Sligo village laments post office closure: ‘We took our troubles to Eileen’

Locals say post office is also an advice centre, tourist office and occasional medical centre

Customers Paddy Shannon, Pat Cosgrove, Paulis Ungerechts and Francis Hannon wishing good luck to postmistress Eileen Carty. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Customers Paddy Shannon, Pat Cosgrove, Paulis Ungerechts and Francis Hannon wishing good luck to postmistress Eileen Carty. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

The people of Ballinafad, Co Sligo, say they will lose more than a post office on Monday when Eileen Carty shuts up shop for the last time.

The Carty family has been running a grocery shop and post office in this small village on the shores of Lough Arrow in Co Sligo for almost 70 years, but locals say it’s also an advice centre, a tourist office and occasionally a medical centre.

“We all took our troubles to Eileen,” says pensioner Francis Hannon, who lives next door. “When I got my cataracts done I had to come in every day to get the drops put into my eye.

“Four times a day,” agrees the postmistress, laughing.

Teresa Casey, who lives directly across the street from the post office, does not drive, in common with many regular customers, so she depends on the service for most of her grocery needs.

“I feel like I am losing my right arm,” says Casey, who is over and back across the street a few times a day.

Fourteen rural post offices around the country will close on December 31st, under An Post’s “consolidation programme” , with a further 11 scheduled to pull down the shutters on January 19th. According to the company, 154 will have closed by the end of January.

Eileen, who took over from her mother-in-law, Mai Carty, 30 years ago, would love to be able to pass on the business to one of her own children but this is not an option.

Anne Mulhern (81) says the village has been transformed since she moved there in 1967. Back then there were four shops and three pubs, but now “all we have left is one pub and the church, and only for we have a Filipino priest, the church would probably be gone too.”

I will really miss the people and the company, and I feel bad for them as I know they are going to miss this service

She says the first thing to go, in 1968, was the Garda station outside the village, formerly an RIC barracks and now the home of writer Kevin Barry.

When the village was bypassed in the late 1990s they lost their regular bus service , she says.

Now she says some are losing their only regular human contact.

An Post: under new plan, all post offices will open during lunch time. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Fourteen rural post offices around the country will close on December 31st, under An Post’s “consolidation programme” , with a further 11 scheduled to pull down the shutters on January 19th. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

“Eileen was like a social worker. She was always there to help people who found it hard to manage things. It might be just filling out a form or making a phone call.”

Alarm raiser

The postmistress also raised the alarm if someone was not seen in the shop for a few days , and on one occasion sent her husband to check on a elderly man, who was found collapsed in his house.

I came [to Ballinafad] 50 years ago and there has been scarcely a day I did not come in

“They are all talking about rural isolation and depression but they are taking away friendships and the necessities of life,” says Anne Mulhern.

Many of the elderly customers remember when Mai Carty, who bought the post office in 1952, operated a telephone exchange, where there was just one line, but you only picked up the phone if you heard the appropriate number of rings, for example two for the priest, or three for the Garda station.

“Mrs Carty was very discreet but we used to joke that the teacher in the village knew a lot but the postmistress knew everything,” says Mulhern.

Paddy and Marian Regan, who live outside the village, say they will feel “lost” without this connection to their neighbours.

“I came [to Ballinafad] 50 years ago and there has been scarcely a day I did not come in,” says Marian.

She says it was a social hub where neighbours caught up with each other’s news.

Her husband, Paddy (85), says the first thing he does every morning is drive to the village to get the newspaper there.

“It will be strange not to be able to do that,” he says.

Pensioner Paddy Shannon says the post office is like a tourist office for visiting anglers and people canoeing on the lake, and “even the gardaí used to come in looking for directions”.

Eileen, who had 160 pensioners on her books in the 1980s, says the figure is now down to about 60.

“I have very mixed emotions,” she says. “I will really miss the people and the company, and I feel bad for them as I know they are going to miss this service.”