County Cavan has benefited from a regular postal service
for many a long year. This distinction might be appreciated
better when it is realised that the neighbouring county
of Leitrim had no post office even in the early nineteenth
It was neither geographical features nor a large letter-writing
public which ensured that Cavan town and Belturbet had a
regular postal service to Dublin and London from about 1659.
Indeed this honour was due to the fact that Whitehall was
worried about the rebellious nature of the OReillys.
Early postal services were established by the crown in localities
considered sensitive therefore when it was planned
that a postal service should serve the remotest parts
of Ireland Belturbet shared the privilege with Belfast,
Derry, Coleraine, Sligo, Galway and Cork.
Richard Robinson was appointed as postmaster in Belturbet
and paid £26.8.0 (£26.40p) per annum for his
own salary and for keeping a foot post to go to Dublin
52 miles backward and forward and for his office and house.
This meant that Robinson employed a man who ran regularly,
if not continuously from Belturbet to Dublin and back again.
Robinson himself, probably, did little work. Indeed he may
have been the Robinson paid for the responsibility of a
few other offices. This meant that Robinson paid others
to fulfil his duties in each office while he managed the
business from a remote but comfortable chair.
Lack of documentary evidence leaves it open to question
why Belturbet had lost its postal service by 1677. By that
stage addresses had to collect their mail from Enniskillen.
I have found no evidence yet as to what happened in the
intervening years but by 1746 Cavan had re-established its
rights and the post from Belturbet, Cavan, Cootehill and
Killeshandra arrived in Dublin every Monday and went out
to these towns on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A letter of a
single page folded on itself (without an envelope) cost
fourpence (four old pence) postage while two-page letters
cost eight old pence. The postage was paid by the addressee.
By 1761 Virginia had been added to the list of Cavan post
towns, all of which had post twice weekly. The demands of
Cavan farmers and businessmen ensured that Ballyconnell
was added to this list by 1778. By that time there was post
three times a week to all of these towns other than Cootehill,
Bailieboro was made a post-town before 1800 and by 1811
Kingscourt and Mount Nugent were added. This mushroom growth
shows that the county enjoyed, used and expected a regular
dependable postal service. People seem to have had little
patience, however, with some of its less efficient servants.
For example, annoyed at what was considered as a lazy postmaster,
an angry freeholder of the town of Cavan wrote
to the Freemans Journal on October 9th, 1770, requesting
that the postmaster of the town rise earlier on the post
mornings to distribute the letters at proper times.
Although Cavan had a good postal service to Dublin, the
service to Belfast left much to be desired. Such post was
carried on cross-roads or roads which connected
the main roads. This service depended on the constant availability
of suitable personnel. For example, when in 1746 the horse-rider
who carried the mail the ten miles from Clogher to Lisnaskea
died, he was not replaced for some time. This meant that
the mail from Cavan was brought to Dublin and then forwarded
to East Ulster. Linen merchants complained bitterly about
these delays which seriously inconvenienced them in their
On the 5th of April 1803 the Enniskillen Mail Coach service
commenced. Intended to carry mail quickly, the company defrayed
some of the postal costs by carrying four outside and one
inside passenger. The coach, drawn by four horses, travelled
through Kells, Virginia, Cavan and Lisnaskea. As this coach
travelled at night leaving 97, Capel Street, Dublin at 7.45
each evening, it needed the protection of two armed guards.
Ostensibly the guards function was to protect against
highway robbers and to ensure that the driver travelled
quickly, that he did not delay too long at any stop and
that he did not partake too liberally of liquid refreshments
even if it was for protection against the cold
night airs. Some irate gentlemen travellers suggested that
the guards were of little practical value as they were known
to imbibe somewhat themselves!
This mail coach service was contracted to John Anderson,
a Scotsman, who then lived in Fermoy. It was said that his
good family connections helped him to win all of the lucrative
Irish mail coach contracts. However, he was known to be
a stickler for time ordering that each coach
should travel as fast as was safe - which worked out about
an average of four miles per hour.
This was the same pace attained by the local coaches and
carriages which carried mail occasionally. For example,
the Cavan-Killeshandra and Enniskillen-Ballyshannon coaches
had a declared speed of about six to seven miles an hour
but they averaged much less.
