The history of the Post Office in Carrick-on-Suir

The history of the Post Office in Carrick-on-Suir

The known history of the postal service in the town of Carrick on Suir stretches back to the late 18th century with the opening of the first recorded post office in the town in 1799. It was located on Main Street in a building which is Mary Fashion’s today across from the New Bridge. Before the state began to take a direct role in the running of the postal service from the late 19th century onwards the majority of post offices were privately owned. These post offices were operated by individuals who held a franchise to sell stamps, accept letters and parcels, offer a telegram service and a service of telegraph money orders. To find the first named postmaster in Carrick we must consult Slaters Directory of 1846 which records that a man who went by the name of John Leech was the post master in Carrick at that time. Leech and all other post masters in the country were answerable to a central postal authority. Although the post offices were privately owned the postmen were state employees and received their wages from the state.

In the aftermath of the Fenian Rebellion of 1867 a second postal delivery service was introduced in all towns which had a military barracks and a Constabulary force including Carrick on Suir. This was to facilitate the exchange of important documents between the military headquarters and the local command. This manner of delivery continued in Carrick until about 1970. The Slaters Directory records that “Letters from Dublin, London and all parts of England arrive every morning at half past seven and night at ten, and dispatched every morning at half past three and evening at half past five.  The Clonmel and Waterford mails arrive and are dispatched every afternoon at five.  Portlaw and Piltown letters arrive and are dispatched daily”.”Post or parcels (and passengers) for Kilkenny, Waterford and Clonmel also departed from Bianconi’s Office in Carrick each day.“

The turn of the 20th century saw the relocation of the post office in Carrick to a building on the opposite site of the street. The building was leased out to the post office for 20 years before it was eventually purchased from the owners who were the Bessboroughs of Bessborough House in Piltown. This building, sadly now vacant, is an impressive terraced three-bay two-storey red brick building with integral carriage arch. The post office operated from this building until 2011 when it relocated to Greystone Street before finally moving to its present location in Supervalu. In the first few years in its new location the post office was run by the Mulcahy sisters who were aunts to Richard Mulcahy, republican army general and Fine Gael leader and Minister. A career in the postal service appeared to run in the family as Mulcahy, himself, also worked in the postal service, in the engineering department before he entered political life.

Sonny Cash postcard dated 1912 of the Post Office.

The 1920s in Carrick was a politically fraught period for the town as the community struggled to cope with the upheaval caused by the fight for independence. When Civil War broke out in the summer of 1922 most of the towns in Tipperary including Carrick on Suir were taken over by anti-Treaty forces. Recognising that control over the country’s communication network would easier allow them to execute their militant actions, republican forces quickly seized post offices and telephone exchanges in many towns and villages across the country. Carrick on Suir post office and telephone exchange were taken control of in the early summer of 1922. Trains transporting large deliveries of clothes and food destined for the Free State forces were raided by republicans. Parcels or letters addressed to the Free State Forces or to people under suspicion were also seized. Some of the local postal officials and postmen who were sympathetic to the republican cause actively assisted the men in their raiding activities; providing access to buildings and ensuring the raiders made a safe escape. However, the assistance of local supporters was not enough to counter the opposing side, and Carrick on Suir along with other towns in Tipperary were eventually brought back under the control of the Free State Army in August 1922.

Throughout the years many families have given years of dedicated and loyal service to the postal service in Carrick on Suir. Up to the mid-20th century it was customary for the Postmistress or Postmaster and his or her family to live as well as work in the post office. The living quarters in the Carrick post office were located upstairs, providing welcome separation from work life and home life. Both local and non-local families served the town and surrounding areas, providing an essential communications service long before telephones were installed in every home, let alone hi-speed broadband. The Power family lived and worked in the post office from the late 1920s to the 1950s. Tom Power served as postmaster while his brother Noel worked as a postman. Manning the counter for forty years was their sister Maura who was one of the senior clerks. A truly family affair! The Power family were the last family to live in the post office. Kevin Power, the grandson of Tom Power, recalls some of the family stories passed down through the generations:  To cope with the large influx of post during the festive period the postmaster Tom Power, leave the post office, hop onto the bike and deliver a couple of postal rounds in order to ease the pressure on the force of local postmen. (Tom’s help would have been greatly appreciated by An Post last Christmas!) But perhaps more interesting is the story that Tom allegedly passed on messages to the local flying column during the revolutionary period of the 1920s.

