Donegal village loses linchpin as postmistress retires

‘I’ve done this for 23 years. I’m going to miss my routine and all the people who come in’

 

At 4pm on Friday, more than 180 years of tradition will come to an abrupt halt in a quiet Co Donegal village when Tillie Wilkin turns the key in the door of her white-washed post office for one last time.

Mrs Wilkin is one of more than 160 postmistresses and postmasters around the country who have accepted An Post’s voluntary retirement package.

It will be an emotional moment for Tillie and her family in the village of Church Hill which is located 12 km outside Letterkenny on the roadway leading to stunning Gartan Lake and Glenveagh National Park.

All week well-wishers have called into the post office to remember old times and to wish Tillie and her family well for the future.

The grandmother of 11 has sat diligently behind the post office counter at Church Hill for more than 23 years.

Her late husband Bobby, who died seven years ago, helped her run the business until his death.

The post office began in the Wilkin family around the 1830s and passed to various local hands before Tillie took over the running of it in 1995 from local woman May Gallagher.

A hand-written sign sellotaped to the post office counter now reminds Tillie’s loyal customers that the end of an era is rapidly approaching.

Little option

She says that with retirement age fast approaching, she had little option but to accept the package offered by An Post. She could have continued with her existing contract but with services at local post offices becoming more automated, she thought a retirement package was the most sensible choice.

“To be honest my son Victor and daughter Elaine wanted to see if they could keep the post office on.

“It suits An Post to close us because of the amount of business we’re doing and it makes sense for me to retire.

“I’ll miss it. I just can’t tell you how much. I’ve done this for 23 years and I’m going to miss my routine and all the people who come in here each week,” she said.

Customers will now have to travel to Kilmacrennan Post Office 9kms away, to Breenagh 8 km away or to Letterkenny 12 km away.

Annette Duddy, who calls to the post office in Church Hill for her children’s allowance, said she will miss calling in to see Tillie but admits she will do her post office business online from now on.

“It’s so sad. I just called in to see Tillie as I knew she was closing and I wanted to wish her the best.”

Tillie’s son Victor said he hopes his mum can get some rest now and return to spend time baking and cooking which he said she is renowned for.

“When the artist Derek Hill could not host dinner parties at his home at nearby Glebe House, he would come up to our house and mum would put on the most amazing dinner for them all here in our house,” he said.

Heart of the family

Daughter Elaine has stronger views on the closure of the post office which has been at the heart of her family for more than two decades.

“What I will say is that apart from the business side of the post office, people are so going to miss the friendship and warmth of coming in here.

“There is a generation of people older than mammy who come in here once a week for their pension and this might be one of the only times in the week that they get out to chat to someone.

“When they don’t appear on a Friday for whatever reason, we would ask someone else how they are just to check if they are okay.

“All I can say is that the people who are making these decisions must not have family living in rural Ireland and must not realise what damage they are doing by closing yet another link that people have.

“We have made our decision and we’ll get on with it but they should be careful that they don’t go too far,” she said.

Tillie admits she is nervous about closing the door one final time today (Friday). She’s not planning any big party but will have a cup of tea as An Post employees come in to retrieve their equipment from her property.

The family, though, may try to keep the large post office sign as a memento to hang in the family bar next door which Tillie’s son runs.

With a tear in her eye, Tillie mutters “What will be, will be.”