Among all the social activities put on hold during Covid-19 restrictions, spare a thought for the residents of a Cork village who for 20 long months have been unable to take their Tart home from the pub.
Since its introduction in 2019, the people of Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh had taken the Tart to their hearts, with the Taistil Áitiúil Rural Transport initiative (TART) collecting customers from their doorsteps and dropping them home after a night out at local hostelries.
The good news for those living in the immediate vicinity of the Gaeltacht village is that the Tart — a play on both Dublin’s Dart and the Irish word for thirst — is about to make a comeback.
Drivers volunteer to be on duty for one night every few months and, in return, members of their household are eligible to use the transport service during the year.
The scheme was inspired by a comedy sketch in Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh’s St Patrick’s Day parade, lampooning the tightening of Ireland’s drink-driving laws by then transport minister Shane Ross.
The idea to turn comedy into reality came from Tadhg Ó Duinnín, chairperson of development committee Coiste Forbartha Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh, and drivers soon began signing up to volunteer.
Mick Dineen, one of the organisers, said the Tart has “definitely been missed” during lockdown, but with pubs reopening and village social life being restored, the service is due to restart this weekend, with the addition of several new members.
He said the community service, run via WhatsApp groups, is a “win-win situation”.
“You get a spin to the pub, so if it’s a wet night in November or December you’re not walking in the rain; you’re not stuck in the pub without a spin home; and it removes the requirement of people driving to the pub — you can’t do that in this day and age — your car’s safely at home.
“With 30 members, you’re driving a maximum of twice a year so it’s not a burden.”
In fact, he said, chatting with neighbours as their nominated driver for the night “is actually great craic”.
Based on current numbers of volunteers, each becomes the designated driver once every 19 weeks on a Saturday, or once every 28 weeks on the Sunday rota, “then it’s free spins for the rest of the year”.
With many people having got out of the habit of socialising during the pandemic, the service goes some way towards reducing rural isolation, as well as boosting business for hard-hit publicans.
The Tart operates between 6pm and midnight on Saturdays and Sundays, and the communal nature of the WhatsApp booking system means that once one neighbour avails of the service, others often decide to join them if the driver is heading their way.
The success of the Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh scheme has already attracted interest from other West Cork community groups so before long, more villages in rural Cork could also be offering the services of local Tarts.