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
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.
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.
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.
Phil Boyle - 1930
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 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
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".
Apparently the children
in particular looked out
for him to see what he
might be bringing, even
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
from America, as a lot
of people in the Mourne
had emigrated there over
the years. Christmas
was the main time in
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
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).
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