Northern Ireland news

Book on the life and legacy of former trade unionist launched in Belfast

Patricia O'Callaghan with her father Eugene's book 'Busmen in the Firing Line', which was launched in Belfast last night. Picture by Hugh Russell

A BOOK on the life and legacy of a former trade unionist who became the public face of Northern Ireland's bus drivers was launched in Belfast last night.

Just a short distance away from Transport House where Eugene O'Callaghan spent much of his working life, his memoirs 'Busmen in the Firing Line' were officially unveiled.

The book tells of Mr O'Callaghan's fight for justice for bus drivers and transport workers, particularly during the darkest days of the Troubles, when they would often be a target during street disturbances.

The father-of-10 was a union member for more than six decades and served as an official with the Transport and General Workers' Union for over 16 years.

Originally from Crossmaglen, Mr O'Callaghan spent two years writing the book by hand, with his daughter Patricia typing up every word.

She said last night that following her father's death in April 2018, his family believed they had to continue his legacy by seeing his memoirs in print.

"After Daddy died we didn't do anything for about six months," she said.

"But it makes us proud that it has all come together now and his book is finally out."

The publication looks back on Mr O'Callaghan's childhood, how he secured a job on the trolley buses and his role as a union official, which saw him work tirelessly to improve the wages and working conditions of his members.

He was responsible for gaining equal pay for drivers in Citybus and Ulsterbus, preventing privatisation of the bus service, negotiating a pension scheme for workers and introducing educational programmes for union members.

Even in later years he continued to work on behalf of the retired Transport and General Workers Union members and was the man who shamed the NIO into finally granting free travel for pensioners.

His many successes both for individual workers and collectively were recognised by the union presenting him with its Gold Star in 1993.

Speaking ahead of the book launch at St George's Church in High Street last night, Ms O'Callaghan said her father spent around two years writing his memoirs.

"We wanted him to write the book, we wanted him to write about Crossmaglen and the characters there, but all his colleagues wanted him to write about the buses," she said.

"He hand wrote it from memory and I typed it up for him.

"He thought the bus men had never been recognised for keeping the sense of normality - people looked out the window and when you saw a red bus, you knew it was alright to go to work because the buses were running.

"After Daddy died we didn't do anything for about six months. But it makes us proud that it has all come together now and his book is finally out.

"I think we had no choice but to make sure it was published."

The book has been published by the Ulster Historical Foundation. Please visit www.ancestryireland.com for information.

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