Get me to Spire on time

WITH Cork to Dublin flights axed, there are only three ways to make it between the two cities in a reasonable time — by car, bus or rail. We decided to put the options to the test and last week, three intrepid journalists headed off from Parnell Place bus station and Kent Train Station in Cork, all with one objective: to get to the Spire on Dublin’s O’Connell Street as quickly as possible...

Get me to Spire on time

Driven to distraction by traffic and parking problems

Depart: Cork Kent Station, 10.30am.

Arrive: Spire, Dublin, 2:07pm.Cost: €70 return, incl tolls/ snacks.

Filling up my beloved VW Lupo to the tune of €45, I get that nostalgic pang for the days when the tank tipped full for €30. It’s got a tiny 997cc one litre petrol engine and a tendency to scream at high speeds.

Departing Kent Station at 10.30am, traffic is light and we zoom out to the Dunkettle roundabout and meet the first of two garda cars seen on this trip.

I love the woodlands that flank the M8 motorway along a two mile climb heading north from Cork city, especially in autumn.

As the first toll booth of the trip comes into view, the peaks and valleys of the Ballyhoura hills spring up in the distance. The €1.80 toll negates the need to pass through Fermoy but the booths are running at a loss as drivers dodge the tariff in lieu of the longer route. NRA traffic counts logged negative growth figures of -1.8% on the Fermoy bypass this year for the first time.

At 53km, I cross the county boundary for a 3km sojourn into Co Limerick, before entering Tipperary. Traffic is light, my speed is hovering between 110 and 120kmph, trundling along behind an army truck. Another pang of nostalgia hits when I see a sign for New Inn, my all-time favourite old route oddity for its ridiculous circular ‘roundabout’ painted on the road and Vegas-style flashing red ‘Welcome’ sign on Ollie’s pub.

Artist Orla de Bri is responsible for a roadside art installation on the Cashel by-pass, a series of gold, bronze and cement columns representing the High Kings of Munster. I’m pleasantly surprised by my 10-minute pit stop at the Topaz Station at the Junction 8 Cashel exit, though petrol is a pricey €1.71 a litre.

My trusty travel companion Ralphy meets a stray dog and the two head off for a quick run in adjoining scrubland before the journey resumes.

Some 120km into the trip, Exit 3 on the M8 veers off to ‘the Alternative Route,’ through Cullahill, Durrow and Abbeyleix, a good choice to offset the mind numbingly boring rest of the journey, just shy of the halfway point. I stick to my instructions and follow the motorway.

About 15km later, I cross into Co Laois, the M8 merges to the M7 and I hand over another €1.80 at the Midlink Plaza, the time is 12.19pm. An hour later I arrive at the Red Cow Roundabout. AA Roadwatch estimates the last nine km of the journey to Dublin city centre should take 15 minutes. All goes well until I take a left at Phoenix Park for the quays, where traffic is bumper-to-bumper all the way into town. In a bid to escape it, I take a sneaky left onto Mary St, hoping it will take me closer to O’Connell St, but the right turn I need is a one way route in the wrong direction. Looping around to merge back into traffic I sit there growing more agitated as the minutes tick by.

It’s pushing 1.50pm before I arrive at O’Connell Street and the search for parking begins. I miss the Jervis St entrance and continue to Parnell St, swing up past the Rotunda Hospital and round to Cathal Brugha Street, where I find a multi-storey and spend another 10 minutes cruising for spaces. By the time I reach the Spire, everyone is waiting, it’s 2.07pm and I’ve got the rage.

After we get our pictures taken and my colleagues commiserate with me, it only gets worse. Back at the car park, I estimate my parking for three hours will cost €9, I take a call before leaving the car park and accrue an additional 90c.

I cause mayhem trying to back away from the barrier, return to the pay station to pay the extra 90c, which by then has risen to €1.80. I go to the car park office and I fling the ticket and money into the bucket and ask the nice man what the hell’s going on, ‘just push the help button’ he says, ‘I’ll let you out’.

Off I go, straight into rush hour traffic, where it takes me a full hour to drive three miles through Drumcondra to Griffith Avenue. I can’t wait to get back home to West Cork.

— Louise Roseingrave

Plenty of time to gather your train of thought — a winner

Depart: Cork Kent Station, 10.30am.

Arrive: Heuston, Dublin, 1.18pm.

Arrive: Spire, Dublin, 1.40pm (via Luas).

Cost: €43.98 return (online). 

The 10.30am train service from Cork to Dublin arrived at Dublin Heuston two minutes earlier than advertised, depositing passengers on the platform by 1.18pm. Four minutes and €1.70 later I was on a LUAS train to Dublin city centre. The LUAS stop is directly outside the main entrance of Heuston. It took 15 minutes to get to Abbey Street, the slowest part of the journey. I was at the Spire by 1.40pm.

Of the three travellers, I was the first to arrive, and I knew I would be. I also knew, even before I left, I’d have the nicest journey.

Journeys by car and bus are a commute, train journeys are a pleasure. Ireland may not be one of the great railroad destinations of the world, like Russia, or America, but in terms of comfort, ease and atmosphere in general, Iarnród Éireann is a hard act to follow.

