Michael Healy-Rae’s Kilgarvan post office at the heart of village life in rural Ireland
Busy hub where people pay their bills, save, socialise and watch over one another
Paddy McCann, president of the IPU outside the constituency office of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Castlebar on April 11th protesting against post office closures. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus
Padraig Sweeney, clerk at Michael Healy-Rae’s Post Office in Kilgarvan, Co Kerry
Queues build up at times, but beyond the Pringles crisps and “Cool Stuff” there is a café where customers can sit down if the line is too long or their business too private.
The post office booth, with its glass-fronted green signage, also operates as the village’s only ATM. Kilgarvan has no bank.
“This is something people don’t realise – post offices offer an AIB ATM and other banking services,” says Padraig Sweeney who has been behind the counter of the Healy-Rae post office for the past 11 years.
Customers are given time. “We spend a lot of time with people. We know our customers and appreciate them. But we have a lot of passing trade too – and probably more if people realised all the services we provided.”
Mary Kelleher, who has retired to her native Kilgarvan after working for 46 years in the post office at Kilfinane, Co Limerick, is among the customers. “When you are working in the post office you have to be everyone’s friend. It’s a kind of a vocation.”
She is devoted to post offices – and pays her bills, gets her pension and “does everything in the post office”.
Murieann McSweeney, a 16-year-old student in Ballyvourney Community College, has called to the post office about her savings account. She has been a regular saver since her confirmation.“Savings, not stamps – I never come to buy stamps.”
But pensioner Catherine Randles, who lives two miles on the Kenmare side of Kilgarvan, says she comes to get stamps and post letters and items to her daughter in England. She has spoken to Mr Sweeney about this month’s price rises and takes away a leaflet explaining the higher An Post charges. For her, they mean spending €7 instead of €5.
Kenmare post office is where her pension is payable, but she doesn’t like to do her postal business there because the parking is difficult.
“Kenmare post office is awkward. You come here and you can have your meal. It is brilliant. We have everything here now. It’s a meeting place and you can park here.”
There are two postal workers: Rosie Healy-Rae, daughter of Michael, and local man Michael Scanlan. They sort the mail as well as serve 60 houses as far as the Cork county border and along towards the N22 main Killarney road and back to Kenmare. And this is expanding now; she has just got the list.
Rosie says she loves her job. “I know the running of everyone, and when they will be out and when in. That’s what I love about my job.”
Outside in the busy forecourt, farmers with sheep trailers are pulling in for petrol and diesel and a man is building a wall around the back. Out front, Ann Hickey says it makes her angry when she hears the word “viable”.
“There is no understanding of rural Ireland. ”
Postmaster Michael Healy-Rae says postmasters are not looking for handouts. They want to make post offices attractive for young people to get them into the habit of using them. “There is so much we can do helping people with online applications and banking.”