Ireland by bus and rail.

A recent trip to Ireland to cover various stories about heritage railways and the reopening of a rail line meant travelling on the state owned transport services Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) and Bus Éireann (Irish Buses) around the west of Ireland. I took the train/ferry option via Holyhead-Dublin, which can be as low as £75 return from a UK railway station. See seat61 for more info on how to do this.

The standard and reliability of public transport in Ireland is on a par with much of Western Europe, with online ticketing, modern rolling stock and a generally reliable and efficient system. The oldest stock in service, on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) is due to be replaced in the next ten years. They are certainly showing their age now, I first travelled on the DART in 1996 and the same units are still in daily service.

There’s a comprehensive page on travelling to and around Ireland on the world renowned Seat 61 website, and you can also follow the adventures of Geoff and Vicki of All The Stations on Youtube as they vlogged their way round all the stations of  Ireland earlier this year. 

What follows below are my random notes and ramblings that will hopefully be of use and inspiration to fellow travellers.

It’s a good idea to  buy tickets online, as advance tickets are less than half the full fare. Irish Rail pricing is much simpler than the UK system, no faff with split ticketing to hunt down cheap fares! The tickets can be collected from ticket machines the same as in the UK.
There are 3 options: fixed time advance ticket, no option to amend it, less than half the price of the full fare. Then there’s the semi flexible, 1/2 or 2/3rds the full price, you can amend it for a fee, and you can also travel on the train before or after the booked one without having to amend the ticket. Its an option I took a couple of times that proved very useful. Finally there’s the full fare get on any train option you can buy online or at the station.

There’s also several explorer and Trekker unlimited travel options available if you want to do more intensive travel around Ireland

The Dublin to Cork line is pretty busy, with most if not all seats reserved at peak times, although there were a number of reserved seats on the ones I took that never got occupied. Although on the final trip back to Dublin it seemed half the country was heading there for the hurling quarter finals, and the trains were standing room only.

The easiest and quickest way to get across Dublin, especially between Connolly and Heuston stations is the  tram – know as the LUAS. It uses the LEAP card system, which I’ll do a separate blog about soon.

There’s no left luggage facility at Dublin stations, however the station info points will direct you to nearby left luggage services, bear in mind that they’re not cheap. Much cheaper to leave it with your hotel/hostel for the day if you can, and most don’t charge for the service. I’ve done this for a whole day in some places with no issues at all. There is however a left luggage room at Limerick, despite the Iarnród Éireann website saying there isn’t… It costs £2.50 per item, contact the station staff directly.

Catering on Irish Rail is somewhat limited, many shorter services don’t have any or just have a trolley and its not the best value. 5 euro for a sandwich at the time of writing, the station concessions are much the same price. There is a dining car on the Dublin to Cork Intercity services and a top quality dining service on the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise service, you can see the All The Stations film of their trip on it here.

Bus Éireann is the Irish bus network. It’s an extensive network of coaches that cover most towns of any size in Ireland. Bus services in Dublin are operated by the sister company, Dublinbus. There’s a decent service most days, a lesser service on Sundays, which means if you have a complex journey it may not all link up on a Sunday. I tried to get between two small towns 50 miles apart on a Sunday and back again but was unable to do so. The service is generally reliable, even though a noticeable number run a few minutes late. Most have wifi, and some have the dashcam linked up to an onboard TV so you can see the road ahead! There’s an unlimited travel bus pass available, called the Open Road Bus Pass. It offers 3 days out of 6 unlimited travel for 60 Euro, additional days can be purchased for 16.5 Euro, up to a maximum of 15 days in a period of 30.

The buses now all accept LEAP cards (similar concept to an Oyster card), though only for single fares, it won’t sell a return, so it’s best to pay directly for the ticket as returns are generally 25% or so cheaper than two singles. Tickets can be purchased online, at the bus station or on the buses.

There’s so much to see in Ireland that a few days won’t do it justice – but it’s easy to visit again and again, the train and ferry option from the UK is cheap and really doesn’t cost more or take longer than flying when you take into account the faff involved in getting to the airport, waiting around for 2 hours, having your luggage screened, being restricted on what you can carry and so on. Plus the train is far more civilised!

Don’t just visit Dublin – although it’s a vibrant city with plenty to see, it’s not a cheap place to stay and the rest of Ireland has loads to offer. The West coast in particular is very peaceful and has stunning scenery. Some memorable moments of this trip included hiring a bike at “Tralee Gas, Bicycles and Nursery Supplies” on the High Street and cycling out to the Tralee Bay Nature Reserve. The walk alongside the remarkably clear River Shannon in Limerick up to King John’s Castle on a blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon, and the delightfully quaint town of Listowell also feature in the memorable moments of this journey.

Thanks for reading. Check out my other posts on travel, heritage railways and more.
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