To the wonderful Siobhan, Carbury, Kildare, Ireland

An Irishman’s Diary on the magic of An Post at Christmastime

 ‘A separate category, which depends on the celebrity of the recipient, is to send a letter to, say, “Pat Spillane” and include one or more expletives in place of an address.’ Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

‘A separate category, which depends on the celebrity of the recipient, is to send a letter to, say, “Pat Spillane” and include one or more expletives in place of an address.’ Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Somewhere in or around Carbury, Co Kildare, there lives a woman named “Siobhán”. And we won’t identify her further here except to say that at least one person in the world thinks she’s “wonderful”. I know that because, earlier this week, a Christmas card arrived in Ireland from the UK, addressed only to “The Wonderful Siobhán, Carbury, Kildare, Ireland.”

So when it reached its destination, like the dawn sun penetrating the mid-winter darkness at Newgrange, it filled Siobhán with wonder at the workings of An Post.

She emailed to say she was “absolutely gobsmacked” at the efficiency of her local sorting office in working out that the card was meant for her, despite the lack of surname, house number, or post-code.

Of course we know that Carbury is not exactly a metropolis. But if you include its hinterland, there must be more than a few Siobháns in it. And as An Post sought to fit the glass slipper on one of them, how many could be safely ruled out of their inquiries?

Imagine the conversations: “Well, there’s that Siobhán over in ***. She’s nice enough if you get her on a good day, I suppose. But ‘wonderful’ might be pushing it.”

No, I don’t know how it works either. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum of vague addresses, someone on Twitter recently posted another example of a Christmas card that made it through, despite reading like a short story, with an elliptical plot. Here’s what it said on the envelope:

“Ya know yer wan, Her mother’s Hogan from Castleblakeney, but the daughter’s an ex-townie. Grew up in Athlone and moved to Ballymacward when she got married. Lives next door to her in-laws now. She has a rake a’ childer and 7 dogs and 4 cats and about 30 hens & ducks and some rabbits and fish and I think she has a hamster as well. She has a shrine to the Virgin Mary in the left corner of her garden. Can you give her this please? Thanks xxx.”

DNA profile

Perhaps it was less of a surprise that this one reached its target. Apart from the name, address, and postcode, all it was missing was a DNA profile. In any case, the sender never doubted it would get there.

The inside of the card, which did have the recipient’s name, included the knowing comment: “Sure aren’t An Post great?”

Siobhan emailed to say she was “absolutely gobsmacked” at the efficiency of her local sorting office in working out that the card was meant for her, despite the lack of surname, house number, or post-code.
Siobhan emailed to say she was “absolutely gobsmacked” at the efficiency of her local sorting office in working out that the card was meant for her, despite the lack of surname, house number, or post-code.

Clearly, some people do this for a joke, or as a challenge. A separate category, which depends on the celebrity of the recipient, is to send a letter to, say, “Pat Spillane” and include one or more expletives in place of an address. Apparently, that works well too, or so Pat Spillane says.

But whatever the motivation, in these days of GPS and Google Earth, there is something very reassuring about the Irish postman or woman’s ability to track people down through nothing more than personal knowledge and word of mouth.

Mistake

This is one area in which email cannot yet compete. I know Google searches are getting ever more sophisticated. They must be close now to having the technology whereby, if you type “Hagan” by mistake, the computer will ask: “Do you mean Hogan, the woman from Castleblakeney, who had the daughter that moved to Ballymacward when she got married. . .?” But it doesn’t work with email addresses yet.

Slightly exaggerated as it might have been, the Ballymacward card reminds me of the conversations my parents always used to have while catching up with friends or neighbours, especially around Christmas.

Whenever somebody was mentioned whose identity was uncertain to any of the parties, the gaps would be filled in, at great length, eg: “You know him, he was from up around Kingscourt, originally. Married one of the Duffys from Shercock that had the big house on the hill there. They had five children, all very brainy. One of them’s a doctor, in that place before you come to Navan, what do you call it?”.

This would go on all night, or so it seemed to us as children. There was almost a ritual element to it sometimes, like the bit of the Bible about who begat who.

It was a localised version of the world wide web, or Google-mapping.

And it must have a lingering influence still whenever I’m posting letters. Even though I live in Dublin now, where nobody knows who anybody else is or where they live, I remain, like many people, fiercely reluctant to use Eircode.

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