As the New Year dawned, two more rural post offices - at Tullyvin and Kilnaleck - closed their doors, following three others across County Cavan in the past year including Killeshandra, Corraneary and Swanlinbar. The local communities and the postal staff retiring all agreed, it was a sad day...
From early morning, just after the doors opened, well-wishers kept coming in steady droves through the doors of Tullyvin Post Office.
“They’ve been coming all day, with cards and flowers and chocolates, you name it, it’s been lovely, very much appreciated,” said Tullyvin post mistress Nancy O’Reilly, speaking just hours away from closing the counter on the local service for the final time.
In the time since The Anglo-Celt began reporting An Post’s decision to shut over 160 post offices as part of an agreed voluntary retirement scheme last August, a singular adage has cropped up time and time again. It does again here. “It’s the end of an era,” says Nancy.
Prior to the closure in Tullyvin last Friday, several rural communities across the county had already mourned the loss of their respective post offices.
First off it was Swanlinbar, followed by Corraneary, and then Killeshandra, the latter having clung on to the very last second, with hopes hinging on two separate failed appeals.
In the case of Tullyvin, the loss to the village verges on the historic, having operated there, and at the same location for the past 120 years and in the same family for five generations.
First up was Mary O’Brien, the sub-post mistress who ran the service from March 1899 to November 1914; followed by her son Luke (1914-32); then Luke’s wife Margaret (1932-54); who handed down the business to Nancy’s mother-in-law (1954-85); before Nancy herself took up the reins from 1985 to present day.
Of the decision to accept retirement she says there “wasn’t much choice” when it came to the final decision being made. Either side of Tullyvin is a post office in Drung and another in Cootehill.
Technological advancements also contributed to a decline in demand for services.
“Things have moved on and unfortunately, try your best and try as you might, it can be hard to keep up. The postal service is one of those things. A lot of decisions will have to be made and they won’t all be fixed with the post office in Tullyvin closing,” Nancy reflects.
There is therefore a degree of inevitability about the current tranche of post office closures that could hardly be missed.
Nevertheless, Nancy describes it as a “sad day”.
“It’s a big thing for the neighbourhood. It is really sad to see the door close. It is for us and I know it is for others in the area as well. It’s another door closed. But as I say I’m only closing one of my doors. I’ve two others on the house, and they’re all welcome I say.”
Counting herself “lucky” to still be in good health, she still sees no let up in the work load around the house, with four grandkids and another on the way.
“I look forward to my retirement, when I get over the shock of not knowing what to do with myself. It’s a scary thought I have to say. I’ve several hobbies, and I’ve grandchildren, four and one on the way, so that’ll keep me busy.”
Tears in Kilnaleck
On the almost the opposite side of the county, in Kilnaleck, both as a mark of the esteem in which postmistress Margaret McPhilips and her daughter Caroline Smith are held, as well as a token of their shared appreciation, the community presented mother and daughter with bouquets of flowers.
On a chilly January afternoon dozens turned out as the presentation was made on Friday at noon, with the service due to shut the following day, Saturday.
Together Margaret and Caroline had run the post office in Kilnaleck for the part 38 years, having taken over the running of the business when Susan Reid, just several doors down, decided to retire.
Running the post office business saw the McPhilips move across the village’s main street from where they once ran a small country grocers, next door to the now also departed Ulster Bank.
Caroline looks away and chokes back the emotion when the Celt asks what she’ll miss most once the post office closes its doors for the final time.
When she does come round to answering, the reply is short and very simple. “The people...,” she says, again struggling to hold back the evident heartache.
“We’ve made a lot of friends down through the years. We’ve met an awful lot of lovely people, we’ll miss them all very much,” adds Caroline.
Kelly Condon, one of the many involved in organising the presentation, said it was “the least we could do. They’ve given so much to the community over the years. It was lovely to see so many people turn out for this, and for them. They’ve been such a huge part of our community for so many years, it’ll be a massive loss come Monday. I know a lot of people who’ll really feel it when that day comes.”
Reprieve for Mountnugent
Less than seven kilometres east is the village of Mountnugent, an area that breathed a sigh of relief upon learning its post office, initially also earmarked for closure, will now be retained.
Critical to making that decision was post mistress Annette Smith, who has suspended any thoughts of retirement for the sake of maintaining the service in the rural community.
“Initially I had applied for retirement. But then, when I discovered they weren’t going to replace me, I sought to reverse my decision. So I’m glad they allowed me to do that.”
Annette now hopes, with the help of An Post, to better position the business to be more sustainable in future. She hopes too that the strategy of consolidation that underlies the 161 post office closures nationally will also be examined.
The omens look good. When the Celt arrives in Mountnugent, there is already a steady queue of customers lining up, young and old, looking for Annette to process everything from pensions to letters, deal with driving licences and provide the all-too-often-overlooked sociable “bit of chat”.
“A lot of people are very sad so many [post offices] are closing next to us, they really do feel for those areas,” considers Annette. “A lot of people were relieved [by the decision not to retire]. I only hope now I live a long time to keep it open, because more than likely if I pop my clogs now they’ll close it.
“Hopefully though, with the help of An Post, we’ll now get more services in, and it might continue to survive. The village is small enough, and there is little else in it without the post office being done away with as well.”
Following last August’s announcement, An Post outlined the options available to customers served by the existing post offices. As a result, the closest post office option to customers previously served by Corraneary is in Canningstown, 3km away; while for Killeshandra it is Carrigallen in neighbouring County Leitrim, at a distance of 9.5km.
Kilnaleck customers will now be served after a 9.2km trip to Ballyjamesduff, or 7km to Mountnugent; and for Tullyvin service users the trek to Cootehill is 5.3km.
Swanlinbar customers have been transferred to Ballyconnell, almost 15km away.