Dublin bus sightseeing tour

Things to do in Dublin City. Dublin history in a nutshell. Capital attractions. Dublin tourism.

Drivers of the Dublin Bus sightseeing tours are famous for their quick wit, their unfathomable store of quirky tales, and their ability to condense hundreds of years of history into entertaining and memorable snippets. Claire Santry hops aboard.

"If you can hear me loud and clear on the top deck, stamp your feet on the floor," instructs the driver, as the bus pulls away from Cathal Brugha street. Along with my fellow passengers, I stamp my feet vigorously, and we all laugh at our childish enthusiasm.

Dublin bus sightseeing tour.
A stalwart of Dublin tourism: the sightseeing tour by bus
Few stand-up comedians earn their first laughs quite so readily, but our sit-down comic, Gillian Walsh, who's behind the wheel of this Dublin Bus Sightseeing Tour, has her audience giggling before she's turned the open-topped bus into O'Connell Street, the Irish capital's main boulevard.

Gillian: "I know they're cheesy jokes, but people laugh."

In the next hour and fifteen minutes (traffic willing), Gillian, like all the tour bus drivers, will get a good few laughs and a fair number of groans. By her own admission, some of her gags fall off the top end of the corny scale.

But her passengers love it. “They’ll often make a comment, as they’re getting off the bus. They’ll say something like: ‘Oh those jokes. They were terrible. Terrible….but funny.’

"I know they’re cheesy jokes, but people laugh, and I love to get a response from my passengers. It’s one of the things I really like about the job.”

A good example of audience reaction comes as the bus is approaching stop number 9 (Dublin Castle) when Gillian explains the origin of the name Dublin. The Vikings, we learn, built their first castle where the River Liffey and a tributary called the River Poddle met, in a place described as a pool of dark water.

The Irish word for black is dubh, pronounced duv; the Irish word for a pool is linn. Hence the name dubh linn or, as it evolved, Dublin.

Dublin tours

Sightseeing by bus is one of the most popular things to do in Dublin. It's a neat package that serves as an ideal introduction to the city, and allows visitors to make a selection of the main attractions without having to worry about pounding pavements, crossing busy streets or parking. It's especially handy for those taking a short break in Dublin as they get a wonderful overview of the city. The soundtrack is a bonus!.
“So, ladies and gentlemen,” announces Gillian. “You’ve come all this way and ended up in Blackpool!”

Everyone laughs, and is genuinely delighted with that snippet of information which, truth be told, probably few Dubliners are aware of. I can sense the data being recorded and filed in the memory banks of my seated comrades.

Gillian is one of 2,500 drivers working for Dublin Bus. She had been driving on regular passenger routes for over ten years when she decided, in early 2005, to take specialised training to be a tour bus driver. This means that her working days are now split between the regular routes and the tour buses.

Dermot keeps the tour buses running to schedule.
Tour Co-ordinator Dermot Hermon, whose task it is to keep the tour buses running to schedule, had proudly introduced Gillian to us as his best female driver. In a loud feigned whisper, he’d added that she’s also the only woman currently driving the tour buses!

Like all the drivers, she went through a training course that provided basic information about the landmarks and attractions on the 21-stop tour. Drivers then build on their knowledge with further research into the landmarks and subjects that most interest them. In this way, each tour driver’s commentary reflects his or her own personality and interests.

Gillian’s own interests have developed since she started driving the tours. “Dublin is my heritage,” she says. “Yet when I began my tour training I knew hardly anything about the monuments and buildings I’d been driving past every day for a decade. Once I began to delve into the history, I was hooked. I’m particularly keen on architecture, and especially fascinated by our two cathedrals.

She says she tends to buy a new book on a particular landmark or a specific subject every couple of weeks. "All the tour drivers are curious to know more, and we’re always swopping books and facts in the staff canteen.”

As Gillian’s colleague, 33-year-old Shaun O’Reilly, explains, there is no obligation on the drivers to do addition research. “It’s entirely up to each driver to add to the basic information but I think we all like to deepen our knowledge. It’s nice when a passenger asks a genuine question to be able to inform them. And timing is an issue, too. Sometimes traffic can be awfully slow, so it’s good to have a bit more detail up your sleeve.”

Shaun: "Being a tour driver is not unlike being on stage."
Since Dublin buses are no more immune to Dublin’s traffic jams and roadworks than any other vehicle trying to negotiate the city’s streets, the tour drivers have to be flexible and quick thinking.

“Detours often blow your party piece! And you can sometimes find yourself diverted onto a road with no obvious landmarks. I could just sit at the wheel and say nothing, but silences in the commentary are boring for the passengers so I’d usually tell a little tale, or a joke, or even get them to join in a sing-song.” Molly Malone is the song most likely to be heard from the sightseeing buses; the majority of visitors know the tune and many know the 'Cockles and Mussels' chorus.

Another issue for drivers is the seasonal fluctuation in daylight hours. Towards the end of October, and right through the winter months, darkness is falling when the last tours of the day set off on their route.

“By the time the bus gets to Phoenix Park, it’s pitch-black!” says Shaun. “The passengers can’t see the Papal Cross, or Dublin Zoo, or any of the other monuments I'm telling them about. I can’t ignore that, so I jokingly suggest they put on their night vision goggles!

Dublin Sightseeing Tour Bus approaching Christchurch Cathedral.
A Dublin Bus tour approaches Christchurch cathedral.

Whatever the season, tour bus driving is clearly not a job for a reserved character. Shaun, who has been a regular Dublin Bus driver for five years and trained as a tour driver 18 months ago, thinks a tour driver needs to be naturally gregarious.

“I’m quite outgoing. I’ve been a member of a local amateur dramatic group for nine years – I had to find something else to do on a Tuesday evening when I gave up football – and I’ve been in a few pantomimes. Being a tour driver is not unlike being on stage. You get immediate feedback from the audience. The only difference is that your audience is behind and above you.”

Certainly the audience on Gillian’s tour loved the leading lady’s performance. “Absolutely wonderful,” agree Lindy and Peter from Narrabri, Australia, as they step off the bus at the Jamieson Distillery.

Siobhan Dawson of Brentwood, England, is equally positive. “So much information!” she enthuses as the bus approaches the end of its journey. Her partner Glen agrees but has one reservation: “I just hope I remember the facts, and not the terrible jokes!” he laughs.

This feature was originally published in the Winter 2005/6 issue of Dublin Airport's Passenger Magazine.

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By Claire Santry, Copyright© 2008-2018 Irish-Genealogy-Toolkit.com. Dedicated to helping YOU discover your Irish Heritage.
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