Jack McDonald retires

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Jack McDonald

'Jack the Post'

Jack McDonald retires
By Seamus O'Rourke

Jack McDonald, who retired in 1976, is a colourful personality to a large number of people in this part of the country. He and his father Owen have been associated with the mails in Carlow for the major part of this century.

Picture taken at the presentation to Mr. Jack McDonald retiring from the P.O. Staff after 60 years service (1 to r.)—Jack Keating (overseer); Bill Moore (ex overseer); J. C. Burke (ex- Postmaster); Jack McDonald, Jim Reilly (Postmaster), and John D. Moylan, (former postmaster).

After nearly sixty years service with the Post Office in Carlow, Jack McDonald — otherwise known as 'Jack the Post." and (to distinguish him from a younger colleague) “Auld Jack” —has reluctantly retired.

Reluctantly? "I'd start my life all over again in the same work, and am very sorry to have to leave it, "he said. But I suppose at seventy-six I was getting a bit stiff at it”

"I liked the crowd I met in the job and obliged everybody as much as I could. I'd do it all again in the morning."

Jack's memories of his working life are a synoptic history of the mail service in Carlow during the early part of this century. He remembers talk of the first Carlow Post Office in Burrin Street, although he has no personal recollection of this.

Transferred to Dublin Street

Later the Post Office was transferred to what was subsequently to become the late Hugh O'Donnells (the solicitor's office) and then to the corner of Dublin Street-Centaur Street, where most people remember its location before the new GPO was built on the corner of Burrin Street and Kennedy Avenue a few years ago,

"I remember a dandy postman in the early days when 1 was only a .chap, called Jack Hayden, when the office was in Hugh O’Donnell's" he said Jack Hayden was in charge of getting the hampers of mail to and from the railway station. There was an ass and cart for doing this job, but Jack was so tasty that he would walk along the path as if he had nothing to do with the ass and cart while Jim McDarby and myself would drive the cart. That was around 1906.

Jack Hayden later went into the Army, and he joined the Post Office in London when he came out. That was the last I heard of him.

The PO building in mid-Dublin Street was a private house when Jack McDonnell first knew it. "There was a doctor McDoo lived there and there's an old range owned by him still in the basement kitchen since that time.

"In those days the postmen had grand uniforms with gold wire badges on their caps and lapels. Every morning they had to parade for inspection and be very clean. But they were well looked after.

"There are a few names I remember from those times — Davy Grey, and Dan Harrington and a man called Nelson. That would have been around 1920."

That was the period when the British Armed forces were stationed in what is now the Heart Home and Jack says it was a very impressive sight to see large batches of them exercising their horses in the Fair Green.

He remembers the morning Liam Stack went in to take over the Barracks in 1922 and the subsequent takeover of the hospital on the Kilkenny Road (Old Union) by Irish Troops where the Regional College and Technical Schools now stand.

"It was the finest hospital you ever saw," says Jack, "all granite stone, and the patients were moved up into what is now the Sacred Heart Home so that the soldiers could be billeted there.

"There was no ambulance in those days, just a horse and a covered wagon, and of course there was no such thing as clinics, but generally there was not much sickness -— the old people were very hardy."

Most of Jack's Post Office career was spent on the Crettyard Road. His father Owen (who worked the mails for 45 years) had been working that and another route for Isaac Langreil who contracted the mails for the Post Office and whose sidecars were also used to carry passengers.

Owen McDonald pictured outside his home in Haymarket around 1930. He worked on the mails in Carlow for forty years.

Owen began this work with a pony and sidecar in 1901 on the Tullow Road and stayed at it until 1915 when this route was taken over by Lawsons with a motor car and it was later again taken over by Byrne's of Tullow.

Owen then went over to the Crettyard run in 1917 but as he was a very heavy man (over twenty stone) he handed over the job to Jack in 1918.

"And boys it was tough work at times. I often went to Crettyard with the icicles hanging out of my hat after a frosty morning. Oh. it was hard going, and cold weather, but you didn't mind it. My father got a pound a week for being a charge-hand. and I got twelve shillings."

From 1918 to 1923 Jack worked for Isaac Langrell's son Fred who had taken over the business when his father went into farming.

Jack continued to work the service for Fred up to 1945 (when Owen died) and then continued in his own right until 1952 when the Post Office vans took over. It was at this stage he went to work in the Carlow P. O. doing the railway station service and the town parcels, along with cleaning duties. "I was on the Crettyard run for thirty-three years and never missed a mail, hail, rain or snow in that time.

