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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Tommy Clarke

Retired Carlow Postman

'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 the county.

"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."

Telegraph money

"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 person.

"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 relatives.

"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 Carlow.

"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 Station."

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 recalled.

Possibly unique

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. Clarke stated:

"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 operations.

"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 years.

"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 Academy.

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 Elizabethan English.

"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 Library.

"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

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