'A lifetime on the post'
- Tommy on the beat at Shamrock
Square during his days on the walking post in 1950.
Tommy Clarke, 57 St. Clare's Road,
Graiguecullen was guest of honour at An Post's headquarters in
Dublin on Wednesday, August 31, 1994., where he was presented with a
citation thanking him for 50 years' service to the State.
He officially retired from An Post that day as
the only person in Carlow to have completed the half century with
the postal service.
From the time he was 14½ years of age Tommy has
risen from boy messenger, through postman, van driver, driving
instructor and sorter with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs
and later An Post.
He hasn't a clue how many miles he has walked,
cycled or driven around the country during those years or how many
letters or parcels have passed through his hands, but now he intends
taking life a little easier and devoting more time to his hobby,
identifying old Irish place names and antiquarian sites throughout
"I remember well when I was gone 14 years of
age when the late John Donnelly, a teacher at the CBS, came into the
class one day with an advertisement stating that the Department of
Post and Telegraphs was looking for a boy messenger.
He told me to sit the exam which I did — and
got — and after that I joined. In those days you had to go to
Knockbeg to do the Leving and that cost money so I didn't hesitate
when given the job," said Tommy.
"My first day was July 1st 1944, and
my first week's wages was 11 shillings and 2 pence. After six
months, I got a rise of five shillings and after a further six
months I got a further rise of four shillings which brought my wages
to £l - 2d. The 2d was very important in those days because you
could buy a lot for 2d. We used to work every day. Sundays was
overtime at 4d an hour and you normally started at 9 am that day
after going to 8 am Mass in Graigue."
"In those days a lot of people from Carlow were
working in England and we had telegraph money orders. On Sundays, I
was always kept busy delivering those to houses around the town. You
would be lucky if they were for just around the town but there were
times when I'd have to cycle to Bilboa or some other part of the
county with a money order.
"The first telegram I delivered was to
Carpenter's of Barrack Street. I had no uniform at the time, except
for a P & T armband and the first country telegram I delivered was
to someone living in Johnstown House," Bennekerry, said Tommy.
He vividly recalls having to go to a house in
Bilboa one night with a telegram at 7 pm. "It was a winter's night
and when I got there I was told the man I wanted was working in
Rossmore Collieries so I had to go look for him down the shaft. I
kept calling out his name until I found him.
Afraid of telegrams
"I wouldn't call it dedication to work but in
those days if you went back to the post office without having
delivered a telegram, you would be told to go back and find the
"In those days, telegrams were always
considered important. In fact most people would ask you to read it
out to them when you'd deliver one to them — they were that afraid
of what might be in it."
The late Owen McDonald used to provide a
contract horse and cars service for parcel deliveries and it was
Tommy's job to accompany him to the railway station.
"I used to have to sit on top of the parcels to
balance them and Owen never believed in looking left or right when
we took off from the old post office in Dublin Street. It was a
wonder we weren't killed.
Stuff turkey with food
"Around Christmas, because of the shortages in
England after the war, people here at home would send turkeys to
"The regulations stated no fresh meat was to be
sent but when someone would come up with a small l0lb. turkey you’d
need nearly two people to lift it because they'd have it stuffed
with ham and maybe a roast.
"They'd often put in butter or tinned fruit as
well, so here you'd have a small turkey and it would weigh like
lead," Tommy recalled.
After a few years delivering telegrams and
assisting with the parcel post, Tommy was then transferred to
deliver around Town 2 in Carlow Town.
That included Tullow Street, Staplestown Road,
St. Mary's Park, Pollerton Road and O'Hanrahan's Avenue as well as
JKL when they were completed.
Job as van driver
Seven or eight years later, a circular was
distributed asking for postmen interested in driving to apply for a
new job as a van driver as the P & T planned to introduce their own
vans to replace the old horse and cart contract service for parcels.
"A few months later I got word that I was to go
to John's Road in Dublin to be trained as a driver. Myself and the
late Brian O'Neill were the first drivers with the P & T in Carlow.
I had to make the daily run to Tullow with parcels and then back to
"We weren't supposed to carry anything except
the parcels but we'd often do messages for people along the way. I
remember we always had to bring out the meat to Ballickmoyler Garda
Openings in floor
- 1951 Ford E83W 10-cwt van
In those days, the van was an old Ford 10 with
no heater and openings in the floor. "In winter, you'd have to wear
two pairs of socks, a heavy scarf and a pair of gloves.
"We'd often call up to The Nationalist for old
newspapers and when the window would frost over, we'd light some
papers and run them along the bottom of the windscreen to defrost
it," he said.
"I'm not great on dates, but I did that for a
number of years until I heard the P & T wanted to set up a driving
school in Carlow because of its central location.
"I applied for the job and was successful so I
was then brought back to Dublin for six to eight months for training
and after that I set up a teaching centre in Carlow."
Tommy continued working in that capacity until
the late 1970s until he suffered a heart attack. After that, he went
back to delivering rural post in the Killerig area for a few years
and, in 1982, he moved indoors to work as a sorter. He continued to
work in that capacity until his retirement on August 31.
- An Post chief executive John
Hynes (right) presents a citation to Tommy Clarke,
watched by Tommy's wife Betty.
"I won't miss working because I have worked
long enough but I must admit I'll miss the routine and the craic
with the rest of the lads. I'm still looking at the watch thinking I
have to be back to work at such a time, but I'll get out of that
habit soon enough I'm sure," said Tommy.
