THERE is a bit of history attached to Lombardstown Post Office (PO) and shop. The village is seven miles west of the town of Mallow and the Lombard family came to Ireland from Lombardy in northern Italy in the Middle Ages.
“George Gardiner built this magnificent stone dwelling that now houses the post office in 1895/6,” says Catherine Healy Byrne, who runs the shop and PO with her husband Sean.
“I kept the Healy part when I married!” says Catherine, a former nurse, of her surname.
“This building and his nearby shop served as the premises for his provisions and egg business and also for a postal and telegraph service,” adds Catherine, who took over the business from her aunt Lil Mooney, who retired in 1986. Catherine was 29 then.
“Lombardstown Co-op took out a new lease in 1896 which included the mills, shop and residence,” says Catherine.
“Interestingly, the co-op sub-let the residence and grounds to the fledging Musgrave Brothers Enterprises who re-let the dwelling back to George Gardiner.
“In 1922, my grandparents, Patrick Healy from Donoughmore, and Catheine Harrington from Allihies, purchased the property here and they ran it as a general store and PO.
“My grandmother was post-mistress here until she died in 1978,” says Catherine.
“I was nursing in Galway and I wanted a break, and after coming here in 1986, I am now 35 years here. The post-mistress job was up for grabs and I said I’d take it over. Now it is a way of life for Sean and I. We work together.”
HOW THEY FIRST MET
Where did she meet her husband, Sean?
“We met on a golf course in Spain in 1999,” says Catherine.
“Sean was a publican and he was on a vintner’s golfing holiday with publicans from Wexford. I was there with pals. We hit it off.
Sean is retired now five or six years, and his daughter Celina took over the pub business. Sean came here permanently then.”
Do they work well together in the shop and PO, 24/7?
“We do,” says Catherine. “We also have our moments!”
FIGHTING TO STAY OPEN
The tiny PO was at the heart of a national campaign to save rural post offices and it celebrated the installation of its long-awaited computer in 2010.
“We were the first community to voice concerns about plans by An Post to shut down rural post offices in 2006 and we spear-headed a major national campaign to save them,” says Catherine.
“At the time, they were closing many rural post offices because they lacked computers and could not carry out up-to-date-services.
“Our plight even attracted the attention of BBC correspondent Shane Harrison, and Aonghus McAnnally interviewed us for The Mooney Show.”
Catherine and Sean are glad they survived closure.
“Three neighbouring post offices had to close,” says Catherine.
“That was a shame. The post office is a central point in rural communities for essential services and it is vital for the older generation. I was offered the option of a severance package but I decided to keep the post office going.
“Three generations of the Healy family have run Lombardstown post office and it has always been handed down the female line.
“I felt couldn’t close the post office and turn my back on people here, the elderly and the marginalised, who would otherwise have to go to Mallow on the bus seven miles away and join queues when they can just walk into the post office here.
“The post office is a part of the shop. It’s a meeting place for people. The shop and the PO kind of complement one another.”
FRIDAYS ARE BUSY
Cake is served to older clients on a Friday.
“Leah, a local schoolgirl, makes lovely buns every Friday for the customers,” Catherine says.
“It’s a nice treat for people at the end of the week and it’s a bit of pocket money for Leah.”
Back in the day, Catherine’s aunt Lil ran the post office and sold cold meats, bacon, milk, chocolate, sweets and minerals.
“We sell general groceries in the shop and we’d know 90% of our customers by their first name,” says Catherine.
“People stop by for a takeaway tea or coffee as well.
“Friday is our busiest day, when people look on a visit to the post office as an outing where they see friendly faces and pick up the basics like the milk and the paper.
“We are jammed out on Fridays. Our premises is small and we put a little shelter outside where people can wait their turn if the weather is inclement and they can have a chat at the same time.”
Catherine and Sean provide many services.
“We often get daily phone messages for people who are elderly and might not be able to come out of their homes; somebody passing will drop in and give them the message. It was handy during the pandemic.”
Lombardstown PO and shop caters for everybody.
“We get a lot of farmers coming in because the Dairy-Gold co-op and Dairy-Gold Mills are nearby,” says Catherine.
“Both businesses have a huge workforce and we get a lot of passing trade.”
Does Catherine think the established corner shop serving the community is dying out?
“Unfortunately, there aren’t as many any more. I noticed that on a visit to Donegal.
“I was in Canada two years ago and we travelled for miles and miles through vast areas without seeing a shop. When we did come across a shop, it was the big stores, no small shops. Human contact was sadly lost.
“It seemed to be all about commerce. Life is not all about money.”
TAKING A BREAK
Catherine and Sean take a well-earned break every day.
“We close up for lunch,” says Catherine. “It is our catch up time.”
The couple often catch up on their favourite hobby.
“Yes we still love a game of golf,” says Catherine.
“And I often meet up with my nursing friends for a golf outing.
“When I came to live here I took up golf to get to know people of my own age group.
“If I’m away or on holidays abroad with Sean, we have a small team of local women who take over here and they are great.”
KEEP ON WORKING
Catherine has no intention of retiring from golf, or from her role in Lombardstown PO and shop.
“I’m 64 now, and I have no notion of retiring,” she says.
“As long as my health permits, I’ll keep going. This is way of life for me now, and it is home to me since 1986 and hopefully it will continue to be for a long while.”
The Healy family bought out the Gardiner interest in the dwelling house and gardens in 1922.
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