It is interesting that although there was a good mail coach
service foot posts were used in Cavan as late as the 1840s.
These were men who carried the post from Belturbet to Cavan
Post Office, from Killeshandra to Ballinamore and from Kingscourt
Throughout much of this time letters were delivered only
to the nearest post office. The addressee or a representative
called to the office to collect the mail. Dublin introduced
an offical Penny Post about 1765 (revised 1773) by which
letters were delivered to a home address for one penny.
In some places such as Belfast it was the post-master who
personally hired the letter carriers to deliver letters
to each house. They were paid a wage out of these extra
pennies which they collected. This convenient penny post
service was established by the post-master of Butlers Bridge
on the fifth of January 1831. From August 1832 the people
of Ballinamore had their letters delivered from Ahascragh
Post Office for an extra penny and from December 1832 the
people of Carrigallen similarly took delivery from Killeshandra
Post Office. The Treasury did not sanction these Cavan services
Irish people never enjoyed paying high postal charges. The
people of County Cavan, though, had reason for some extra
dissatisfaction because the people of Virginia paid less
for postage to Dublin than did letter-writers in other parts
of the county. About 1800 a one-page letter from Virginia
to Dublin cost fourpence while the cost was fivepence from
neighbouring Cavan towns. Two-page and three-page letters
cost twice and three times that amount. The reason for this
discrimination was that Virginia was less than 50 miles
The uniform pre-paid penny post for general letters throughout
the country was introduced on the tenth of January 1840
and the penny black stamp put on sale on the following May
the sixth. Predictably, Cavan appreciated this stream-lining
of the service. In 1847, for example, the Post Office income
from Cavan was £3,261, exceeding the income from all
nearby counties and being almost twice the income of some.
From the 1840s the Post Office began to expand in
duties as well as in the number of sub-offices. Postmens
duties later included the carriage of books and parcels
as well as letters and newspapers and the post offices began
to issue money orders, postal orders and life insurance.
In fact, critics maintained the postal officers had become
money brokers and petty bankers. To the general
public, though, postmasters were honest, sedate, good
men - and women.
The security of the job attracted many, it ensured competition
for each appointment and the use of plenty of pull.
Records shows that Post Office appointments in County Cavan
between 1858 and 1867 were filled on the personal recommendation
of Lord Farnham, the Hon. I. Maxwell, M.P., Col. Annesley,
M.P. Hamilton, M.P. and W.A. Moore, M.P. The men and women
appointed as postmasters got a salary of about £4
to £5 per annum. Applicants were expected to be most
respectable, have the support of the gentry
of the neighbourhood and be able to make a sufficient
payment as surety. For example £15 was expected as
guarantee for a postman for a job of about eight shillings
This form of selection, however, gave rise to problems on
occasions as, when it was found that the person who had
received such a laudable recommendation could, when put
to the test, neither read nor write. This happened when
Patrick Malley was appointed in Spiddal, County Galway.
Was this the reason that William Chambers, who was appointed
to Bailieborough Post Office on the 23rd of July, 1858 on
Lord Farnhams recommendation was replaced by Mary
Anne Adams who was recommended by Mr Annesley the following
August the twentieth?
Throughout its history women held positions of responsibility
in the Post Office. This may have been the reason why, in
the late nineteenth century, when the rise in the cost of
living forced even gentlewomen of limited means
to seek employment, many looked to the Post Office. Respected
they must have been, but I wonder why The Cavan Weekly News
carried the following story on June 6th, 1890.
Women have proved themselves the equals of male clerks
both as regards the amount of work they can do, and the
ability with which it is done. In the Post Office Savings
Bank at the present time the women are doing exactly the
same work as the men, and they are doing it with fewer mistakes.
All along the line of women workers the greatest progress
has been reported, except in this one question of civility
and attention to business, which affects only the Post Office
workers who stand behind the counter. Everyone knows that
there is a good deal to put up with. Men are not nowadays
all that they should be, even where women are concerned,
and occasionally the Post Office girls are obliged to take
impudent remarks as well as money in exchange for stamps.
Some of them resent being told that they are pretty, and
visit their resentment upon unoffending customers, while
others then object to an exactly opposite kind of treatment
and are wrathful with men who do not, and women who cannot,
flirt with them ...
Taken from Breffni Blue