I have been very fortunate in the last ten years or so to have been a reasonably regular visitor to the Emerald Isle. I suppose that like a fair few Brits I am able to identify with Ireland through immigration, in my case my mothers mother’s family came over at the end of the eighteenth century from County Clare as a one time member of the McNulty family.
Indeed Irish culture has been a strong part of my upbringing as much through my education where many catholic schools had a high percentage of Irish based families. Most classroom assemblies contained more Kelly’s, O Reilly’s, and Murphy’s than it did Smiths and Jones. The same applied at my College, De La Salle College in Middleton, Manchester, was part of Manchester University. And again had a very high Irish influence in music, culture, sport, and especially if I am honest, having fun, drinking, and enjoying the Craick, as they say in Ireland .
In fact my first visit to Ireland took place when I was 17, when a trip to the Rose of Tralee festival was organised by a social club this was basically a riot from beginning to end. Drinking started when the coach left a pub in Birmingham at ten am after a Guiness fuelled breakfast. This just about set the tone for the rest of the five day trip, which saw myself and three other lads sharing a three man tent. Music, bacon sandwiches, the pub and late night Potcheen ( an illegally brewed Potato based Whisky ) were the order of the day, along with a lot of laughter and amnesia in equal measure. In hindsite, maybe the memory deleting was through choice, but great, and happy vague memories, prevail all these years on.
So, fast forward from 1977 to 2009, and I find myself venturing to Dublin as part of the uTrack journey. This required regularly catching the First group owned Aircoach to travel from the airport into Dublin City centre and the uTrack office located back then in the heart of the historic O’Connel street, arguably the iconic beating heart of the Celtic Tiger. This started the beginning of a long relationship with Aircoach, that has continued to this day, back then Alan Parker was the MD, and a very capable and competent man he has been. He was recently replaced as MD after he moved on, his replacement is a young, dynamic, and highly capable young woman, who had emerged from the Firstgroup graduate training programme. Dervla McKay, herself a native of Donegal has hit the ground running since she took over in May 2018, an exciting time in the life and times of Irelands bus and coach industry. For while Express coach markets have been deregulated since 2003 when private operators were encouraged to operate express coach services. It is only in the last year or two that the National Transport Authority (The NTA) have allowed the liberalisation of Dublins bus services.
Interestingly uTrack have been involved with Aircoach for quite some years, and operated one of the very first Apps in the early naughties for Dublin Coach when the entrepreneurial then owner John O’Sullivan was the MD. It was revolutionary back in the day, and uTrack have been at the heart of the cloud based technology with Aircoach ever since. In fact I used to regularly use the App myself when regularly using the Aircoach to commute to both Dublin and Cork. Aircoach, while always being a part of First, has always maintained it’s Irish brand and identity, and rightly so. In some ways as Dervla points out it gives her the best of both worlds, with access to the resources, expertise, (and in the busy summer peak, access to extra drivers from fellow First Companies), while also allowing for local initiatives and commercial opportunities unique to the market (Aircoach are the official team coach for Leinster Rugby team for example). So, in many ways the best of both world.
One rather unique but frankly unwanted problem that needs to the addressed is the real implication of a hard border between north and south Ireland following the Brexit shambles. The currently profitable service between Dublin and Belfast could run the real risk of border delays, and service interruptions that could realistically require suppling two further vehicles to maintain the present service levels. I did not see that message on the side of the Brexit bus during the referendum of 2016. Perhaps it was over shadowed by the the NHS promise of 350 million pounds a week post departure that was plastered untruthfully all along the side of the coach.
As for the future Aircoach has established itself as a high quality, good value, network that has offered a profitable contribution to the First empire. As a regular user I hold it in high regard, a good modern comfortable, hi-tech fleet, well trained mostly helpful drivers, and good bang for your buck. It is also perched nicely to look at the new Dublin contracted networks that are currently being put out to tender. Go Ahead Dublin have already started operating new routes, with more on the way. This of course will no doubt include First as potential suppliers, and we will have to see just how they fare in the future going forward, however with Dublin airport expecting to hit the 30 million passenger mark fairly soon, either way Aircoach are exceptionally well positioned to expand on the present successful model. We at uTrack are delighted to be part of their journey going forward as we have been in the past, and as ever it is great being part of a good Company.