The four-day dispute in the postal service last week, which kept our mailboxes safe for the local spiders, shocked me more than a little.

That is because I fear for the future of our country postmen.

Are their days almost numbered? Has their fate been stamped already by the unelected but extremely powerful bureaucrats who, in the final analysis, are the ones who truly rule us today?

Will the green letterboxes on the village streets soon become as obsolete as the rusting pairs of petrol pumps I was talking about here recently.

Or the public phone kiosks that for so long served the needs of the country generations?

I genuinely fear for the future of our postmen.

They used to say that when England sneezes, little Ireland catches a heavy cold.

It is a fact that the Royal Mail service over there has suffered sorely recently, and its range of services to John Bull are being sharply reduced and sub-contracted out to other agencies.

Our postal service was patterned on the Royal Mail; some of our older postboxes are still Victorian in design and legend.

We are probably fortunate that the body politic need the background reality of the GPO in O’Connell Street for the upcoming centenary celebrations — or it might have been closed down already. That is probably closer to the pure truth than we would wish to be the case.

The faceless but real national rulers of the State have launched economic-style programmes across rural Ireland, in the last 20 years especially, which have had drastic consequences upon all local services.

Gardaí have been pulled out of the parishes in their hundreds. Banks and small post offices and schools have been axed. The financial savings have been minimal, but the social and communal loss extremely heavy.

Be it garda or fireman or nurse or doctor, somebody up there has declared war on all rural uniforms. And our postmen have always worn one of the most vital uniforms of all.

Whether they cycled around their parishes on High Nellies or walked, or, more recently, drove the compact mailvans, our postmen (and women) always delivered much more than routine mail to their neighbours.

They brought the news of the barony and all the latest events to the doorsteps, or imparted it when having a quick cup of tea in the kitchen.

If Maggie had twins, or Johnny was on the way out, or if McCarthy had bought a new tractor, or if Keenan’s chimney went on fire, or young Sullivan was emigrating, the oral mail from the postman was usually much more interesting than what was delivered in envelopes.

And he would oblige isolated rural folk too, by posting their letters for them, or passing on news to other neighbours. The country postman has been a social worker in real terms, for as long as I can remember.

We are in a new era.

They talk now about IT and broadband and connectivity. It is a complex equation surely, and we all can see from our morning mail today that an extremely high percentage of it is junk and rubbish.

Meanwhile, amazingly, every stream of traffic everywhere in the provinces contains a remarkable percentage of commercial courier vehicles, apparently very busily engaged.

Remarkably, the unelected kingpins seem to respond by closing down vitally necessary rural post offices, and limiting their services. Is that not a fact?

As the rural population dwindles and ages, it is equally true that there are many isolated homes to whose doorstep the postman is the only daily caller.

There are many recorded instances where their contacts with vulnerable persons led to the prevention of tragedies.

They know their rounds, and they know the first names of the people behind the letter boxes. They are a crucial cog in the country wheel.

I hope they survive and thrive far longer than I fear might be the case.


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