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16 October 2014
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The Christmas day postman

Memories of a 1930s Fermanagh postmaster, told by his daughter 70 years on...


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Marion Maxwell’s father, George Cathcart, was the postmaster in Bellanaleck in County Fermanagh in the 1930s. She recounts here some of her father’s memories of those days.

Cathcart's shop & Post Office in Bellanaleck circa 1930
Cathcart's shop & Post Office in Bellanaleck circa 1930

Believe it or not, it was only in 1961 that a postal delivery on Christmas day was abandoned. Until then the postman’s Christmas visit routinely added to the events and excitement of the day.

She tells that there were two postmen who serviced the village post office that was attached to her father’s shop in Bellanaleck. They were Phil Boyle and Henry Cassidy.

Audio Clip: Marion Maxwell - my father's Bellanaleck memories


Henry was a stickler for routine. Even on the coldest morning he would arrive early, impatiently awaiting the first bus at 6.30am, his uniform immaculate and his shoes shined. Henry’s military style was due to the fact that he was a veteran of the Great War. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that he had only one hand.


Photo of Phil Boyle, postman in Bellanaleck, 1930
Phil Boyle - 1930
Phil was a very different character. He was a man of few words had a dry sense of humour. His style and demeanour was laid back and easy going. His often casual approach to timekeeping was frequently the source of much frustration for Henry. In fact it would be fair to say he drove Henry mad.

It was customary for a post office inspector to come once a year and walk with both men on their daily rounds to assess their journey time and workload and so on. Phil, who was wise to this early rudimentary form of “time and motion study”, took great delight in taking the inspector by a circuitous “scenic” route to use up plenty of time. He would take him through every hole in the hedge he could to make the job look difficult. This was particularly farcical because, in reality, both of the postmen would make their rounds by bicycle and complete their rounds in half of the allotted time. This meant they could stop frequently en-route to drink tea around the neighbourhood!

The pre Christmas period was certainly not a postman’s favourite time… The number of incoming parcels, particularly from America, rose dramatically and there were plenty of heavy outgoing parcels to be dealt with as well. In those days many of these would have contained turkeys or geese. They knew this because the legs would be sticking out from the end of the parcel!

Back then, not even Christmas day was a holiday for the postmen. Henry Cassidy’s route took him to Marion’s grandfather’s house where the postman’s arrival traditionally marked the appointed time for Whiskey to be poured.

After a couple of glasses, Henry would fall silent as he remembered a different Christmas day… that of 1915. His battalion, serving in Gallipoli, had been involved in fierce fighting with the Turks on Chocolate Hill overlooking Suvla Bay. On Christmas morning, when the noise of battle had finally ceased, Henry crawled out from under cover to find that not one of his comrades was still alive.

Relevant article:

Christmas has always been a busy time of year for postmen. Pete Sloan looked back over 50 years of Christmas deliveries for a 1980 Radio Ulster series "Up Country".

The bicycle gets left outside, when invited in for a 'wee drink'!
Apparently the children in particular looked out for him to see what he might be bringing, even if it was only a Christmas card.

Pete delivered the post on his bicycle even on Christmas Day - although he did get Boxing Day off! Many of the letters were from America, as a lot of people in the Mourne area had emigrated there over the years. Christmas was the main time in the year when people wrote home and sent presents. Some of the older folk couldn't read and write, so occasionally Pete would be asked to read the letter for them and write a reply as well. As he went around doing his Christmas deliveries Pete wasn't just offered tea and mince pies, but also a 'wee drink' to warm him up!

Listen to Pete Sloan talking to the programme's presenter about delivering the Christmas post in the Mourne district.
Extract from "Up Country: Mourne Christmas" (1980).

Audio Clip: Pete Sloan - Christmas post in the Mournes



Pauline Embleton - Oct 05
Does Pete Sloan remember Margaret Brodison?

Maybe he's not around anymore? I enjoyed the page so much and forwarded it to Margaret's Great, Great Grandchildren

Pauline (Kelly) Embleton - Connecticut USA
Margaret Brodison's Grandaughter

Pauline Smyth - March '05
Brilliant article from Marion. I heard this when broadcast but enjoyed reading the article on the net. Pauline.

Kevin J Cathcart - December '04
Marion's article was very interesting. Happy New Year to Marion.

Relevant weblinks:


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