THE last woman in the country to put through a call via manual exchange has retired from An Post this past week.
Mrs Florence Bugler was the postmistress at Mountshannon Post Office in 1987 when the country went fully automatic for telephone calls and she put through the last call from Dr Michael Smurfit to the then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.
Mrs Bugler began her career with An Post, when she left school to help her grandaunt Mrs Florence Veller at Mountshannon Post Office in the late 1960s. Mrs Veller suffered a stroke and was sick for a number of years and passed away in 1972. In 1974 Mrs Bugler became postmistress in Mountshannon.
She really enjoyed the work, meeting people and in 1983 she married Gerard Bugler and in when the couple learned the post office in Scariff was vacant and so they applied for it and in 1990 took up the mantel.
“We never looked back since, we were 29 years here in Scariff,” Mrs Bugler said.
During her time with An Post, Mrs Bugler saw a great many changes, not least the move from a manual exchange to fully automated calls, but she saw the introduction of decimalisation, and the move from Punts to Euro. In fact buried in her great many pieces of memorabilia from her time in the Post Office, Mrs Bugler rooted out her 1971 Ready Reckoner which she used to do conversions from the old metric system. She recalls that a telegram cost 3p a word and thumbing through this ready reckoner to calculate the cost of stamps.
“It’s all been computerised in my time and a lot of new products have come in online like banking, foreign currency cards and Billpay. Myself and my husband ran the whole show. In 2008 we got Fiona Howard [nee Ryan] and we had her two days a week. Last summer my husband Ger got ill in September and sadly passed away, and Fiona and I just pulled it along until now,” Mrs Bugler outlined.
The post office was a focal point in the town and she said as well as conducting their regular business they were also consulted for directions and advice.
“We were always kept busy. We had four postmen, the office started early in the morning, I’d be up at 7am and let in the postmen at 7.30am and they did their sorting here. The postmen have transferred over to the new office,” she explained.
The biggest and most celebrated transition for Mrs Bugler had to be the day she put through the last manual telephone call on May 28, 1987.
Mrs Bugler had been a switch board operator in Mountshannon where the service was operated from 8am to 10pm Monday to Saturday and then on Sunday it operated from 9am to 10.30am, and 7pm to 9pm. She said as a result it was quite tying.
“We had 99 subscribers and at night for emergency calls, some of the subscribers were on a party line where there were two rings for one house, three rings for the next house, and four for the next, and into Scariff. It was a very interesting system, that was the way it worked because not everyone had a phone,” Mrs Bugler explained.
The Scariff woman said the couple had been very lucky over the years where there was the odd small skirmish but nothing major in their time at the post office.
“Security was always to the foremost of our minds,” she said.
In the wake of a number of post office closures in the county, she said the removal of any post office is “a great loss in any village from the business side of it, it is sad to see offices closing because it is part of the structure of a village that is gone”.
She said the Scariff Post Office has always been very central to life in Scariff.
“We have been very close to the shops and it meant a lot to the shops that we were here. It was great working for An Post, we had great times, I loved the town of Scariff, my sons Gerard, Niall, and Colin were educated in Scariff. It is great to see the post office staying in Scariff, and the people here are very lucky that Brian is taking it over,” she said.
The decision to retire was a collective one, Mrs Bugler and her husband had discussed it last July and had felt they were ready for retired life. However, when Gerard became ill, their hopes for retirement changed.
“We had the letter sent in and everything so we were devastated over that, things change, so I changed my plans. The people here have been just unbelievable, and last Friday was a really emotional day, all the customers came and brought flowers and gifts,” Mrs Bugler said.
Having been postmistress for 45 years, she said it will feel strange having to go across the road to do her own bit of business there.
“We’ll miss the perks of having it handy here, but I’d like to wish them all the best. It’s a beautiful new office, and it’s great to see that house having been done up because it was vacant for the past 10 years,” she said.
On Friday evening last, Mrs Bugler signed out for the last time of the post office, she took the value stock across the road for Brian McMahon to set it up.
After the very busy day, Mrs Bugler said, “I will miss it, but you can’t stay at it forever you have to go some time. I’d like to thank all the customers for their support over the years, I really enjoyed working with them”.