- Jack McDonald
- By Seamus O'Rourke
Jack McDonald, who retired in
1976, is a colourful personality to a large number of people in this
part of the country. He and his father Owen have been associated with
the mails in Carlow for the major part of this century.
- Picture taken at the presentation to Mr. Jack
McDonald retiring from the P.O. Staff after 60 years
service (1 to r.)—Jack Keating (overseer); Bill Moore
(ex overseer); J. C. Burke (ex- Postmaster); Jack
McDonald, Jim Reilly (Postmaster), and John D. Moylan,
After nearly sixty years service with the Post
Office in Carlow, Jack McDonald — otherwise known as 'Jack the Post."
and (to distinguish him from a younger colleague) “Auld Jack” —has
Reluctantly? "I'd start my life all over again in
the same work, and am very sorry to have to leave it, "he said. But I
suppose at seventy-six I was getting a bit stiff at it”
"I liked the crowd I met in the job and obliged
everybody as much as I could. I'd do it all again in the morning."
Jack's memories of his working life are a synoptic
history of the mail service in Carlow during the early part of this
century. He remembers talk of the first Carlow Post Office in Burrin
Street, although he has no personal recollection of this.
Transferred to Dublin Street
Later the Post Office was transferred to what was
subsequently to become the late Hugh O'Donnells (the solicitor's office)
and then to the corner of Dublin Street-Centaur Street, where most
people remember its location before the new GPO was built on the corner
of Burrin Street and Kennedy Avenue a few years ago,
"I remember a dandy postman in the early days when
1 was only a .chap, called Jack Hayden, when the office was in Hugh
O’Donnell's" he said Jack Hayden was in charge of getting the hampers of
mail to and from the railway station. There was an ass and cart for
doing this job, but Jack was so tasty that he would walk along the path
as if he had nothing to do with the ass and cart while Jim McDarby and
myself would drive the cart. That was around 1906.
Jack Hayden later went into the Army, and he joined
the Post Office in London when he came out. That was the last I heard of
The PO building in mid-Dublin Street was a private
house when Jack McDonnell first knew it. "There was a doctor McDoo lived
there and there's an old range owned by him still in the basement
kitchen since that time.
"In those days the postmen had grand uniforms with
gold wire badges on their caps and lapels. Every morning they had to
parade for inspection and be very clean. But they were well looked
"There are a few names I remember from those times
— Davy Grey, and Dan Harrington and a man called Nelson. That would have
been around 1920."
That was the period when the British Armed forces
were stationed in what is now the Heart Home and Jack says it was a very
impressive sight to see large batches of them exercising their horses in
the Fair Green.
He remembers the morning Liam Stack went in to take
over the Barracks in 1922 and the subsequent takeover of the hospital on
the Kilkenny Road (Old Union) by Irish Troops where the Regional College
and Technical Schools now stand.
"It was the finest hospital you ever saw," says
Jack, "all granite stone, and the patients were moved up into what is
now the Sacred Heart Home so that the soldiers could be billeted there.
"There was no ambulance in those days, just a horse
and a covered wagon, and of course there was no such thing as clinics,
but generally there was not much sickness -— the old people were very
Most of Jack's Post Office career was spent on the
Crettyard Road. His father Owen (who worked the mails for 45 years) had
been working that and another route for Isaac Langreil who contracted
the mails for the Post Office and whose sidecars were also used to carry
Owen McDonald pictured outside his home in Haymarket
around 1930. He worked on the mails in Carlow for forty
Owen began this work with a pony and sidecar in
1901 on the Tullow Road and stayed at it until 1915 when this route was
taken over by Lawsons with a motor car and it was later again taken over
by Byrne's of Tullow.
Owen then went over to the Crettyard run in 1917
but as he was a very heavy man (over twenty stone) he handed over the
job to Jack in 1918.
"And boys it was tough work at times. I often went
to Crettyard with the icicles hanging out of my hat after a frosty
morning. Oh. it was hard going, and cold weather, but you didn't mind
it. My father got a pound a week for being a charge-hand. and I got
From 1918 to 1923 Jack worked for Isaac Langrell's
son Fred who had taken over the business when his father went into
Jack continued to work the service for Fred up to
1945 (when Owen died) and then continued in his own right until 1952
when the Post Office vans took over. It was at this stage he went to
work in the Carlow P. O. doing the railway station service and the town
parcels, along with cleaning duties. "I was on the Crettyard run for
thirty-three years and never missed a mail, hail, rain or snow in that
In at quarter to
"In the early days 1 used to get into the Post
Office at a quarter to six and be ready to go at six o'clock.
