FOR 144 years it has been at the heart of a small community – but last week Culkey post office closed its doors for the final time.
Operating from inside a family home passed down through the generations, the post office became home and work for Shirley Johnston (nee Walsh), along with her husband Ivor.
There, they raised five children: Gordon, Mervyn, Jeffrey, Gary and Niall. And for over 50 years, Shirley has worked in the tiny post office in her home.
Her time and dedication were recognised earlier this year when she was awarded a British Empire Medal.
But, as of last Tuesday – the post office facility moved from a small part of her home to Reilly’s Spar at Scaffog.
Her grandfather, William George Walsh opened the post office back in 1871. It was passed on to Shirley’s uncle, William Robert Walsh or ‘Bob’ – and then to her brother, William George Walsh.
Shirley set up home at the cottage in 1961 aged 23, and from that point took on the role of sub post-mistress.
She explained: “We settled here in 1961, Gordon was only six weeks old at the time. So I have been working at the post office 54 years in July. The post office was carried through the family.
“It just became a way of life,” she added.
The post office covered a radius of around a mile and a half – and up until close to 25 years ago, had its own postmen. They were Pat Ward and Allan Price, the latter who was killed by the IRA on a postal round in 1983.
In for particular mention from Shirley was postman George Fawcett from Rushin. He also clocked up 54 years.
“He was a rural postman at Culkey from 1904 until 1958, equalling 54 years,” she explained,
“He covered 20 miles per day on the postal rounds. Firstly by foot, and later by bicycle. In all those years it was 330,000 miles.”
Rural post offices like Shirley faced the same changes as their bigger counterparts.
“The big changes were that it was all by ledgers and book work, and pension dockets. Then it changed to computers and it was the post office card that people switched to: that was around 2000,” Shirley said.
“It is a tiny office, but all the equipment fitted in well enough and it was as operational as any post office. It did the same transactions as anywhere else.”
While she was given the choice, aged 77, Shirley felt that the time was right to let the post office go.
“I definitely enjoyed it – it had it’s ups and downs and you had the responsibility too. Then there’s always that element of maybe being robbed.
“It was my decision: They let me make the decision whether I’d want to carry on or not. I think at my age it was good.”
And will she miss it?
“I don’t think I will: You know when it’s time to quit. I have a farm, I have a lot of hobbies: I have a boat that I’ll maybe get out on more. Maybe we’ll have a nicer Autumn, it hasn’t been a great year for boating. And hopefully we’ll all keep in contact with the people we’ve met.”
With a keen interest in poetry, music and painting – as well as 11 grandchildren – there is certainly plenty to keep Shirley busy.
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