Ardara says goodbye to the old Post Office

The old post office in Ardara closed its doors to the public for the last time on June 5 after Beatty Egan and her daughter, Pauline McHugh, both former post mistresses, posted the last letter.

The last customer was Rosemary Breslin of Cronkeerin and the 'An Post' sign was removed by post office officials. This building, on the Diamond of Ardara, had served as a post office since around 1902. Thus it had been the Ardara post office for very nearly a hundred years. Peter McCaul was the first post master. As this was the time of the British administration, the Ardara sub post office was then under the control of Strabane Head Office, County Tyrone. Seven post men were based at the office then and they delivered the post on foot. That number is now reduced to two, who deliver mail in the familiar fast-moving post vans.

Back in 1906, postmen toiled the roads as far as the top of Glengesh, Sandfield. above Carrickatleave, to Tullymore, Tullyheag, and Meenarillagh, beyond Beagh, over the Nick, and out to Leconnell and Maghera. Twice a week, mail was delivered up over the pass of Granny.

The post office was originally in the McCaul family. Peter was postmaster into the 1950s, and his sister, Maggie, kept a drapery shop in the same building. On Peter's death the post office passed to Tom Egan, his nephew. Tom was an ex-Garda and it was his wife who operated the post office until it passed in turn to her son, Tomas, in the late '60's. After his death in 1971, his wife, Beatty, continued as postmistress and draper until 1992. Her daughter, Pauline McHugh, took over the job and kept the post office on the road until 2001.Thus the Ardara post office was run by one family for a total of four generations.

When Pauline resigned from her position, the contract was put up for tender. In accordance with modern regulations, the selected person for a job as post mistress/master has to supply the premises, as well as a kitchen, bathroom and

sorting-room for the post office staff. The office itself must have sufficient space for modern office equipment. Kathie Diver is the new Ardara post mistress, and the post office is now located in the recently enlarged premises of Divers' Newsagents.

Beatty saw various changes in her job over the years. The old manual switchboard was changed to an automatic system in 1984. Whilst in charge of the manual system, Beatty and her family were on call for twenty-four hours a day. During the night, a bell would ring upstairs if someone rang the post office telephone exchange, and a member of the family was duty-bound to go downstairs to put the call through. Practical jokers used to turn the handle of the phone in the call-box across the road, then run off when the post office house-light went on.

"If there was a call at night between a boy and his girlfriend, it could be hours before you got back to bed," mused Betty. "We used to have fun with the phone operators in Letterkenny and Donegal. We knew their voices, but we hardly ever met any of them said Pauline.

Kathleen Gallagher Ardconnell a former switchboard operator in Ardara, was the person who formally switched the Ardara telephone system from manual to automatic. "She actually had to go up on a ladder to the control panel behind the barracks to do that." recalled Pauline with a chuckle.
The most disturbing change which Beatty remembers was the introduchon of computers. She never really took to them. "I would not touch them for all the tea in China!" she said. So her daughter, Pauline, became Ardara's postmistress in 1992.

"lt was a tourist information centre as well as a post office," said Pauline. "Tourists would come in asking for directions to houses they'd rented, how to get to Narin beach, asking the closing times of shops, the price of a stamp for a postcard. We could nearly always get across the language barrier with sign language. I remember a German tourist who'd had too much Guinness, and who swallowed the stamp he was licking. I laughed and laughed. lt didn’t put him off Ardara, because he came back again the next summer. It didn't put him off Guinness either!''

Dishonesty had been almost non-existent. "It only ever happencd once that people tried to break into the post office at night. I had an iron bar fixed across the inside of the door and they couldn't get in. I was very frightened," said Beatty

Pauline also recalled an incident last sumtner when three central Europeans attempted to take the mission boxes from her post office. After their departure she telephoned Glenties Garda Station and was informed that the mission boxes from Inver, Dunkineely and Mt. Charles post offices had all been raided. The miscreants were arrested on the road to Dungloe.

The clientele of the post office more than doubled in Pauline's time with an increase in the services provided by An Post. The closure of the Loughros Point sub office also meant more business and additional pressure, as Friday morning queues in the post office became a regular feature of village life. Christmas queues were also quite impressive, and although they were opportunities for good humoured conversation, it was difficult for the person working behind the counter.

After closing the post office for the last time, a small group adjourned to the Corner House for a drink, and here Beatty and Pauline were pleasantly surpised to find themselves being honoured by the Ardara Town Traders. Beatty received a lovely bouquet and Pauline received a picture by local artist, Stephen Bennett. The Town Traders were represented by Josephine Sweeney, Cathie Kennedy, and Kathie Diver marking in this pleasant way nearly a hundred years of Ardara postal history.

Courtesy of Susan Boyd Donegal Democrat 2002