End of an era as post office closes

Post office closure indicative of changes in rural life, writes Donal Hickey.

THE closure of one of Kerry's best-known post offices on January 6 will mark not only the end of an era, but also a rapidly changing way of life in rural areas.

For the post office in Kilgarvan, run by brothers Denis P and John O'Sullivan for the past 43 years, is much more than a place where you can buy stamps, or mail letters. It is also a meeting place, a centre of local news and good conversation and even a genealogy databank.

Many well-known sporting personalities generally call whenever they pass through Kilgarvan. The likes of Mick O'Connell, Con Paddy O'Sullivan, Johnny Culloty, Justin McCarthy, Tom Keane and even the Offaly goalscorer Seamus Darby, to name but a few, are always greeted with a 'fáilte romhat'.

The brothers, who took over the post office from sisters Bridie and Carmel Cronin in June 1962, will continue to operate their traditional grocery, where you can purchase anything over the counter from a pair of woollen socks to a sliced pan.

The post office is being transferred to Kilgarvan supermarket owner and politician Michael Healy-Rae.

Huge changes have been witnessed by the O'Sullivans. When they began, there were just seven phones in Kilgarvan; now, there are up to 100 phones.

It was a time when local post offices were also manually-operated telephone exchanges the phone service in Kilgarvan did not become automatic until 1985. They also saw the postal service become high-tech, getting a computer in 1998.

O'Sullivan is by far the most common surname around Kilgarvan and, with several families of that name, understandable problems can be caused for a locum postman.

But the brothers have an in-depth knowledge of every family in the district, going back generations, and additional names, such as O'Sullivan McCann or O'Sullivan Glas, are used to distinguish families.

As the writer of Kilgarvan notes for local newspapers for years, Denis P is noted for the way he can trace relations.

If a descendant of a Kilgarvan person wins fame or fortune anywhere in the country, or internationally, he's usually the first to know.

The sporting Ó hAilpín brothers, from Cork, have close family ties with Kilgarvan, as Denis P is wont to stress.

Many Americans in search of their roots around Kilgarvan call to the post office.

"We're often able to help. However, problems can arise when they've had a great grandmother called Mary O'Sullivan, born around here in the 19th century. There could be a hundred Mary O'Sullivans and they mightn't have a clue as to the townland she might have been born in," Denis P pointed out.

"One thing I find about these Americans is if they find any trace at all of the old family homestead, even a single stone, they go home happy."

A few years ago, the brothers could refer root searchers to three knowledgeable local men John O'Sullivan Roger, Mick O'Reilly and Pat Healy who held court in O'Sullivan Roger's bar next door to the post office. Sadly, all three are now dead.

Meanwhile, the O'Sullivan brothers are looking forward to a more restful life, but are hoping old friends will continue to drop in.

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