Upon Tom Power’s retirement in the late 1950s Patrick Cadogan moved from the Curragh in Co. Kildare to take up the postmaster role. In 1963 Michael Walsh from Waterford took up the mantle until his death in 1973. (Note: It was around this time that electric heating was first installed in the post office. Up till then the post office and the postmaster’s living quarters was heated solely with turf which had to be dragged up and down the stairs by the poor unfortunate cleaning lady!) Dick Bolger from Clonmel was the next to helm the post office but sadly lost his life in a car accident ten years later. Pat Gleeson from Castlebar served as postmaster from 1983 to 1985 before passing on the baton to Jimmy Griffin. Michael O’Donnell who had been senior clerk in the post office was promoted to postmaster in 1985 before his retirement in 1996 marking 40 years of dedicated service to the postal service. Seamus Doherty was the next person to assume the position of postmaster before passing on the role to Martin Peters who served until An Post became a franchise.

Just as important as the postal workers who worked inside the post office were those who worked outside it – the hard-working postmen who delivered post to the local community in hail, rain or shine. Zipping along on their bicycles throughout the town, their arrival signalled the delivery of all manners of post from letters which brought news from loved ones abroad, cherished long after they were opened, to the less welcome bills! They were an integral cog in the postal system and were valued members of the local community for as well as bringing post they also brought much-anticipated news and companionship to isolated members of the community. Some of the postmen that are fondly remembered by locals include, Willie Hannigan from St. Mollerans who served the White Church and Castletown area, Billy Walsh who delivered the post in the 1960s and 1970s (pictured here delivering post in Faugheen) and Michael McGrath who retired in 2009. The telegram delivery boy was Eamonn Kavanagh from O’Mahony Avenue.

Billy Walsh delivering post in Faugheen.

Throughout the 20th century when the country was experiencing mass emigration the local post office became a lifeline for local families who wanted to stay in touch with their loved ones overseas. As landlines did not become commonplace in Irish households until the 1980s, telephone calls had to be made through the telephone exchange in the local postal office. In 1960 the telephone exchange in Carrick relocated from a building in the West Gate end of the Main St to the upstairs rooms of the post office where the postmaster’s living quarters formerly had been. The telephone exchange had three boards and was supervised by Philomena Hickey from Ballyneal. Some phone calls had to be kept brief, particularly international calls which were very costly as one local remembers: When we left Ireland in 1966, to live in Canada, we always liked to call home at Christmas. You had to book the call ahead of time. The call was put through to the post office in Carrick. Mr. McGrath was the telephone operator. Before he put the call home to my parent’s house, he would ask about the weather in Canada. I would be counting the minutes as the call was costing a lot of money back then. One can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of conversations about life, love, and loss that flowed through those telephone lines, helping to bridge the lonely gap between local families and their loved ones living thousands of miles away.

Postmen of Carrick-on-Suir 2009.

Despite all of the advances in communication and technology the postal service still plays an important role in Irish life today. An Post continues to still offer the traditional postal service while also branching out into a wide range of new areas from pensions to banking. More important, however, than the services it offers is the communal space that the post office provides. The post office in Ireland is a thriving hub of social interaction; it is where people meet to exchange news, discuss the affairs of the day and stay connected. Particularly in the present day when human interaction with others has to be kept to a minimum, the post office is one of the few remaining places where we can bump into someone and exchange a quick hello and a chat. Perhaps this is what makes the vacant state of the old post office so shameful. What was once a hotbed of activity, now lies in a dormant and rapidly deteriorating state. Throughout the years, hundreds of men and women have dedicated their life to working in the Post Office, facilitating efficient communication that helped keep our community connected. What better way to honour these people and thank them for their long years of service than considering ways in which this property can be brought back to life in the 21st century?  There are so many possible ways in which we can breathe new life into this building; it possibly could be upgraded and converted into a business premise or an office space, there is also potential for it to be converted into much needed affordable housing. The possibilities are endless and they could all be done without compromising the preservation of this building’s valuable historic fabric. In the 1990s when the post office underwent renovations the harp symbol that was formerly affixed to the front of the building was removed and placed into safe keeping in the local Heritage Museum. If we leave this building to continue to deteriorate at its current rate that harp symbol will be the only reminder we have of this historic building. Action must be taken before it is too late.

NOTE: We would like to thank Catherine O’Donnell for providing us with information that had been compiled by her late husband Michael O’Donnell. Michael will be remembered by many for his long years of dedicated service to the post office in Carrick on Suir. We would also like to thank Kevin Power and everyone else who responded to our call out on social media for information about the post office.