Monday’s Post Writers
Monday’s Post is a book of stories and memories from childhood and working lives of a group of 12 men, retired postal workers and their friends.
I was about eleven years old when one of my Ma’s older friends asked me if I could get the turf for her. Widows and old age pensioners could get a fuel voucher with their pension, which entitled them to eight stone of turf. I asked my next door neighbour, Mr. Keogh, if he could get me a wooden box. He drove a horse and cart on the docks, bringing timber to the timber yards in East Wall. He duly obliged and brought me home a wooden box and an axle and wheels. My brother got me some nuts and bolts from the garage where he worked. I had the job of putting them together.
If we had a telegram for Cadbury’s on the East Wall Road, we went around the back of the factory and we were given misshaped chocolate; we did the same in Bird’s Jelly Deluxe in Ship Street at the back of Dublin Castle; then, we would go and buy cream wafer biscuits in a shop which now has preservation order as the last strong holder of 1916.
We were surrounded by farmland, and we spent our time in summer playing in these fields. We dug trenches in the ground to make hideouts. We spent our days there, baking spuds and toasting bread on our open air fire. The roof of the hut was made of lots of wood, flour sacks from the Gateaux bakery and hay from the stacks. One night, two farm hands were taking a shortcut home from a nearby pub after having one too many drinks. They didn’t see our hut and landed inside it – one on top of the other. One of them broke his leg. The Gardaí investigating the incident were given my name and address and I was in big trouble at home.
At the time of President Kennedy’s visit I was a junior postman delivering telegrams on a motorbike from the GPO in Dublin. We were all warned that the streets of Dublin would be closed during his visit. This was great news to us lads: we had a great excuse not to return too early from our deliveries. A few of us agreed to meet at Parnell Square where we could see him travel down from Dorset Street towards O’Connell Street. When all six of us had successfully delivered our telegrams we met well in advance of the motorcade’s arrival at the appointed spot only to find the crowd ten to fifteen people deep.
Ration books were used to control the food intake of every family. Yet one of my first memories was the sweet taste of condensed milk, and the bland taste of bread and dripping sandwiches. Money was scarce in the war years, but my mother managed as much as she could on small wages. She was an expert at darning socks and patching trousers. On the rare occasion she went to the butcher’s, she’d ask for some bones for ‘the dog’. We never had a dog! She used to make delicious soup from the bones.
By this time hundreds of people had gathered on the far side of the road wondering what was going on. Then the army bomb disposal men, in their suits and masks, opened the post box and lots of powder came out. They put the letters in a special bag and then put that into another bag and sealed it. The firemen gave them a hose and they flushed out the post box and cleaned all around it. I was still standing on my own outside the office when Frank Cox came and he was told to stand beside me. The fire officer would not come any nearer than about four metres to speak to us.
When I came to fourteen years of age, my father, who was a stickler about education, said to me: ‘I want you to do the examination for the telegraph boy.’ At that time, you had to sit an exam. I sat the exam, and I came eleventh. When the letter came, I didn’t open it – my father did. He was a hard man, a sergeant major, but he came over and said: ‘now son, from today you are going to be a Civil Servant, you can go in and you cannot be sacked unless you rob, and I know you won’t be doing that.’ He brought me to get my eyes tested for the job and the optician said: ‘one hundred per cent’. My father loved telling people what the optician had said: ‘one hundred percent, eye sight perfect’.
Not far from where we lived was a little river called the Tramore River which flowed through Batty Murphy’s field. Every day my pals and I would go to Batty’s field and have a game of hurling, then after the game we would swim in the stream, which was only about a foot deep. I must also say that we had no swimming trunks or towels. We swam in the nude and we dried ourselves by running around or else lying by the side of the stream. We were tough guys.
One of my early duties was to bring and exchange a portable battery to the LSE garage in North Frederick Street, at the side of Findlater’s Church. The battery was used to power my father’s radio. He had erected an insulated aerial on top of a wooden scaffolding pole at the end of our back garden; the reception was so good that I was able to listen to the radio commentary of Joe Louis’ defence of his world heavyweight championship against challengers such as Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles.
Every Monday I would go to the Royal Hotel and collect two buckets of waste Guinness for the pigs. When I arrived home with it, my father would give the pigs the Guinness. They would end up knocked out and sleep for hours and put on the weight. In November my father would sell the pigs and chickens for cash, which helped to offset the shortfall of money coming into the shop during the winter months and of Christmas, as nobody wanted new suits during this period.
On my first day at school, my mother brought me by the hand to Saint Vincent’s Convent Infants School in North William Street and left me with Sister Kevin at the main door, as all the other mothers did with their children. It was normal then for children to start school at the age of four. Sister Kevin took me again by the hand down a flight of stairs and into the school yard, from there she brought me into the classroom, where there were a lot of other children my own age. This was my first time to see the nuns with their winged bonnets and I often wondered if they had their heads shaved in order to wear their bonnets.
Monday’s Post is a book of collected stories and memory snapshots, which brings to life North Dublin in the 40s, and tells of working lives which started at 14, when young lads left school and became telegram boys. The stories tell of playing football in the streets and getting caught by the police, of hard work and schooldays, and of the pride of starting in the job with a new uniform.