From trams to buses

When the Galway-Salthill Tramway ceased trading in 1918, it caused a problem for locals who had been using the service as public transport so a group of local businessmen came together on April 5, 1919 to register The Galway General Omnibus Company Limited as a public company. The directors were Thomas McDonough, Joe Young, Robert Mackie, Michael Crowley, Philip O’Gorman, Martin Hynes and Martin Finan. John Leech was the secretary and Joseph Garvey the manager.

Their registered offices and garage were at Victoria Place. The garage was a rectangular shed with two annexes, one of which was used as a workshop with an inspection pit and work benches. Their rolling stock on opening consisted of three vehicles, a double-decker Commer bus with seating for 48 people, an open top Karrier double-decker bus with 49 seats, and a single decker for winter service to Salthill. All of them were chain driven, were fitted with solid tyres and had carbide lamps for night driving. There were regular breakdowns, mostly involving the chain coming off, and passengers often had to get out and push the vehicle. The body work on the buses was all done by Fahy Coachbuilders who were based in Forster Street.

Michael Joyce, the father of William Joyce also known as Lord Haw Haw, managed the company from 1920 to 1924. In 1924, a bus went on fire in the garage, but prompt action by Michael got it out on to the street and greatly limited the damage. During the War of Independence, two of the buses were commandeered by the Auxiliaries and never returned, and during the Civil War, another vehicle was taken from them by the Free State Army.

In 1924, they added ‘a bus of a sumptuous pattern’ to the fleet. Special buses were run for all kinds of reasons, a 1928 advert tells us that “The GGOC will run buses to and from the circus from all their routes”: they ran buses to Renmore for greyhound coursing, to College Road for greyhound racing and they even had a special ‘Picture Bus’ to take filmgoers from the city out to Salthill at night at the end of the last house in the cinemas. They ran Saturday services to Galway Market from areas such as Maree, Ballinrobe and Ballyvaughan, and they introduced a special service to Ballybrit on race days. An advertisement in the Connacht Tribune told us: "A Galway omnibus will wait outside St Ignatius' Church at the conclusion of 9 o’clock Mass on Sunday to take the Galway Golf Club team to Castlerea."

The price of a special service to the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 was 15 shillings. "A comfortable motor coach will leave Salthill at 5.30am and Eyre Square at 5.45am for Dublin arriving at Phoenix Park (Chapelizod Gate ) about 11am, the majority of passengers to decide the hour and place of departure for return journey."

Among the drivers they employed were Martin McGrath, Patrick Cotter, Gerald Lally, John Cummins, Gerald O’Loughlin, Patrick Coyne, Patrick Tuohy and Joseph O’Loughlin. Conductors included Hyacinth Darcy, Patrick Lally, Thomas Coen, Charles Gilbert, and Martin Kelly. Patrick Sweeney was the mechanic, the fitter’s helper was Michael O’Neill, and the spare washer/driver was Patrick McLoughlin.

During the year 1934, their vehicles completed 39,786 journeys and carried 476,033 passengers between Galway and Salthill. In 1936, they were operating profitably but, in spite of many local objections, were taken over by Great Southern railways in 1936. In the early days of buses going to Salthill, all one had to do was wave a hand and the bus would stop. Later, when GSR took over, they painted bus signs on the road. These eventually wore away with weather, etc, but everybody knew where they were and would congregate as normal. Tourists, however, were not privy to this information and buses would often pass them out, so CIE (who had taken over GSR ) had small signs made and these were nailed on to ESB poles. It was in the late fifties that bus stops were introduced.

Bus users in the fifties will remember with affection Christy Gilbert and Hyacinth Darcy working as conductors on the Renmore and Mervue services, and Peter Flood and Jimmy Mulrooney doing likewise on the Salthill route.

Our first photograph is of the Karrier double-decker bus taken in 1924; the other image is of driver Martin McGrath beside the first bus in the fleet to have pneumatic tyres fitted, and was taken in 1928. Most of the above information was taken from Michael J Hurley’s book, The Story of the Galway General Omnibus Company Limited.


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