Last Friday saw the retirement of Margaret Keane, after more than 50 years working at Kilkee Post Office, having been postmistress for 34 of them. Her retirement marks the end of an era in Kilkee, with the post office now moving into a local grocery shop. Here, Margaret reflects on a long career which saw many changes.
OVER half a century ago, as a young teenager living in the Burren and a pupil at Ennis Vocational School, I could not have conceived how my life was about to change as a result of reading The Clare Champion.
I was reading through the “Situations Vacant” column and I came across an ad which caught my eye. It was for a 15-year-old girl wanted to train in a busy post office.
I did not know where in Clare the post office was located, as it only listed a box number. I wasn’t really looking for a job at the time as I intended to finish out my schooling.
But the more I thought about the job advertised, the more I thought I would really like to work in a Post Office so I decided to answer the ad. It turned out to be Kilkee Post Office. And the rest is history!
Mrs Therese Hayes was Post Master at the time. Her mother, Lena Haugh, who had retired as Post Master and still lived there also helped out in the Post Office.
When I took up the position, I moved in with the Hayes family and they treated me like one of the family. I still keep in contact with the Hayes girls since their parents, Kenny and Therese passed away, in recent years.
When Mrs Hayes decided to retire as Post Master in 1987, I was offered the opportunity to take over the running of the Post Office.
We purchased the house and premises in which the Post Office had been located since the 1920s so there was no real upheaval as I had lived and worked there for many years and I have held the position of Post Master since then. In 2001, we transferred the Post Office to a new location on O’Connell Street, also in the centre of the town.
I have seen lots of changes in the Post Office over the years. When I first started working, I had to train to work on the “Switch Board”, which, at the time, was in the Post Office, as well as training at the counter.
In those days, a lot of people did not have phones so some people would come to the Post Office to make phone calls. The switchboard was operated by telephonists from 8am to 12 midnight, and by the Post Master from midnight to 8am.
The Telephone Exchange was removed from the Post Office in 1987 when it was automated, so thankfully I didn’t have to do the night shift when I took over as Post Master.
Up until the 1980s telegrams were used a lot as a way of communication. Telegrams were sent to the families of somebody who had died, expressing sympathy, and to send messages of congratulations to people on their wedding day or on the birth of a new baby.
A telegram would be delivered to anywhere in Ireland within hours. Of course, this is all done online now, but even 50 years ago, the post office network provided a very efficient service for keeping people in touch on these important occasions.
There was also a service where you could wire money by telegram to England, which would be delivered in England in a couple of hours.
At that time, a number of local people were working in England and they used to wire money home to their families in Kilkee. The worker in England would go to their nearest Post Office, hand in their money at the counter and ask to have it wired home to Kilkee.
Kilkee Post Office would then receive a telegram from the English Post Office with all the details of the sender/recipient and the amount to be paid.
We would immediately write out a money order and have it delivered to the addressee who could cash the money order in the post office. This was a weekly occurrence for a number of Kilkee families. This was a very efficient service for its time – long before the advent of online banking. This is one of the areas where the post office service reflected the economic and societal state of the country.
The Post Office was responsible for the collection and counting of coins from Telecom Eireann telephone kiosks. In Kilkee, there were 12 phone boxes around town, including in the local caravan parks during the summer, all of which had to be emptied on a regular basis by the local Post Office. The advent of phone cards and later mobile phones did away with this onerous task.
There have been many changes in the Mails operations over the years. In the early years, letters were date stamped and sorted by hand locally. Nowadays all the mail is taken to large automated mail centres.
In my early days working in the Post Office, there was a huge emphasis on the mails part of the business, with 30 bags of mail going out at peak Christmas period, many parcels containing homemade Christmas cakes and even turkeys and geese being sent overseas to family members!
During the summer months thousands of picture post-cards were posted from visitors to Kilkee to many international destinations. The mails business declined significantly in more recent years with the onset of electronic communications and smart phones, with post-cards in particular almost disappearing.
However, with the onset of online shopping, and in particular during the present pandemic, the parcels side of the mails service has increased exponentially.
Down through the years I have enjoyed great camaraderie with all the Postmen who worked in the Post Office. For many years, the Sorting Office was attached to the Post Office, until the sorting services were centralised to Kilrush for all West Clare.
I really missed the chats and laughter from the sorting office every morning when this service relocated, but of course the postmen continued to call into the Post Office on a daily basis.
Originally, the post office was open from Monday to Saturday until 6.30pm each day with no half day. More recently, the post office has closed for a half day on Saturdays, however, the post master has responsibility for and is required to oversee operations six days a week and so the job is very tying down.
The most significant change I have seen in my years working in the Post Office has been computerisation – it made a huge difference to the work in the Post Office.
Prior to that, the weekly accounts balance was carried out manually and took many hours after close of business to complete. Computerisation speeded up the process hugely.
As a result of computerisation, many new services were introduced, including BillPay, Western Union, Multi-Currency Cards, Gift Vouchers and Mobile Top Ups. Western Union is very popular, especially for workers from other countries wishing to send money home to their families – a reversal of what we saw with money being wired home to Ireland in the 1970s.
In addition, the Post Office has started taking on banking services, initially from AIB, then An Post Money and shortly the Post Office will provide Bank of Ireland banking services in communities where Bank of Ireland branches are due to close, including Kilkee.
This expansion of services is what makes the Post Office network so important throughout the country, allowing personal customers, businesses and the farming community access vital financial services in their locality. We have come a long way in half a century.
My situation was unique in that there have only been three Post Masters in Kilkee in the past 100 years. Mrs Haugh was the first Irish Post Master appointed in Kilkee in the 1920s. Up to that time, the Post Office was under English Rule. She had done her training in Kilrush Post Office.
Then, her daughter, Therese, worked with her and, some years later, took over as Post Master. Then I took over from Mrs Hayes, having worked for her for a number of years. Now the unique bit is that the three Post Masters worked together and lived in the same house for a number of years.
I have been very lucky with the staff who have worked with me in the Post Office over the years, whose professionalism and dedication, have been appreciated by myself as well the public transacting business in the post office.
I am especially grateful to my most recent colleagues, Rosemary Kelly, Mary Morrissey and Kathleen Kelly for their loyalty and commitment and indeed all of the previous clerks who have worked with me over the years.
Nearly every sector of society uses the post office service and there are very few members of the local community that I would not have had personal contact with though my work in the post office over the years.
The post office has been a great social outlet for many people, including myself, with local pensioners looking forward to meeting friends and acquaintances during their weekly visits. I thoroughly enjoyed working in Kilkee Post Office all these years. The customers became friends over the years.
By Owen Ryan