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Old Post Office ------ Kilmacanogue

My earliest memory of the old post office was when our neighbour Maura brought me along when she was going to the village to post a letter. I didn't take much notice of the buying of the stamp or posting of the letter, but I do remember the sweets. The shop woman counted out a number of small round sweets from one of the big glass jars, she then made a little pointy ended bag from a piece of newspaper and poured the sweets into it, and closed it over. On the way home, I found out that you don't chew aniseed balls.

This was around 1940, and a year into the Second World War, and it was Esther (Ellen) O'Toole (née Arnold) who was then running the shop and PO for her brother Peter, she having become postmistress in 1938. The PO was located in the two storey house that still sits at the foot of Barchuilla, which is the age old name for that winding road, and also the area around the foot of Little Sugarloaf. It means "top of the wood," and is pronounced locally as 'bor hilla.'

post office
Postcard showing the Old Post Office

About this time, the blacksmiths Jack and Mark Kavanagh retired, and when their house and forge came up for sale, Peter Arnold was the buyer. He then sold the Old PO and moved across the road to the better location. Esther continued here as postmistress until retiring in 1944 when Peter himself became postmaster. He still kept on with his job as a postman, but his round was unusual in that his deliveries were only for post offices. This meant a 6am cycle to Bray GPO to collect the bags of post for Kilmacanogue, Roundwood, Annamoe and Glendalough, with a turn around at Annamoe, and then cycle back to Kilmacanogue. This journey was made in all weathers, six days a week. The PO bicycles were stronger and heavier than ordinary bikes, and were fitted with a large carrier over the front wheel, onto which the postbags and parcels were strapped. In those days nearly all bicycles still had just a single gear, which meant Peter having to push his bike up most of the hills from Bray to Annamoe. On his return journey, it is likely that he would have taken letters and parcels to be posted, and would take them on to Bray PO each morning.

old post office
Having a rest

As postal business increased after the war, this round became motorised, and WS Doyle (St Kevins Bus Co) had the contract for this delivery at the time of the 'Big Snow' of 1947. The first snowfall came on Jan 26th and the roads were blocked for a few days but then Feb 1st brought the first blizzard of the year, which blocked the roads again, phone lines were down, and Bray had a blackout. Feb 10th brought another blizzard, and then intermittent snow until Feb 25th when there came the worst blizzard in living memory. Peter then aged 65 was doing the Red Lane/Lower Calary post round. Its steep climbs and snow filled narrow lanes meant that for many weeks, shanks mare was the only way to get around, slipping and sliding, because if it was not snowing it was freezing. He just could not have got to many of the houses every day, and it is probable that he would have concentrated his efforts on different areas in turn.

Ned Smith was on the Rocky Valley / Ballybawn / Old Long Hill route. This was also hilly terrain with exposed stretches. Ned was on in years also, and John Stephens remembers that during one of the blizzards, he only got as far as their house in Ballybawn. He stayed most of the day, and his company was enjoyed. Few families had a radio, none had television, so callers were always welcome.

Roundwood was cut off, and some of the roads had vanished under mighty snow drifts. This area is about 1000 ft above sea level and the people are used to getting more snow than the lower areas, but the old people said that they never saw deeper snow, or higher drifts. It was more than a week before council workers managed to open the road from Ashford to within 3 miles of Roundwood and until the rest of the road was dug out 3 or 4 weeks later, food and postal deliveries were brought in to Roundwood on foot. Much of the road from Kilmacanogue to Roundwood was impassable for the same period, and people had to dig out paths and get about as best they could, but one section of the population were very happy, because the schools were closed until further notice.

There are many accounts of the hardships suffered, and farmers had a desperate time keeping their livestock foddered, and trying to recover as many sheep as possible from the hedge-high snow drifts. It must have been an exhausting and dispiriting task. The sheep losses were to continue through the lambing season, when the weakened condition of the surviving ewes took its toll and the true scale of the losses became apparent.

Peter finally retired from delivering letters in August 1950, aged 68 years. In the 1901 census returns he was a 19 year old postman, which adds up to a very long career. Various assistants filled in after Esther retired, but now he took on the shop/post office full time. His personality was a bit on the serious side, and he didn't go in for idle chat, and for those whose change skidded along the counter, that was his way of saying that you had not enhanced his day.
An incident still recalled, concerns this lady who regularly called to buy stamps and post letters. She would usually have several small dogs on leads, but on this day she lifted one of her dogs onto the counter, and without a word, Peter swiped it off. Hygiene was not much of an issue then, but coupled with her superior manner, it was too much for him.

