AT noon next Saturday, Ann Dorgan will close the door on the post office she runs in the heart of Cork’s northside for the final time.
It will truly be the end of an era. Four generations of her family served the community here, encompassing a time span of more than a century; for 48 of those years, Ann was the postmistress.
After next week, Barrackton Post Office on Military Hill will be no more. “It will be an emotional day,” admits Ann.
The repercussions when this hub of a great, old city community shuts for good, will be like ripples in a pond.
Historically, it will be the final death knell for the very name ‘Barrackton’, a district that grew up in the shadow of the barracks before Queen Victoria was born, and where generations of ‘norries’ lived, loved, and died.
On a commercial level, it will be the demise of yet anther business in an area which used to boast a rich array of enterprises.
But it is on a human and community level that the loss of Barrackton Post Office will hit home most.
Ann Dorgan doesn’t just run a post office, she is a lifeline to customers who have grown up with her and her family. They come for the pension and stay for the chats. They pop in for the stamps and stay for the human interaction; the sort of thing you don’t find online.
Ann’s business isn’t about bricks and mortar, or cents and euros; it is far more important than that. She put it best, in an interview with Chris Dunne in the Echo this week.
“It’s the people that I will miss the most. I love the conversations and having a bit of craic with our customers. They are my friends and like my own family.”
Ann spoke of one lady aged 93, from Whites Cross, who calls in once a week. “It is a social outing for her,” said Ann. “Another lady, Maureen Taylor, is 92 and still going strong! We call each other on the phone and swap birthday cards. The pensioners I am now serving, I once served their parents.
“Phyllis Griffin is coming here to Barrackton Post Office for as long as I’m here. People were always so loyal.
“I was often a confidant! We discuss the weather, how Nan’s hips are, how the child’s cold is, and how faraway loved ones are getting on. The post office is a meeting place for people. We have a chat and pass the time of day.”
Ann, at 25, was the youngest postmistress ever appointed, and will be sorely missed as she enjoys her deserved retirement in the family home which was also her place of work. She will continue to devote her time to the community she loves so much.
But, on a broader scale, the closure of another post office is a familiar, sad story replicated across not just Cork city and county, but across the land hundreds of times in recent years.
Our post offices are vanishing at a rate of knots, and when they go, they leave more than a business-shaped hole. Their absence can reduce communities to shells.
In the most recent cull two years ago, 159 post offices shut across the country. Many were located in the countryside, leading to accusations that it amounted to an attack on rural Ireland. A dozen were in Cork, including my local one in Carrigadrohid, near Macroom, where Ted and Noreen Dunne had been a pivotal part of the business community for 20 years.
The pandemic has heaped more pressure on post offices, while the staff have carried on working despite the threat to their own health.
Last autumn, Ned O’Hara, the General Secretary of the Irish Postmasters’ Union, launched an impassioned plea for the Government to support them in the face of an existential threat.
The maths are simple. The cost of running the Post Office Network in 2021 will be €70m, generating a retail revenue of €53m. The Government needed to make up this €17m shortfall, said Mr O’Hara. A sum, he pointed out, that was tiny compared to the level of economic and social value post offices continue to bring.
The public are on side. Research found 91% of people said their post office provided a valuable service to the local community, 86% supported the Government providing financial support to keep them open, and 86% wanted more State services available in them.
Equivalent support has been doled out to post offices in the UK, Poland, France, Italy, Belgium, Finland and Spain. Why not in Ireland, too?
It’s a lifeline that needs to be secured swiftly. In July, contract payments paid by An Post to postmasters which are worth €10million a year are due to end.
If the Government continues to drag its feet and allows that deadline to come and go without lifting a finger, it’s no exaggeration that we could rapidly see the closure of hundreds more post offices across the land; perhaps as many as half of the 900-odd still standing.
As Ann Dorgan has shown, the closure of even one is a body blow.
The Barrackton district had its origins in the early 19th century, when a junior excise office called James Alexander hit on the name to describe the section of the hilly Youghal Road where houses were springing up around the new military barracks.
The late Echo journalist and ex- Holly Bough editor, Walter McGrath, described its heritage in an article in 1982: “Most of the residents may have been poor in worldly possessions, but they were a community second to none. Many of them or their descendents are to be found today in far-flung parts of the world, they have played their part in church and business, in sport and politics, on the missions, as tradesmen and navvies. And they never forgot their roots.”
By the time Walter wrote that, the post office was the last link to the name Barrackton, along with the folk memory of the soccer team Barrackton United, which comprised mainly of British soldiers stationed in Cork.
One legend states that, in a game against fierce rivals St Vincent’s, as Barrackton were about to score, a Vincent’s supporter produced a revolver and shot the ball!
Walter recalled: “There was a famous family named Cullinane, all great players or followers of the mighty Barrackton soccer club. One of them had his own war-cry: ‘Are ye dead, Barrackton?’ he would roar at his team-mates if they showed signs of slackness.”
With the post office’s demise, the name is now dead... but the community lives on.
Behind the counter at Barrackton Post Office are cards, cakes and buns sent by kind neighbours and customers, an indication of how much Ann Dorgan and her husband Jerry are treasured.
“We have shared the tears, the laughter, the hugs and the banter — together,” says Ann, “I will never forget them.”