I think back to when I was aged 9 – about 1964 in Dublin, Ireland. It would have been late June that year and we were all thrilled as it was going to be our first summer holiday as a family together. Despite being an under-salaried academic at a well-known institution, my father (as I learned years later) had somehow managed to find the money to pay for a fortnight’s break by the sea in the Fingal region of north County Dublin. He had rented a ramshackle bungalow tucked in behind the sand dunes on the South Strand of Rush beach and there we spent a memorable vacation by the sea.
But although my parents’ frugality had ensured we could enjoy such a rare treat as a holiday and all was going well in terms of preparation and packing our cases for the trip, we had a problem. We did not possess a car and a taxi was out of the question as it would have been far too expensive. There was however public transportation in the form of one bus to take us from where we lived in the Fitzwilliam area on the south side of Dublin to the city centre and then another second bus - a number 33 - to go from there to Rush but it would have been quite an ordeal carrying our heavy cases, buckets and spades plus other belongings for our summer vacation by means of 2 buses on this planned expedition of ours. There was a train service but the route served was not a convenient one.
At the last moment, the French wife of an old university friend of my father’s generously offered to drive us to Rush in her car – I remember it well, a large Fiat saloon.
On the day in question, we set off from home in great excitement and in no time we were navigating the city centre via Grafton Street and preparing to cross the Liffey. But disaster struck. As we neared O’Connell Bridge, the car began to sputter alarmingly and then conked out on the Bridge itself. We were holding up traffic and in a panic trying to work out what to do next. The car could not be restarted and an irate queue of motorists was building up behind us. A quickly-convened war conference in the marooned Fiat decided that the only course of action for the Mackey family was to take the 33 bus which at this stage was not far off from where we were broken-down on O’Connell Bridge to the bus terminus on Eden Quay – a mere 300 yards away. But there was another wee problem: our baggage. In the end we had no choice. My parents, sister and myself had to haul all our belongings from the boot of the stricken vehicle and somehow we managed to cart it all along the quays by the River Liffey and then onto the next bus for Rush. In those days, a double decker bus in Dublin was run by CIE/Corus Iompar Eireann/Irish Transport Company between the city quays and Skerries, a seaside town located just a few miles north of Rush. Fortunately, there was ample storage space at the base of the stairwell of the double-decker to take all our cases and other possessions - this was where the conductor normally stood 'at rest' while travelling on the moving bus. And don't forget, double decker buses were 'open' in those days in the sense that there was no (automatic) door to permit the entrance and exit of passengers as in modern means of transportation.
Whether planned or not, we were now on a bus scheduled to take us very close to our destination, the seaside village of Rush. Rush, with its vast North and South Strands where the sandy beach stretched for ever and ever to the distant sea. And then wasn't there the Smuggler's Cave, the ruined church built by shipwrecked French sailors in the 13th century with a haunted graveyard, those weird rocks near the seashore with their eye-catching zigzag lines brought about by some ancient geological forces that bent the earth, those stark Martello Towers still standing guard against the invading force of Napoleon, the windmills, the endless areas under cultivation where tomatoes seemed to be the most popular of produce grown, the ruined Knight's Templar headquarters of Baldungan Castle, the majestic island of Lambay lying just a few miles offshore, the Roman settlement on the Drumanagh headland, the old copper mine near the fishing village of Loughshinny and the cultivated estate and private residence of renown called the Kenure Demesne.
But what I have always remembered from that time nearly 50 years ago is that a bus, the number 33 was our life-saver on that June afternoon as it transported us to take us on holiday filled with happiness for our family and into a magical universe of adventure and discovery that my brain continues to feast upon even as I approach my dotage.