There was also a kinder side to him, and he never minded the young people sitting on his wall or larking about on those long ago summer evenings, and I remember he passed out handfuls of apples to us on one occasion. In after years, various incidents of kindness came to light. He was more comfortable dealing with everyday customers and in 1951 when the electricity came to the village, he bought a fridge, put up the HB sign, and was busier than ever.

Peter Arnold 1881 - 1965
Pictured outside Valembrosa Lodge

In 1957 Peter sold the PO to Jack and Bridie Keenan, and he bought their place 'Seaview' in Glencormac for his retirement. Bridie was postmistress and Jack continued his hackney car business. From 1964 their daughter Angela was running the post office, becoming post mistress herself in 1982. The letters were still sorted on the shop counter until the 1970's, when Bray GPO took over this task. There were three postmen, and Gary King (Killough) retired about this time, and Peter Hickey (Rocky Valley) and Anthony White (Glencormac) were allocated new post rounds in Bray. Kilmacanogue post rounds were merged, and the bicycles were replaced by two PO vans.

post office
Kilmacanogue Post Office from 1940 to 1988

In 1985 Angela and her husband Joe (Donnelly) were busy with the changeover to the new PO which had been built close-by for them by Wicklow Co. Council. This was to replace the old forge PO, soon to be demolished for road widening. Joe now had the contract for the Bray/Annamoe delivery, and extra post office services were being added, so in 1996 the decision was made to close the shop part of the business, which would give them Sundays off, and a bit more time for themselves.
Joe used the expansive frontage of the new PO to put up lovely Christmas lights displays and in time, the roof and chimney were used as well. It added very much to the seasonal spirit and children from miles around were brought to see the display, and passing traffic slowed to enjoy the scene. ( Cars were fewer and slower, a quarter century ago.)

post office
The present Post Office

Angela received due recognition for providing a friendly and efficient service, and was declared Eastern Counties Regional winner of the Post Office of the Year Award for 1999.

Joe became seriously ill, and died during the Millennium year. In 2004 Angela decided to give up the Lotto agency, and then in 2006 she was again honoured. This time she was presented with the Wicklow People of the Year Award for public service.

In these times when local communication is mostly through the car window, the PO is the place where neighbours are most likely to meet, and Angela's local knowledge is valued by locals and visitors alike, and she can do all kinds of stuff on her little computer. We get the pension, pay bills, have a savings account, buy phone credit and more besides, not to mention all the usual postal services. She does all this with good grace, and still enjoys her work. Her grand niece Céire is now working with her, and on busy payout days the imposing figure of James gives a sense of security to customers and staff.

Regarding the early history of the postal service at Kilmacanogue, the General Post Office in Bray yielded nothing. The old records were cleared out at some stage, but the present management don't know if they were burned, or dumped, or if any items were given into safe keeping. There was better luck at the General Post Office in Dublin, where Norman Colin gleaned the following information about the early days of the post office in Kilmacanogue, thanks to the curator Stephen Ferguson.

1864 John Doyle was appointed postmaster, and resigned 1881
1881 Richard Arnold appointed postmaster, and resigned 1910 (d.o.b. 10/4/1848)
1910 Ellen (his wife) appointed postmistress, and resigned ----- (no record)
( The Arnold family tree shows Ellen as daughter of John Doyle)

Ellen Arnold
Ellen Arnold

The next dates we have are from an old post office Rialachán (regulations) book that Angela has preserved. As new directives were issued from the GPO, each was written or pasted into this book, which was then dated and initialled by the post master/mistress. The first entry is for 3/10/1930 and the last one was 17/12/1980. (50 years)
1930 -- 1938 initialled MA ---- Mary Arnold
1938 -- 1944 ,, EOT --- Esther O'Toole (née Arnold)
1945 -- 1955 ,, PA --- Peter Arnold
1957 -- 1964 ,, BK --- Bridie Keenan
1965 -- ,, AD --- Angela Donnelly (née Keenan).

The MA initials were a puzzle, as there was no 'M' name in the Arnold household on census night 1901 or 1911 and the eldest three of the nine siblings were absent, maybe married or away working, but could one of them have been the 'MA' who was in charge before Esther took over in 1938.
Esther O'Toole was widowed young, her husband Pat having died aged 47. They had two daughters, Nellie (Ellen) and Teresa and had lived at Riverside, in Kilmacanogue. On making enquiries locally, I learned that both sisters had married and settled in Bray.
Ellen and her husband were both unwell, so Norman and I met with Teresa (Creamer) which was kindly arranged by her son Kevin. Teresa solved the 'M' problem and confirmed that her aunt Mary had been post mistress in the 1930s. She had taken over from her mother Ellen in the 1920's and was post/mistress until 1938. Teresa had other interesting memories and we enjoyed meeting her. She will be 91 years old next August. Nellie's husband has since died. May he rest in peace.
Pat O'Toole was from the Red Lane, and was a brother to Peter O' Toole, who was the father of Margaret (who lives in the home place) and Kevin, Doreen (Woods,) Peter and Pat, who all live locally.