Ballickmoyler had to be reached at ten minutes to seven, Crettyard at a
quarter past eight and I had to be at Newtown Wall Box at nine o'clock.
It meant delivering the whole road to Doonane Barracks, and if I was
held up with a registered letter or anything else I just had to give the
horse the whip and make up the time.
"You had to be always sure to have your watch to
the tick of the clock, because you were timed out very carefully and I'd
be reported at one or two places if I was late."
Several times he was raided by the IRA. "The bag
was taken," says Jack "but they wouldn't do robbery. I'd get the bag
back the next day with a label on it saying “censored by the IRA — spies
and informers beware!"
"The minute they heard I was raided the RIC or the
Tans would be down looking for a description of the raiders and all that
kind of foolishness.
"After leaving the post bags at Newtown 1 would go
and work all day in Langrell's until the post was ready for me in the
evenings at five o'clock.
"In all 1 must have served under about fourteen
Post Masters. I remember especially Murray, Pierce, O'Leary, Freeman,
John O'Neill, Foley, Lar O'Neill, Burke, Moylan and Reidy. There's a
picture in the Post Office with a lot of them in it.
"Many of these men were very particular, especially
in the early days. You daren't carry a parcel under eleven pounds or a
paper without a stamp. They'd be out on the morning, some of them, and
they'd search you to see what you'd be; carrying."
Born in Doonane. Jack McDonald was brought to
Carlow when he was only a few months —old in 1900. "I don't think it was
on the mail car." he jokes. His first home was in Brown Street, then
known as Hunt Street (there was a saddler named Hunt on the corner in
what is now Lambert's shop, he says.)
The house they lived in was opposite where the
Workman's Club is now and there were stables in the yard to house
Langrell's horses. Later the family moved to Haymarket. Jack married in
1925 to Bridget Fox of Tullow and moved to the Dublin Road. He had three
Tony, his son. who was also on the mails for a
period, died a few years ago at the age of forty-six. He has another son
Jim (Francie) in Manchester and a daughter (Mrs. May Brennan) in
JACK McDONALD left aside his side-car postal and
passenger service to Crettyard, where he was known as "Jack the Post,"
in 1952 after an unbroken period of thirty-three years. It was that year
that the P.O. vans took over-many such routes. Now Jack has retired from
the Post Office after nearly sixty years service.
'He and his father, Owen, had been previously
employed by Isaac Langrell, who had three country services operating in
Carlow in, the early part of the century.
Besides the Crettyard run, there was also the
Tullow route and another to Hacketstown-Coolkenno.
In 1952 Jack was detailed to the railway station
service in Carlow, together with town parcel deliveries, for both "of
which he used the horse and float. He was accompanied on this job by Jim
Part of his job also involved the cleaning of the
"It was a tough job," he said. "I had to light ten
fires with turf every morning and also looked, after the Dublin
newspapers which were. collected by agents from the Post Office.
"I took out the last load of parcels on the float
in 1954 when the P.O. motor vans took over. Somewhere in town there is.
a photograph of the last run taken at the old Post Office. It includes
Mr. Pollard who was then an overseer in the P.O. and owned the Coliseum
cinema with Fred Me Etwee.
Around this period Jack also did auxiliary delivery
routes on bicycles (the Ballybar run) and he also did collections for a
But the colourful years were the early ones. He
remembers from those days Jack Williams and his brother doing the
Kilquiggan (Coolkenno) run on the side car around 1914. They would start
work at four o'clock in the morning and return at nine o'clock that
"And they did it Sunday and Monday for sixteen
shillings a week, and my father got a pound for being the charge-hand.
"They got fed in Langrell’s when they got to
Kilquiggan, and worked there all day until the post for the return
journey was ready for them. And I did the same in Crettyard for fourteen
shillings a week!"
The passenger service aspect of .the side-car trips
was for the benefit of the contractor and had nothing to do with the
Post Office. "If you were in time for the mail car you could get there
for a shilling, and another shilling back. The hackney cars charged
"And the roads were fierce in those days. The
Killeshin road was the same as a ploughed field and you'd meet nothing
but men spreading stones on it.
"All along the sides of the roads were flags that
had been dug out of the quarries. The stonebreakers would sit there on a
bag of hay with goggles on them breaking stones at sixpence a box, and
they were big boxes. Then the road men would spread them.
