An Irishman's Diary
By Kevin Myers, The Irish Times, 11.04.2004
Luas means speed in Irish. If anything testifies to the moribundity of the Irish language, it is the misuse of Irish words as if they have no meaning to the plain listener - which they clearly don't. Because one thing that Luas is not is speedy. It is slow. You could just as easily call it "mall", which is Irish for slow. Did you know that? Probably not, writes Kevin Myers
Luas indulges in all the mythological gibberish that we are an Irish-speaking nation; calling the tram-lanes lána tram is a linguistic confection too risible for parody. On the trams themselves, a recorded female voice - well, I hope it's recorded: otherwise I've just discovered the world's most boring job - announces the name of each stop in Irish and English, and the Bluebell Industrial estate is rendered into a sonorous An Cloigín Gorm, as if there were legions of Bluebell-bound monoglot gaelgoirí aboard who wouldn't otherwise know that it's time to get off.
Of course, place-names are not translated in any other convention except the loony world of phoney Irishness. When in Paris we do not make sense of Longchamps, Champs Elysées or Notre Dame Cathedral only when they are translated into Long Fields, Elysian Fields, or Our Lady's Cathedral. The Bluebell Industrial Estate has absolutely no existence in Irish, and to render it thus is to provide abysmal proof of the essential bogusness of the Irish language project.
Naturally, this is not the only holy cow before which Luas abases itself: it is also prostrate before that other sacred heifer, the Red Cow roundabout - or, as we say in the first national tongue, An Bó Rua. It took Irish planning at its most inspired to mix the main route to Munster with the orbital route around Dublin, and then - by Jove! - to throw in the metropolitan tram-service also.
When Luas reaches An Bó Rua, you truly know how unLuas it is. Lots of lovely pauses as the Aer Bó Rua jumbo heads off to the Aran Islands, and then the Iarnród Bó Rua express heads off on its two-day journey to Mullingar, breaking down in a bog near Kinnegad, and then An Bó Rua Riverdance troupe circles the roundabout, followed of course by An Bó Rua GAA semi-final. And after An Bó Rua ladies mini-marathon is finished, the Luas resumes its journey in Dublin.
Journey time from Tallaght to the centre of Dublin is over 50 minutes - pretty much the same as the old-fashioned bus, which takes you on the tourist route through Drimnagh, Inchicore, and the Liberties. There is, however, a bus-lane on the Tallaght bypass, on which no one has ever seen a bus; and there is even supposedly an express bus from Tallaght into the city centre, presumably taking far less than 50 minutes to complete its journey - but then that express itself might be an urban myth. Nobody in Tallaght knows where it leaves from, or when - and if it uses the invariably empty bus-lane on the bypass, it uses Stealth technology to do so.
The return journey from the city was splendid fun and proof indeed that the instincts of Dublin Bus (Bus Áth Cliatha, don't you know) are imprinted in the molecules of the capital's streets. An electronic signal at Jervis Street tells passengers the waiting time for the next three trams - in this case, it was five minutes, 12 minutes, 20 minutes (approximately). The first tram's estimated time of arrival dropped to one minute, before dropping to "due".
Then it was back to four minutes, while the tram behind it was down to six, then five. Was the second tram trying to overtake the leader? And how? Using a pole-vault?
But then, the first tram was suddenly "due" again; giddy with excitement, we all aahed expectantly, before it went back to four minutes, with the second still at five. The race was on again! After about half an hour of this, what happened?
Of course, three trams arrived almost simultaneously, just like the old days.
We have spent zillions of doubloons on Luas. Why? Just what has been achieved by it which could not have been achieved by creating dedicated bus-lanes using a few pots of paint and a bit of common sense?
Yet common sense is precisely what we have been lacking in the provision of the most basic elements of urban transport in the capital.
For example, the bus-lane down the quays from Heuston Station halfway along its length ceases to be a bus-lane to admit traffic from the left. At which point, predictably, interminable delays result, and the bus becomes a stationary waiting room.
So why is the bus-lane not contra-rotational against main traffic-flow, and lying directly alongside the Liffey on the right hand side of the road and uninterrupted in both directions?
Alternatively, still using the river bank option, Dublin Bus could use buses with doors on the right-hand side.
They're quite easy to find, you know; they apparently abound in a place called mainland Europe.
Buses can go anywhere: the trams on our two Luas lines are not even compatible with one another - an organisational feat which is certainly the match of the Red Cow roundabout.
Needless to say, the northern and western suburbs of the capital have benefited in no sense whatever in all our transport initiatives, while the southside, and its northside colonies - Clontarf, Sutton and Howth - now have the DART and/or Luas.
But now I've done Luas: next time I go into Dublin, I go by car.
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