Ray Dolan.

1000 days of Ray’s Bus Sessions

After 1,095 days of streaming live social media, twice a day, from his bus at home in Mullingar, Ray Dolan is celebrating his shows ‘Twelve Bongs’ and the ‘Bus Sessions’.

It’s three years since the shows began during lockdown, an idea that fostered positivity and community spirit.

“When the big break came, I wondered what I was going to do,” Ray told the Westmeath Examiner.

“I was out of work, and mentally I wondered how I was going to get through it. I thought, ‘I’ll start singing live’, and ‘Why not do it on the bus?’.

“So I installed the PA, the lights, the whole kit and caboodle – the plan was to just keep rehearsing until everything returned to normal. I had no idea how long it was going to go on for.”

Ray, who performs solo as well as with the Joe Dolan Show, said it was a “Covid-free zone”.

“I wanted to create something for people to drop out of the heavy stuff, have fun and enjoy a bit of craic. And there were a lot of messages from people to say ‘you really helped us’ during that time."

Before long he had people tuning in from all over the world – Canada, the US, South America, Tasmania, Australia, South Africa, England, and all over Europe, as well as Romania and Russia.

“It began as the ‘Shoutout Show’, which in time became the ‘Twelve Bongs’, which I’d do Monday to Friday. It was a community show, businesses were encouraged come on board and promote themselves, and if anything was happening for charity, we’d highlight it. And then I’d have the Bus Sessions in the evenings, my solo show so to speak, seven days a week.”

One day a lady watching in Dundalk suggested Ray should keep the shows going for 365 days.

“At the time it seemed impossible, but in the end we worked towards it, and then we worked towards a 1,000 days and I thought sure we’ll let it go there, but kept it going until we got to 1,095 days which is three years,” says Ray, who ran the daily episodes with his partner Margaret.

“We did every day – Christmas Day and one New Year’s we even did a song every hour, linking up and going live with Ann Kelly, who is originally from Mullingar, but living in Florida.”

Having decided it was time to end on a high, Ray said he began receiving messages asking him to keep going.

“I have people telling me that it’s shocking and it’s like a family death! But I’m in a predicament because now that things have returned to normal, we’re busy again with the Joe Dolan Show and my solo work. I also do school runs for Slevins Coaches mornings and afternoons, and with the two live shows, it’s a bit like going around in hoops.”

Personal achievement

Ray said the time spent working on producing content for two live shows daily, week-in week-out, has benefited him in many ways.

“It’s a great routine and mentally it’s been fantastic because it keeps you focused on your time. The preparation involved in Twelve Bongs, inviting guests on, and singing live on The Bus Sessions – for me it’s a personal achievement. To do something every day, whether it’s good or bad, it’s a personal achievement and it’s made me a better man I’d say. Even with my vocal, I’m singing better because I’m singing every day.”

He said that “Mullingar is such a vibrant town” it’s important to highlight it.

“As far as I’m concerned we have everything in our town. Look, we have a new champion here this week, Danni McCormack, who through sheer determination won an MMA world title. We have lot’s going on. We’ve got a great business community, and right from the beginning our slogan was ‘From Mullingar, in Mullingar – promoting what’s good and great about our town, our people and our business’.

“When you’re in showbusiness, you see things that might help your town and I hope we’ve encouraged people in different ways to show off our town, and be positive about it. Positivity is the most important thing on the Bus Sessions, to try to lift the spirit and just have fun, and don’t take yourself too seriously – because some days I’ve done Bus Sessions and they were bad!

“You do them and then you think ‘That was awful’, but then you look back at it again and you think, ‘Ah, it wasn’t that bad’.”

Actors, poets, musicians

Reminiscing about shenanigans on the bus, Ray remembers a man coming in dressed in a wetsuit.

“This man runs races for charity in a wetsuit, and he came on in the full gear, flippers and all, and he got into the back of the bus and did the full interview in the wetsuit – and it was the height of the really good weather! We also had Kevin Lyster from Emerald Lakes Academy of Dance. We put in a wooden floor on the bus, put mics on it, and there he was doing high steps in the bus, surreal in a way, but such a laugh.

“We’ve had actors, poets, musicians on the bus, and during the fleadh we had a gentleman who was going down to do a gig on the main stage. To me it was the fleadh wrapped up in one – this man was in his 60s or 70s. He lived in Sligo and learned all his tunes by going to different places. He gave me his life story and played two magnificent tunes for us – and I thought wow, we were so lucky to get that.”

Ray said that during the fleadh week, he’d have six and seven thousand people tuning in, and 250,000 views by the end of the day.

He also believes that many have come to visit the town, because of the Bus Sessions.

“People look in and go ‘My God, we’ll have to go there’. And people who came from Mullingar and emigrated abroad. I know of some who came back and resettled in Mullingar because of the videos. Because what it does is give the diaspora a look at what’s going on in the town and how vibrant it is.

“We’ve also made friendships because of it and got to know our neighbours. Where we’re living up in College Vale, the kids are great, they put on their own Halloween Show and St Patrick’s Day parade – it’s a great place. So they’d parade down the road from the house and then they’d all get on the bus – which was fantastic.

“They call themselves the ‘College Valers’. We’ve got to know our neighbours through the show, they’d be sending in messages and requests. We would have known no one in the area until lockdown happened, and we ended up knowing everyone in the area.”