"I remember a lot of footmen (postmen) in the P.O.
around that time. Some of them had a bicycle on the quiet—but they
daren't be found out. There was Bill Ward and Joe Kehoe, Dick and Willie
Lynch. Joe Kehoe used to walk to Bilboa and at the tick of the clock at
four every day he would come back up Haymarket or he would be marked
"Tough as it was in those times," said Jack. "I was
never an hour sick, nor never saw a doctor the whole length I was on the
Crettyard run, and there were times we didn't have a whole lot on our
"There are a lot of others I remember doing postman
in that period too. Dick Lynch, for instance, who is now about 86, and
Jack Fitzroy, who was also one of the earliest, and Johnny McGarry. I
also worked with several men –who were in- the. 1914 - 18 war—Harry
Green and Ned Sheehan.
"There were also also some women postmen in those
days. Mrs Martin Haughney. who now lives in Kileen’s Crescent, and
"Harry Green was a mounted postman, having a horse
and trap of his own. And there was a man in Bennekerry who did it on
"Generally on the side-cars we had either a whistle
or a bell — I had a bell on the horse.
"My father Owen died at the age of 73 after 45
years on the job.
Great time for
"It was a great time for tradesmen in the town in
those years. There were several saddlers—Doyles, Brannigans, Tom Whelan
and Lynams. There were several busy blacksmiths also— Bill Hoare and
Paddy Brennan in Graiguecullen. Peter Wall, opposite Clerkins. Jim Crowe
of Mill Lane and Smiths in Slocock's yard, and Purcell's forge which is
now Walls. Also there was any amount carpenters and wheel-makers.
"There was no trouble getting a job then but the
money was small and it was easy to spend it. Drink was very cheap—I
remember once two of us getting two rums and two pints of stout (two
rounds) and got five pence back out of the shilling.
"There were horses used almost everywhere—even to
pull the canal boats, some of which might be carrying up to fifty tons,
and a man riding side-saddle along the bank. The canal stables in Carlow
were on the Graiguecullen side, near the dry dock. Frank Mealy's father
-used to look after the canal horses."
What did people do for entertainment in those days?
"That's the time there WAS entertainment. There was a dance in nearly
every second house—any night of the week.
"They were all 'ramblin' houses in the country
then. You could ramble into any of them and: there'd be a half barrel
of beer and singing and an 'oul dance.
"There were even certain houses like that here in
town—Rices of Haymarket. and Lawlesses and Coopers. In almost any house
you could go in and sit down and everyone would be there with their own
"And there were lots of spirits and bogey men
talked about. So much so you'd be afraid to go home and would wait half
the night for someone to be going your way.
"There's no use telling the young people of today
Looking back it was all great 'crack.' Fireside
chats, and the horned gramophone and great songs. They thought the old
needle on the plate was a great wonder
then—and look what it's after coming to now!"
Jack was also very familiar with the mining
districts around Carlow. "There were five or six of them, "he said," and
it was an impressive sight to see the tons of coal coming up from the
shafts and teams of men and horses all around.
"There'd be hundreds of horses waiting to be loaded
and anyone could buy the best of breakage for a penny a hundredweight.
"The Deerpark was the daddy of them all, "he said."
And the Vera was a fine mine too, at the back of Lawler's public house
in Crettyard, and Rossmore was good, though it is only about thirty
years old, started by a man called Reid."
Listening to these and other recollections of Jack
McDonald is an interesting, illuminating way to learn the folk history
of Carlow almost from the start of this century.
At the end of his Post Office career Jack's one
regret is that he could not continue working. He enjoyed it even when
the going was rough. His memory is full off humour, and spiritedness and
"I'd start all over again in the, same job. "he
told me." and I'm only sorry to be leaving it now."
Pensions or lack of them aside, which of us would
not like to end up a job with an attitude like
- Pictured outside the rear entrance to the Dublin
Street, Carlow Post Office in 1954 the day the last
postal deliveries were done by Jack McDonald using his
horse and cart.
(L-R): John McGarry, Tom Kelly, partially hidden Christy
Kelly, Mick Brennan, Billy Keating, Fred Pollard, Doily
O'Neill, Andy Murphy, John Walsh, Willie Murphy, Sean
Bermingham, Esther Cahill (nee Brennan), Bill Moore and Ann
O'Donovan. In front is Jack McDonald who ran a mail contract
service with the P&T for parcel service in Carlow town and
also to Crettyard and Ballickmoyler.
(This image is from the Nationalist,
Sept 1994. Between the two photos I was able to fill in the
missing names in the 1994 image which was a better image
than the one produced in 1976)
Source: Michael Purcell & THE NATIONALIST, March
5, 1976 (part of a collection of old newspaper cuttings given to Michael
Purcell from Nannie Nolan's shop on Tullow Street, Carlow.c2009