In at quarter to six

"In the early days 1 used to get into the Post Office at a quarter to six and be ready to go at six o'clock. Ballickmoyler had to be reached at ten minutes to seven, Crettyard at a quarter past eight and I had to be at Newtown Wall Box at nine o'clock. It meant delivering the whole road to Doonane Barracks, and  if I was held up with a registered letter or anything else I just had to give the horse the whip and make up the time.

"You had to be always sure to have your watch to the tick of the clock, because you were timed out very carefully and I'd be reported at one or two places if I was late."

Several times he was raided by the IRA. "The bag was taken," says Jack "but they wouldn't do robbery. I'd get the bag back the next day with a label on it saying “censored by the IRA — spies and informers beware!"

"The minute they heard I was raided the RIC or the Tans would be down looking for a description of the raiders and all that kind of foolishness.

"After leaving the post bags at Newtown 1 would go and work all day in Langrell's until the post was ready for me in the evenings at five o'clock.

"In all 1 must have served under about fourteen Post Masters. I remember especially Murray, Pierce, O'Leary, Freeman, John O'Neill, Foley, Lar O'Neill, Burke, Moylan and Reidy. There's a picture in the Post Office with a lot of them in it.

"Many of these men were very particular, especially in the early days. You daren't carry a parcel under eleven pounds or a paper without a stamp. They'd be out on the morning, some of them, and they'd search you to see what you'd be; carrying."

Born in Doonane. Jack McDonald was brought to Carlow when he was only a few months —old in 1900. "I don't think it was on the mail car." he jokes. His first home was in Brown Street, then known as Hunt Street (there was a saddler named Hunt on the corner in what is now Lambert's shop, he says.)

The house they lived in was opposite where the Workman's Club is now and there were stables in the yard to house Langrell's horses. Later the family moved to Haymarket. Jack married in 1925 to Bridget Fox of Tullow and moved to the Dublin Road. He had three children.

Tony, his son. who was also on the mails for a period, died a few years ago at the age of forty-six. He has another son Jim (Francie) in Manchester and a daughter (Mrs. May Brennan) in Graiguecullen.

JACK McDONALD left aside his side-car postal and passenger service to Crettyard, where he was known as "Jack the Post," in 1952 after an unbroken period of thirty-three years. It was that year that the P.O. vans took over-many such routes. Now Jack has retired from the Post Office after nearly sixty years service.

'He and his father, Owen, had been previously employed by Isaac Langrell, who had three country services operating in Carlow in, the early part of the century.

Besides the Crettyard run, there was also the Tullow route and another to Hacketstown-Coolkenno.

In 1952 Jack was detailed to the railway station service in Carlow, together with town parcel deliveries, for both "of which he used the horse and float. He was accompanied on this job by Jim McDarby.

Part of his job also involved the cleaning of the Post Office.

"It was a tough job," he said. "I had to light ten fires with turf every morning and also looked, after the Dublin newspapers which were. collected by agents from the Post Office.

"I took out the last load of parcels on the float in 1954 when the P.O. motor vans took over. Somewhere in town there is. a photograph of the last run taken at the old Post Office. It includes Mr. Pollard who was then an overseer in the P.O. and owned the Coliseum cinema with Fred Me Etwee.

Around this period Jack also did auxiliary delivery routes on bicycles (the Ballybar run) and he also did collections for a short period.

But the colourful years were the early ones. He remembers from those days Jack Williams and his brother doing the Kilquiggan (Coolkenno) run on the side car around 1914. They would start work at four o'clock in the morning and return at nine o'clock that night.

Wage sixteen shillings

"And they did it Sunday and Monday for sixteen shillings a week, and my father got a pound for being the charge-hand.

"They got fed in Langrell’s when they got to Kilquiggan, and worked there all day until the post for the return journey was ready for them. And I did the same in Crettyard for fourteen shillings a week!"

The passenger service aspect of .the side-car trips was for the benefit of the contractor and had nothing to do with the Post Office. "If you were in time for the mail car you could get there for a shilling, and another shilling back. The hackney cars charged more.

"And the roads were fierce in those days. The Killeshin road was the same as a ploughed field and you'd meet nothing but men spreading stones on it.

"All along the sides of the roads were flags that had been dug out of the quarries. The stonebreakers would sit there on a bag of hay with goggles on them breaking stones at sixpence a box, and they were big boxes. Then the road men would spread them.

"I remember a lot of footmen (postmen) in the P.O. around that time. Some of them had a bicycle on the quiet—but they daren't be found out. There was Bill Ward and Joe Kehoe, Dick and Willie Lynch. Joe Kehoe used to walk to Bilboa and at the tick of the clock at four every day he would come back up Haymarket or he would be marked late.

