The postman is to be seen every day, ever present in the daily life of Irish communities. Summer or winter he walks, cycles or drives on his daily round of postal deliveries. He features in literature and film and occasionally in a peripheral role in stage drama but the real life individual whom we meet day in day out carries on a traditional role which dates back long before the issue of the penny black stamp.
I remember our postman in Offaly Street in the 1950s. Willie Webb was a tall gangly friendly man who carried his post bag on his shoulder and in his hands the next batch of envelopes neatly arranged and waiting delivery. The same Willie knew every householder on his rounds and when Christmas came around he enjoyed the many glasses of liquid refreshment which were offered to him to celebrate the festivities. There is a well know photograph of Willie delivering a letter in Meeting Lane, which photograph was taken some time in the 1960s by John Minihan. Another postman I well remember is Tom Langton, a big jovial man who was also a prominent member of the local Fire Brigade. More recently Mick McEvoy is remembered as a local postman, a role also occupied by his father. A wonderful photograph of Mick, the postman, is on the front cover of Robert Redmond’s book on Athy.
During the week I learned of the retirement of Tommy Costello after a lifetime of service in the town where he was born. Tommy is the latest local postman to reach retirement age. Other postmen who have retired in recent years include Jimmy Byrne and Paul Byrne. Within a short while the retirees will be joined by John Lawler and Martin O’Keeffe.
Athy Post Office has recently taken over sub offices in Baltinglass, Castledermot and Moone, resulting in an increase in the number of postmen serving the extended Athy postal area. There are approximately 27 postmen at present, although in the early decades of the 1900s more staff were employed in the local Post Office.
In those days, in addition to postmen, there were telegraph messengers, boy messengers and auxiliary postmen for the town and the rural area, as well as sorting clerks and telegraphists. The Athy town postmen in 1913 included Michael Bowden, Thomas Connolly, William Dunphy, Patrick Dowling, Joseph Deering, Denis Fox, William Keyes (Jnr.), William Keyes (Snr.), Johnny McEvoy, Edwin Lake, Michael Joseph Langton, Edward Langton, John Thornton and William McWilliam. The postman’s wages in 1914 were 27 shillings per week. A good conduct stripe which once earned a postman an extra allowance of 2 shillings per week had been abolished by that time. Postman Denis Fox, for instance, received in 1913 a wage of 22 shillings per week with a stripe allowance of 3 shillings for three good conduct stripes and an allowance of one shilling per week for cleaning his bicycle.
The 1914/’18 war saw several Post Office staff members joining the British Army, including John Paul Scott, who was a sorting clerk. Postmen Johnny McEvoy, John Thornton, Michael Bowden, Thomas Connolly and former telegraph boy, Moses Doyle, also enlisted, as did Patrick Kielthy who was employed as a cleaner in the Post Office. Michael Bowden, Thomas Connolly and Moses Doyle died during that war.
Sometime ago I was given a montage of photographs taken in or around 1940/’41 by a former Athy based postman, Dick Hanley. Dick, who was a skilful photographer, later worked as a professional photographer in Killarney. The montage shows Post Office staff from Athy and Ballylinan Post Offices of 75 or so years ago. Of the 33 men and women in the picture only 15 have been identified so far. If you can put names on those men and women of yesteryear I would be delighted to hear from you.