Last woman to use manual switchboard retires from An Post

Florence Bugler put through last manual call in 1987 between Haughey and Smurfit

Florence Bugler takes a delivery of flowers from a well wisher: she began her An Post career in the late 1960s. Photograph: John Kelly

Florence Bugler takes a delivery of flowers from a well wisher: she began her An Post career in the late 1960s. Photograph: John Kelly

 

The last woman in the country to put through a telephone call via manual switchboard exchange has retired from An Post more than three decades later.

Florence Bugler was the postmistress in Mountshannon, Co Clare on May 28th, 1987 when the country switched to fully automatic telephone calls. She put through the last call from businessman Dr Michael Smurfit to then taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

She began her An Post career when she left school to help her grandaunt Florence Veller at Mountshannon Post Office in the late 1960s. Mrs Veller had a stroke and was sick for a number of years and died in 1972. Two years later Mrs Bugler became postmistress in Mountshannon.

She really enjoyed the work and meeting people and, in 1983, she married Gerard Bugler. When the couple learned the post office in Scariff was vacant, 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.

Mrs Bugler said the switchboard service was quite a tie, as it operated from 8am-10pm, Monday to Saturday and a few hours on a Sunday.

“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 said.

Changes

The postmistress saw a great many changes during her time including the introduction of decimalisation, and the move from punts to euro.

Buried in her many pieces of memorabilia, Mrs Bugler rooted out her 1971 Ready Reckoner which she used to do conversions from the old metric system. She recalls thumbing through this little book to calculate the cost of stamps and that a telegram cost 3p a word.

“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,” she said.

However, the biggest and most celebrated transition for Mrs Bugler was the day in 1987 when she put through the last manual telephone call.

At the end of April she completed her last day’s work as a postmistress and, having put in a very busy day handing over to Brian McMahon, who will now run the service in the village, Mrs Bugler said, “I will miss it, but you can’t stay at it forever, you have to go some time.”