Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Athy's Post Office and Postal Workers in the Early 1900s



There is a photograph in the Lawrence Series of photographs of Athy taken in or around the start of the 1900's which shows Duke Street with the Post Office in what is now Delaney's Barber shop.  Directly opposite the Post Office was J. J. McHugh's Chemist shop while alongside the Post Office  was Kealy's Timber store.  The Post Office building was not to the liking of the Town Fathers for at a meeting of Athy U.D.C. in April 1907 the members decided to write to the Post Master General complaining that ‘for an important town like Athy the Post Office building was not in keeping.’  The Post Master General replied that he was unable to indicate the approximate date for the erection of the new Post Office on the site which had just been acquired for that purpose in the town.  Work on building the new Post Office eventually commenced early in 1909 and lead to the U.D.C. writing again to the Post Master General, this time to complain about the use of Tullamore brick in the construction of the building.  A subsequent letter from the head of the postal services confirmed that Athy brick would be used in building the new Post Office. 

When the Eason's series of photographs issued some years later, the Eason photograph of Duke Street showed the new Post Office as it is today, while Dublin Bar then occupied what was previously Kealy's Timber store. I cannot identify what business was located in the old Post Office building.

Robert Hailes was appointed Post Master in Athy on the 1st May 1901 having previously served as sorting clerk and telegraphist in Limerick before being promoted to the position of Stationery Clerk.  He remained as Postmaster in Athy before transferring to Castlebar in 1913 and was replaced by Jeremiah Gallivan who had been Post Master in Castlebar.  During his time in the South Kildare town Hailes earned the yearly salary of £160 which had risen to £191 in his last year.  Not a princely sum you might think but yet it compared very favourably with the wages of Sorting Clerks who in 1910 earned forty shillings per week.  A town postman of that time received twenty three shillings a week with an additional one shilling for each good conduct stripe earned up to a maximum of four.  Rural postmen were also paid two shillings and six pence per week for the use of a bicycle, an allowance which was later done away with and replaced with a bicycle cleaning allowance of one shilling per week.

In the years prior to the First World War, employment in the Post Office service was much sought after.  Both men and women were employed as sorting clerks and telegraphists but men only were taken on as town or rural postmen.  The Chief Sorting Clerk in Athy between 1903 and 1913 was Edward Hanrahan who by the time he transferred to Galway was earning just three shillings per week more than the staff he supervised.

Another grade of employee was that of telegraph messenger which was confined to young lads of 14 or 15 years of age.  Paid five shillings a week, the messengers were let go once they reached 16 years of age.  As you might expect, the youngsters employed in the Athy Post Office were all local lads and in the pre-war years included William Mulhall, John Fanning, Thomas Alcock, Patrick Flynn, Moses Doyle, William Johnson, James Mulhall, James Grant and Timothy Byrne.

Some of the other post office employees around that time included John Murphy, Robert Bloomer, James Franklin, Mary Prendergast, Annie Jenkins, Pat Devereux, John Cotts, Jane Wilson, John Scott, Bernard Hanlon, William Bell, Ann Jeffers, Kate Dooley, Anthony Molloy, John Geoghegan, Maud Rochford, Grace Blinke, David Hurley and Margaret Dixon.  Those named were sorting clerks and telegraphists who worked in Athy Post Office at different times between 1894 and 1915.

Local postmen during that time included William McWilliams, Denis Fox, William Keys Snr., Michael Langton, William Keys Jnr., Edward Langton, John McEvoy, John Thornton, Michael Bowden, William Dunphy, James Keys, Edwin Lake and Joseph O'Neill.

When the First Word War started, recruiting in Athy was coordinated from the recruiting office in Leinster Street and several of the local post office staff enlisted.  Robert Bloomer who was 37 years old   joined the Royal Engineers Signal Section in September 1915.  He died on active service in Poona, India on the 17th July 1919.   John Robert Cox who was appointed sorting clerk supervisor in August 1915 enlisted in the Royal Engineers Signal Section in May 1918.  He survived the war and resumed post office duties in April 1919.  John Paul Scott joined up in February 1915 and like his colleagues Cox survived the war and was demobbed on the 10th August 1919.   William McWilliams had been a postman in Athy for almost seventeen years when he enlisted on the 12th April 1916.  He joined the 8th Battalion of the city of London Regiment Post Office Rifles before  transferring to the 9th Battalion.  He too survived the war and resumed duties in the local post office on the 6th April 1919.  John McEvoy who was born in 1879 was a rural postman attached to Athy Post Office.  He joined the Royal Engineers postal section in August 1915 and returned unscathed after the war resuming work in July 1919.  Another of his colleagues, John Thornton, also joined up the Royal Engineers in April 1915 and he too survived the war. Not so lucky was another postman, Michael Bowden who was 24 years of age when he was mobilised at the start of the war.  An army reservist, he was one of several local men captured during the first battle of Mons in September 1914.  He spent the remainder of the war in a German prison of war camp and unfortunately died in Limburg Camp on the 23rd May 1918, just six months before the war ended.

Enlistment was not confined to the postman or sorting clerks attached to the post office.  Patrick Keilty was 45 years old when he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.  He was employed as a part time cleaner in the Post Office and on his discharge from the British army in July 1918 on health grounds, his wife was permitted to perform his duties with wages of twelve shillings and six pence a week and a weekly war bonus of one shilling and three pence.

Among the casualties in the war was the earlier mentioned Moses Doyle who had served as telegraph messenger for a short time in 1910. He had not reached his 20th birthday when on the 25th April 1915 as a private in the Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he was killed in France.  His body was never found and his name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.

The local Post Office has undergone many changes over the years and further changes can be expected when the Postal Distribution Centre at Woodstock Industrial Estate is fully operational.  The Post Office staff of 100 years ago have long since passed away but many of those named still have family members living in and around Athy and perhaps in some long forgotten family albums there are photographs of the men and women who once served in our local Post Office before and after the Great War.  I would like to hear from anyone who can put faces on the men and women named in this article. 

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