"Tough as it was in those times," said Jack. "I was never an hour sick, nor never saw a doctor the whole length I was on the Crettyard run, and there were times we didn't have a whole lot on our feet either.

"There are a lot of others I remember doing postman in that period too. Dick Lynch, for instance, who is now about 86, and Jack Fitzroy, who was also one of the earliest, and Johnny McGarry. I also worked with several men –who were in- the. 1914 - 18 war—Harry Green and Ned Sheehan.

"There were also also some women postmen in those days. Mrs Martin Haughney. who now lives in Kileen’s Crescent, and Margaret Lynch.

"Harry Green was a mounted postman, having a horse and trap of his own. And there was a man in Bennekerry who did it on horseback.

"Generally on the side-cars we had either a whistle or a bell — I had a bell on the horse.

"My father Owen died at the age of 73 after 45 years on the job.

Great time for tradesmen

"It was a great time for tradesmen in the town in those years. There were several saddlers—Doyles, Brannigans, Tom Whelan and Lynams. There were several busy blacksmiths also— Bill Hoare and Paddy Brennan in Graiguecullen. Peter Wall, opposite Clerkins. Jim Crowe of Mill Lane and Smiths in Slocock's yard, and Purcell's forge which is now Walls. Also there was any amount carpenters and wheel-makers.

"There was no trouble getting a job then but the money was small and it was easy to spend it. Drink was very cheap—I remember once two of us getting two rums and two pints of stout (two rounds) and got five pence back out of the shilling.

"There were horses used almost everywhere—even to pull the canal boats, some of which might be carrying up to fifty tons, and a man riding side-saddle along the bank. The canal stables in Carlow were on the Graiguecullen side, near the dry dock. Frank Mealy's father -used to look after the canal horses."

What did people do for entertainment in those days? "That's the time there WAS entertainment. There was a dance in nearly every second house—any night of the week.

"They were all 'ramblin' houses in the country then.  You could ramble into any of them and: there'd be a half barrel of beer and singing and an 'oul dance.

"There were even certain houses like that here in town—Rices of Haymarket. and Lawlesses and Coopers. In almost any house you could go in and sit down and everyone would be there with their own class.

"And there were lots of spirits and bogey men talked about. So much so you'd be afraid to go home and would wait half the night for someone to be going your way.

"There's no use telling the young people of today those things.

Looking back it was all great 'crack.' Fireside chats, and the horned gramophone and great songs. They thought the old needle on the plate was a great wonder then—and look what it's after coming to now!"

Jack was also very familiar with the mining districts around Carlow. "There were five or six of them, "he said," and it was an impressive sight to see the tons of coal coming up from the shafts and teams of men and horses all around.

"There'd be hundreds of horses waiting to be loaded and anyone could buy the best of breakage for a penny a hundredweight.

"The Deerpark was the daddy of them all, "he said." And the Vera was a fine mine too, at the back of Lawler's public house in Crettyard, and Rossmore was good, though it is only about thirty years old, started by a man called Reid."

Listening to these and other recollections of Jack McDonald is an interesting, illuminating way to learn the folk history of Carlow almost from the start of this century.

At the end of his Post Office career Jack's one regret is that he could not continue working. He enjoyed it even when the going was rough. His memory is full off humour, and spiritedness and rich humanity.

"I'd start all over again in the, same job. "he told me." and I'm only sorry to be leaving it now."

Pensions or lack of them aside, which of us would not like to end up a job with an attitude like that.

Pictured outside the rear entrance to the Dublin Street, Carlow Post Office in 1954 the day the last postal deliveries were done by Jack McDonald using his horse and cart.

(L-R): John McGarry, Tom Kelly, partially hidden Christy Kelly, Mick Brennan, Billy Keating, Fred Pollard, Doily O'Neill, Andy Murphy, John Walsh, Willie Murphy, Sean Bermingham, Esther Cahill (nee Brennan), Bill Moore and Ann O'Donovan. In front is Jack McDonald who ran a mail contract service with the P&T for parcel service in Carlow town and also to Crettyard and Ballickmoyler.

(This image is from the Nationalist, Sept 1994. Between the two photos I was able to fill in the missing names in the 1994 image which was a better image than the one produced in 1976)

 Source: Michael Purcell & THE NATIONALIST, March 5, 1976 (part of a collection of old newspaper cuttings given to Michael Purcell from Nannie Nolan's shop on Tullow Street, Carlow.c2009

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