A long time prior to the arrival of Ulsterbus and province wide bus routes public transport by bus was the preserve of a few enterprising private individuals. Motor transport arrived in the province for the first in the 1890Ős and from humble beginnings rapidly grew into a prosperous venture.
The first regular bus services were introduced in the first days of the twentieth century. Lord Leitrim obtained three fourteen seater Scott Stirling petrol buses to transport travellers from the railway station at Strabane to his hotel at Rosapenna. The idea quickly caught on and was adopted by various hotel proprietors throughout the country.
The largest area of competition was, of course, in Belfast where the tramways had long been an acceptable means of public transportation. In rural areas such as the Markethill district there were few regulations but the lack of competition worked to the detriment as services failed to run to time and were often less than regular.
Bus transport suffered throughout the First World War due to shortages of petrol resulting in smaller owners selling their buses to larger concerns in the 1920Ős. By 1935 there were only seventy-two bus companies in the province.
In response to a report by Felix pole into the conditions of transport an attempt was made to amalgamate all bus companies. The Northern Ireland Road Transport Board was established in 1935 bringing hundreds of bus services under the one company and subjecting them to the same standards and procedures. This was succeeded by the Ulster Transport Authority in 1948.
LOCAL BUS SERVICES
SAMUEL ALEXANDER OF MARKETHILL
In January of 1926 Samuel Alexander of Markethill began to operate the Renown Motor Service between Newry, Markethill and Belfast. Two years later he surrendered the Belfast leg of the journey to Lewis and Smith of Lambeg to concentrate on the Markethill district and transportation to the local city of Armagh.
His buses took one hour and fifteen minutes to travel from Newry to Armagh and made three round trips each day. Like many others he used his buses to provide trips to the seaside on Sunday afternoons charging 1s 6d for single tickets and 2s 6d return to Warrenpoint.
Alexander frequently found his schedule to be over ambitious and was often in trouble with the authorities for delays and unannounced cancellations. For repeated offences his license was revoked in 1932 and he sold his buses to the Belfast Omnibus Company.
The feeder services of HMS Catherwood operated in the district for a short time. In 1927 a feeder service was commenced travelling through Portadown, Armagh, Markethill and Newry to connect with the Belfast-Dublin service. The feeder service was never successful and was speedily withdrawn from operation.
LEWIS AND SMITH OF LAMBEG
Owning a fourteen-seater Overland and a twenty seater Dennis Lewis and Smith made two round trips a day following a route from Belfast, Lurgan, Tandragee and Markethill. It took two hours and fifteen minutes to cover the thirty-four miles. They had taken over the route from Markethill to Belfast from Samuel Alexander in 1928.
In March 1930 they sold their business to Great Northern Railway who continued to operate the Markethill-Belfast route for over forty years.
HERBERT GRAY OF PORTADOWN
In 1927 Herbert Gray of Portadown began to operate a route from Armagh to Markethill and onwards to Whitecross. After a few months he transferred his buses to a route from Portadown to Lurgan via Bleary.
Kennedy, ML & McNeill, DB, Early Bus Services in Ulster (Belfast, 1997) Pole, FJC, Transport Conditions in Northern Ireland (Belfast, 1934)