The Aghadrumsee School Bus


In 1937, a strange vehicle began to travel the roads. It was new to Northern Ireland but was to be the first of many. It looked rather like a gypsy caravan but since it went up and down the road at regular times during five days of the week, it couldn’t be one. It was the very first school bus provided by the Education Authority. This bus brought Protestant children from the Ballagh area to Aghadrumsee. Although he never rode to school in it, Tommy Johnston remembers it well for his father, Thomas Johnston of Lisnamallard was the driver.

“It really was built on wheels and springs of an old hearse, that was wooden wheels and rubber tyres. Andy Ballagh of Magheraveely built it. It was quite a long bus with four wheels on it and there were two shafts on the front that the horse went in and towed it. It was on a turntable, the front wheels would turn around as the horse turned. It was made of wood with a felt roof I think, and there were two seats, one on each side of it and the driver sat up on the front. It was very hard to keep it repaired for the roads weren’t very well tarred in those times and the old tyres were always going wrong but still it ran for a couple of years.

“It was hard on the horse too for it was a half-hour journey from Ballagh to Aghadrumsee School and the horse had to go twice a day. It went on all right for a long time and then my father’s horse ran away with it. Luckily it was on the journey back down from Aghadrumsee. I don’t know just what happened but the horse came home before the bus. Macks lived at the cross at Ballagh and the horse hopped the bus of the wall in front of the house. My father was injured and the bus was so badly damaged it never went on again.

“We got another vehicle, like a big trap, and we had space enough and it was easier on the horse. It went for a couple of years and then my father gave it up. Jimmy Kettyles of Coolnamarrow took over and did the run with a big square taxi car. After a while, he gave it up too and we took it up again. It was a private hire taxi. My brother Henry drove it and so did I. After the war, the Education Authorities provided a proper bus. I drove one and then my brother Henry took over and he drove one till he retired in 1990.”

Mrs Esther Mayne, Rateen is another who remembers seeing the School Bus when she was in the area as an evacuee from Belfast and thinking how nice it would be to ride to school in such a vehicle.

—Tommy Johnston,Carneyhome