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Callan Wins War To Keep Its Post Office

by John Fitzgerald

Callan has won the long battle to save its beloved post office.
Though the facility has relocated from Prologue at the top of the town to SuperValu in Green Street it will offer the same top class service.
And, to the relief of locals, the post office will have the same faithful staff.
The only note of sadness is that the wildly popular Postmistress Elaine Bryan (nee Phelan), will retire in August.
She’ll devote the intervening weeks to helping her colleagues settle into their workplace inside the busy SuperValu outlet where the dynamic Dermot McCabe will make his stamp as Postmaster.
Elaine had served for almost three decades, after taking over from her mother, Nellie.
Nellie had been postmistress for 34 years before handing on the baton to her talented daughter.
For much of that time the post office was situated in Lower Green Street.
Elaine’s husband Bosco, a leading light on the Callan GAA scene, retired as a prison officer a few months ago.
He is son of former long serving Callan Garda Harry Bryan who kept the town safe in the days when Gardai patrolled the streets mainly on foot and you’d seldom see a squad car.

The former post office building at Prologue

News of the post office relocation had revived local morale because the widespread closure of rural post offices had sent shock waves through the town and fuelled a campaign to ensure that Callan didn’t lose a priceless and irreplaceable amenity.
It wasn’t just the service it provided that people valued so deeply.
The Post Office was a social hub, one of the few places where people could met for a chat in an age when rural isolation and, more recently, the oppressive social distancing and cocooning necessitated by Covid, have blighted lives.
Pensioners looked forward to their weekly chat with staff or friends when they called to the office which was located close to the Big Chapel.
Its proximity to the parish church was apt as it offered solace to all-comers. Another comparison is worth a mention too.
Elaine and staff carried forth a tradition initiated by her mother whereby holy water was sprinkled on school exam papers before they were posted to students.
June 4 was a Red Letter Day for the town when the Prologue building ceremonially closed its doors and the dedicated staff said goodbye to the much-loved venue.


The late John and Nellie Phelan

A specially assigned An Post squad perfunctorily removed the familiar signage and other identifying features from the building.
Locals looked on heavy hearted as the dismantled paraphernalia was loaded into a truck and driven away.
But tearful farewell quickly gave way to joy and celebration when the PO staff moved into SuperValu down the street.
Elaine was flanked by her loyal team of Kathleen Scriven, Sinead Brennan, and Pauline O’Neill.
Apart from their public service, Elaine and Sinead had won the hearts of locals when they performed with Callan Variety Club on the stage at St Brigid’s Convent.
Their singing and slapstick humour regaled many a captivated audience.
The move to SuperValu has its advantages. One of the first to emerge from the new office exclaimed: “It’s great. I went in to buy a stamp and I’m coming out with a sliced pan, potatoes, and a string of sausages.”
Others were delighted to find that the convivial atmosphere of the old office hadn’t gone away, demonstrating, perhaps that it’s people, staff or customers, make it the vibrant and friendly place it is rather than the location.

Callan first got its post office in 1824 and through good times and bad it never let the people down.
Revolutions came and went, as did economic recession and depression and the curse of Emergency food rationing, but the mail was never left undelivered.
When Covid hit town the post office was one of the few places not to lose the human touch, even if you had to converse through a mask.
The relocation revived tales and memories of great Callan postmen too.
Among the early appointees was Stephen Vaughan of Mullinahone. He delivered the mail from around the turn of the 20th century, until 1908.
When he wasn’t trekking through the town and countryside on his daily beat, he could be found kicking a football in one of the fields around Callan or Mullinahone.
He had to dodge bullocks, sheep, goats, or pigs as he scampered through the long grass and fantasized about sporting glory.
Another famed Callan postman was Richard Fitzpatrick of Prologue, who donned his uniform in 1905 and delivered most of his mail on foot.


Postman Richard Fitzpatrick and his wife Kate

Between the day he commenced his service and his retirement in 1938, he walked an estimated 194,842 miles on weekdays and 26,936 miles on Sundays; a grand total of 221,778 miles.
He calculated that this distance was the exact equivalent of eight round-the-world trips…or a staggering 36 times from Callan to New York and back.
War veteran Bill Woodgate was postman from 1919 until 1952. When the Irish Free State came into being after the Treaty, Bill was skeptical about promises by the Government to bring peace and prosperity to Ireland.
Arriving at Callan Post Office the day a harp symbol replaced the old emblem of the British Crown over the entrance, he shook his head and remarked to the postmistress: “The harp that once through Tara’s Hall…is the harp that’s going to starve us all.”
Two men who were as well-known as boxers for their reputations as efficient and affable postmen dominated the second part of the century.
Johnny Donovan and Jimmy Walsh became local legends. Jimmy retired in 1982 after many years entertaining householders in the district with his comical stories and aphorisms.

He was on first name terms with every man and woman within a seven-mile radius of Callan.
Johnny Donovan served the town equally well up to the day of his sad departure from this world in 1999.
Jimmy and Johnny retired from boxing on the same day in 1966.
A national newspaper carried a picture showing Johnny congratulating his friend and fellow sportsman who had beaten his opponent in the second round at Castlecomer Sports Festival.
Jimmy Walsh devoted much of his well-earned retirement to coaching a new generation of local boxers and I still highly respected as head coach at his beloved Callan Boxing Club.
He joined in the chorus of good wishes to the staff of Callan Post Office and looks forward to meeting all his old friends and sparring partners of yesteryear in that great sorting office in the sky.
Life goes on as locals, and PO staff alike, grow accustomed to their new home from home, the inexorable march of time never taking a break.
But one message has gone out loud and clear from the town on the Kling’s River: there will always be a post office in Callan.

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