Consider the carriages; clean, well-upholstered and with sensible lighting. We are a long way away from the days of blinking fluorescents, greige walls and moulded plastic. Sure, the constant, bilingual reminders not to sit in the pre-booked seats are annoying, but isn’t it nice the way they write your name above your seat when you do book it, as though you are someone special? If you didn’t book in advance though, you don’t have to worry, on midweek journeys like my one there always seems to be plenty of unreserved seats available. I was able to choose a different window seat to the one I’d booked initially. Not only that, but the train was so uncrowded, I had a whole four-top table to myself until Limerick Junction. Even then, there was only one passenger sitting opposite me for the rest of the journey. Plenty of room for both of us to stretch out our legs, and put our chattels on the table. I had a book, a mobile, a laptop and a cup of tea in front of me from the time I got on at Kent Station, and I did not have to pack up anything until we disembarked at Heuston.

The journey itself unfolded as advertised, pretty much exactly. The train left Cork when the whistle blew at 10.30am on the dot, and pulled into Heuston at 1.18pm by my watch, which made us two minutes early. No traffic jams, no snarl-ups, no cruising around praying for parking, no waiting whatsoever. Instead; almost three hours of contemplation and leisurely writing, fuelled by a good strong cup of Lyons in a paper cup for €2.10. (I cheated and brought my own rice cakes, but a full hot and cold snack trolley comes through your carriage on morning services. I’m told the oat-flake biscuits in particular, are brilliant). I do not get excited at the thought of talking to fellow passengers, so was thankful that the two lovely elderly ladies in the seat opposite contented themselves with smiling in my direction. I did see them giving half their sandwiches to a man they didn’t know though, which was very kind, and might be a good indication of the high calibre of train passengers in general. So, nothing to complain about in terms of fellow travellers.

Two small little niggles however; the wifi was patchy until we reached Templemore, which would be frustrating if you needed it for email access, and also the motion of the train makes it difficult to type sometimes. But who can complain really, about the chugga-chugga motion? That is what gives the train its magic, and makes you feel like a character out of Anna Karenina. Moaning about it seems churlish. This is after all, a pretty much perfect travel experience. So what if it slows your typing down? I was still on a winner.

— Noelle McCarthy

Bus is the biz, good wifi, good toilet ... and good time

Depart: Cork Bus Station, Parnell Place, 10.30am.

Arrive: Spire, Dublin, 1.42pm.

Cost: €20 return.

In the old days the commute to Dublin was a major ordeal and names like Urlingford and Monasterevin still send a shudder down the spine of anyone who remembers the interminable traffic jams at these towns. In those day finding a short cut was the Holy Grail. “I met a old fella in a pub,” someone might tell you. “He told me that you take the old forestry trail for two mile, then go through the four cross roads, drive on hard till you come to a big farmyard with the red slatted unit. You can tell ye are in the right place if you see the cross one-eyed dog and the 1986 blue Hiace used as a hen house. Open the rusty gate, drive through two big silage fields, out through the second gap in the ditch, back onto the main road and you completely skip Urlingford and save four hours on the journey.” Of course it was all a rural legend that never worked in practice.

Luckily the motorway has made the trip to Dublin easier and the new GoBus/Bus Éireann, non-stop service departed on time at 10:30am. What’s more it promised to smoothly glide me to Dublin replete with luxurious legroom, wifi and toilet facilities. Six passengers boarded and we quickly spread out; thus ensuring the maximum distance from each other. Remembering past school tours I quickly colonised the back of the bus, although subsequently I did have to control the occasional impulse to insult the swats up the front and moon at passing motorists.

Settling in, the Wi-Fi signal was strong enough to watch video clips and the small, airplane style table was just big enough for a laptop. Phone coverage was ok and there was sufficient distance between passengers to ensure that you could avoid overhearing long-winded phone calls. In addition the height of the bus means that you do see a lot more of the passing countryside and in a throw-back to school tour days, you can peer into upper story windows in the forlorn hope of seeing naked people. Of course we love our cars for the control they give us over our personal space. With a bus you just don’t know who will sit next to you. I still recall taking a four hour bus journey jammed next to a large and heavily perfumed lady with sharp, meaty elbows who proceeded to loudly munch her way through two bags of toffees. On a late night, rural bus in Spain an elderly gentleman carefully unwrinkled a plastic bag and then proceeded to noisily spit into it at 10 second intervals. An even bigger threat is that someone will insist on talking to you when you just aren’t interested, but politeness forbids you from saying so.

As the bus was nearly empty, this danger was avoided and because it is non-stop you knew that once the bus started, the threat of unwanted company was over.

It is also reassuring having a toilet available, thus avoiding that frenetic squirming on the seat or the daunting prospect of trying to accurately and discreetly direct two hours of pent up urine into the very small orifice that constitutes the opening of a small Lucozade bottle. After a relaxing and quite productive three hour journey on a clean and comfortable bus, we arrived in Dublin at 1:32pm, and a few minutes later I was at the Spire. Not half bad for €20 return.

— Carl Dixon

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