If I ever start buying lotto tickets, the number 424 would have to feature in some form. No, it’s not my lucky number, nor someone’s birthday or anniversary, but it is the number of the bus route that serves this area of Connemara.

The 424 Bus Eireann bus travels from Galway city to Carraroe and Lettermore seven days a week. Living in rural Ireland, a regular bus service is a game changer and this bus has always run every hour or hour and a half from 7am to 6pm. But then the magic happened and they introduced a bus at 7pm, 9pm and (be still my beating heart) one at 11:15pm. It is not an exaggeration to say that this has had a major impact on my social life.

The simple joy of hopping on a bus at 6pm, meeting friends for dinner with a glass of wine and getting a bus back at 11:15pm is fantastic. I’ve been to live concerts, exhibitions and theater, both in the city and along the route in Spiddal and Furbo. I now look at things going on in the evening and know I can go without battling Galway traffic, searching for parking and - if I’m so inclined - I can have a drink.

I love sitting on the bus and seeing people of all ages dressed up and dressed down going out, coming home or going to work. It’s a very friendly bus - from the “Dia Duit” when you get on, to the “Go raibh míle” when you get off - the dominant language is Irish and I love sitting there; enjoying hearing it spoken naturally as a first language. I see people get on and go to the next village (I imagine for a few pints). For some, this may be their only social interaction.

Yes, we can say it should not focus on the pub and alcohol - but they may well sit there nursing the one drink while having the craic or a game of cards.

It’s also a godsend for parents who have teens working part-time jobs in the various restaurants along the route and in Galway. Now, instead of having to drive them into town, they can go a few minutes up the road to meet the bus. As a parent who has spent many a night driving the highways and byways picking up and dropping off teens, I’d have loved this.

The beauty of this bus route is its fluid stops. Officially, there are 12 stops between Galway city and Rossaveal. Sometimes it has stopped twelve times before it even gets to Spiddal, though, as it stops at the head of this or that side road. I tried to explain this concept to a French student I currently have staying with me. It taxed her English and my French to explain that she could ask the driver to stop at the head of our road. I eventually had to text her the stop to show the driver, as there was a total breakdown of communication between them.

When she got off, she was perturbed at the difference between the stop routes she had carefully downloaded and what had actually happened. Notwithstanding her and other tourists’ bewilderment, the convenience of asking a driver to stop anywhere along the route and getting off with a wave and a “Go raibh míle” is so brilliant.

Whenever I mention the 424 to others, I am greeted with, “Oh, I wish we had that.”

Rural transport is the missing jigsaw piece in making rural areas accessible and minimizing our car dependency. I have to admit: I don’t use the bus to go to Galway during the day regularly. I have done it a few times and it definitely takes more planning and is not as easy as hopping in the car, but with the climate crisis it’s something I need to embrace more.

The 424 - which is jam-packed many an evening - is a good example of ‘build it and they will come’. Over to you, Department of Transport.

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