Esther O'Toole
Esther O'Toole and daughters Teresa and Nellie on Carrigoona 1925
Hills cottage in the distance on Sugarloaf

The second post office is no more, so when next you are driving from the N11 and around by the present PO on to Rocky Valley, you will have passed over the spot where Peter Arnold and then Bridie Keenan sold stamps and postal orders, groceries and shoelaces. Both of them would have remembered when it was the local forge, and the anvil rang to the sounds of the Kavanagh brothers shaping horseshoes, repairing farm implements and generally playing an important role in the local economy.
Neither of the brothers had married and the domestic arrangements were haphazard and when growing up, I heard many stories about the goings on at the forge. One bone of contention between the brothers was that Jack was too fond of the drink, and would sometimes head to the pub as soon as he got paid for a job. That would make Mark hopping mad, and whatever there was for dinner, there would be none left for Jack. Their rows never became over serious, and provided local amusement and stories to tell. On winter evenings the forge was a favourite place for card playing, exchanging news, or telling yarns, but the following is a true story about Jack, his sledge hammer, and the bell.

Old Forge
Kavanagh's house and Forge

The parish clergy had decided that the Kilmacanogue bell was to be relocated to the parish church in Enniskerry in exchange for their bell. The parishioners had not been consulted and Jack brooded about this, until one day he looked up to see the local curate in conversation with someone at the grotto. Losing no time he shouldered his sledge and set out. When he arrived up, the priest asked Jack where he was going with the sledge, Jack replied that his ancestors had helped to pay for the bell and he was going to take the Kavanagh share of it before it was moved. The priest was aghast and remonstrated with Jack and finally persuaded him against that action, and Jack returned to the forge. Time passed, and the plan was quietly dropped, and as those who knew him would say, "Jack was no daw."

As an afterthought I should mention that Mark, who was the younger brother, was always called Marks, and there was also a Marks Davis in the locality at that time. Maybe the added 's' was in general usage then for the name Mark.

Old Post Office today
The Old Post Office today

To conclude the story where we started at the Old Post Office, there have been several changes of ownership over the years. It has been extended to the rear and a front porch has been added, otherwise its front view is much the same as it was in the old photos. The same cannot be said of the surroundings which have been shaped and reshaped in the interests of keeping the heavy traffic slicing through the village. The old building is now partially hidden behind the slip road high wall, but we are fortunate that in spite of the face of the village being changed all around it, this little piece of history has survived. It is now seventy two years since it became a private residence, but it is still known to everyone as the Old Post Office.

Seán Brady April 2012

Postscript June 2014
Since the Old Post Office article was written, Kilmacanogue was plunged into mourning when Angela was suddenly taken from us on the 15th of August 2013.

Angela Angela Donnelly 1935 - 2013

Alec Byrne composed the following poetic tribute, which mirrors how we all felt on that very sad occasion, and also our happy memories of her.

Tribute to Angela

Twas on a Friday morning that the news it did take flight
That our beloved Angela had passed away the previous night
The village it was reeling, we were all stunned with shock
For it had lost its greatest asset, its pillar and its rock
In the post office you were outstanding as you attended to our needs
You never made distinction between colour, class or creed
From the baby in the buggy to the pensioner old and grey
You always had a friendly word to brighten up their day
You gave a lifetime to the choir steadfast through the years
At Christmas time and Easter time, your singing was a joy onto our ears
You sang on stage and at many functions that "Any dream will do"
But now the party will be quieter, it's so lonely without you
As we laid you down to rest in the graveyard on the hill
It will always be remembered as the day Kilmac stood still
So farewell to you dear Angela it was sad to see you go
But we know you will be happy to rejoin you beloved Joe
You lead us by your example with an ever loving heart
And we never will forget you as we sing "How great thou art"

Céire had learned the business well from Angela and the PO continued to run smoothly, but there was concern locally because An Post were on an economy drive and some smaller POs were being closed. A "Keep Kilmacanogue Post Office" campaign was launched, and over the following months the unflappable Céire was being asked every day "any word yet" and in early May (2014) word did arrive, that Céire Kennedy had been appointed as Postmistress. This was great news, and Céire will continue the family PO tradition, and the local post office will continue to fulfil its many business functions, and very importantly, its roll as a social link, and with this happy outcome the story of the Old PO is up to date.
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