“News of the World”
"In those days, the News of the World wasn't
allowed to be sold in Ireland but relatives in England used to wrap
the paper with the cover of The Irish Catholic and send it home.
Everyone knew what was going on, but no one ever said anything,”
Tommy isn't 100 per cent certain if he is the
only person to have completed 50 years with the postal service in
Carlow. "To the best of my recollection, I am but in the old
Department of Posts and Telegraphs, people didn't pay much attention
to things like that and anyway it was very impersonal," he stated.
“I remember one old postman who must have been
75 years of age if he was a day and every year when the supervisor
would ask him his age he would reply 'same as last year'."
Tribute to Tommy
Postmaster, Mr. Jim Downey, in a tribute to Mr.
"Tommy worked his full fifty year career in
Carlow Head Post Office and he was all that one could ask for in a
good friend and colleague. It was a pleasure to know him and to work
with him; and his loyalty and dedication was such that one
instinctively knew that all was well when Tommy was in charge of
"Apart from Post Office matters, Tommy's store
of knowledge is wide and varied, and I know he is looking forward to
the freedom that his retirement will allow to pursue his many
lifetime interests — particularly in local historical research. I
wish Tommy and his wife Betty the blessing of good health and many
years of contented and happy retirement".
Looked down chimney in snow
In 1947, the regular postman covering the
Bilboa area fell sick during heavy snow and Tommy was designated to
cover the man's round until he recovered.
"It was classed as a walking post, so I'd have
to cycle out to Clogrennane and walk the rest of the way. I remember
the snow was so heavy that winter that I had to walk along the
ditches. There was one day that I actually walked over to a house
and looked down the chimney it - was—that-high," said Tommy.
Just what the researcher wanted
Tommy Clarke often skipped a meal or two to
meet deadlines during his 50 years with An Post but on his last day
working with the company, he and his wife, Betty, were guests of
management at a special lunch in a corporate restaurant.
"I was amazed they would go to such bother.
After we were met in headquarters, we were brought to Parnell Street
where we were given a lovely lunch and then it was back to the GPO
where we were met by chief executive John Hynes. He spoke to us for
about half an hour.
"After that I thought 'well that's it,' but
then he said he had something for me and presented me with an
Olivetti computer," said Tommy.
"I had been talking about getting one for three
years and had intended travelling to England to buy one. Now I'll
have to go back to school to learn how to use it," he quipped.
Published papers on place names
Tommy has always had a deep interest in old
Irish place names and antiquarian sites around the county. Now that
he has retired he intends doing even further research in that area.
"I suppose you could say I have an insatiable
curiosity which I got travelling around the county with my father on
his bicycle. He says to me things like what does the word
Cloghristic mean and I'd reply that I didn't know but I'd make my
mind up to find out.
"My old primary school teachers John Sheeny,
Aidan Murray and Michael Snoddy were also responsible for that. They
taught you in a way that made everything exciting and you always
wanted to know more," he stated.
There are 504 townslands in the county and
Tommy has visited all of them at some time or other over the past 50
"When I was on the rural post runs, I always
told farmers to keep an eye out for unusual stones and it is because
of that there is a lot about Carlow in the national museum today."
Tommy first undertook researching various
projects at the Co. Carlow library where the then head librarian,
Ms. Mai McLeod, gave him every assistance. Tommy subsequently moved
his research to the National Library and later to the Royal Irish
His research has also taken him to the Bodlain
Library in Oxford where he was given an introduction by an English
MP. But he found that all the old manuscripts there were written in
"I came back and for a year studied how to read
Elizabethan English before I recommenced my research." He has also
carried out research at the British Museum and the Lambeth Palace
"Everyone involved with any of those
institutions have always given me full co-operation and made every
facility available to me," said Tommy, who has published several
papers on his findings.
Source: The Nationalist Sept
1994 p. 2.
Tommy Clarke R.I.P.
Tommy Clarke had a Passion for History.
Here are extracts from an obituary by
Charlie Keegan. There is also an interview with Tommy recorded on this
Carlow rootsweb site.
Mr Tommy Clarke died unexpectedly on
January 19th. 2011. of
57 St. Clares Road, Graiguecullen.
He was a well-known local historian possessed of a
deep pride in his native Carlow.
Beloved husband of Betty and much loved
father of Mary and Catherine, brother of the late John and Peg. Deeply
mourned by his loving wife, daughters, son-in-law Pat, brother Alan
(England), sister Kathleen and brothers-in-law Des (deceased), John
(deceased), nephews, nieces, relatives and friends.
Tommy spent 50 years working with the
postal service in Carlow. "Tommy's greatest passion was the history of
Carlow town and county. He had a deep commitment to his native place,
particularly to the maintenance of historic buildings and artifacts. He
was a leading figure in the campaign for the successful retention of the
railings at Carlow Courthouse.
He travelled the length and breadth of
the county exploring ancient historical sites and carrying out extensive
research on matters relating to history of Carlow.
Tommy was about to embark on the
classifying of place names for the laneways of Carlow town at the time
of his death.
On December 5th 2001, Tommy was honoured
by the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society - formerly the Old
Carlow Society - which conveyed on him honorary membership.
Source: Carlow Nationalist 1st Feb. 2011.
Sent in by Michael Purcell