at the Eglinton Hotel. It was unusual to see so many buses there, maybe they were going to ferry punters to Ballybrit, or they might have been carrying school tours. The two pubs on the right look the same today, only the names have changed — Donnellan’s is known as Lonergan’s today, and Finan’s Commercial House is now Killoran’s.
Our sincere thanks to Criostóir Mac Gearailt for all of the above information.