'Fascinating Irish social & postal history extracts from 'The Illustrated London News' November 29th 1879 Kilkenny & Thurles Royal Mail, The Irish postal service as it was one hundred & thirty five years ago'
See engravings below.
'The Illustrated London News' November 29th 1879
Irish Sketches:‘On Her Majesty’s Service'.
'The famous “jaunting - car” plays an important part in the economy of the Irish postal department:
On hundreds of miles of roads, the work of transmission is carried out chiefly by the aid of that singular vehicle, which is the delight of the natives , and the terror of all strangers who trust their bodies to it for the first time. In the capacious “Well” - a kind of oblong box which lies between the “seats” on either side - a handy receptacle for post-bags is found: while the machine itself, when behind a fast horse, can bowl at a highly respectable speed along a level road.
The “Mail-Car” differs somewhat in shape from the ordinary ”Side-Car” its “Well” being rather broader and deeper, but it is most easily recognised at a glance by the reddish hue with which is is daubed all over. We do not remember having ever seen an Irish mail-car of this kind which seemed to have been painted within the present century.
The colour has a sickly hue, as of a red which has grown pale with the gathering griefs of accumulated years, and it imparts to the vehicle an air of having seen better days, which is not lessened by the self asserting inscription which invariably appears on back in obstructive yellow letters - “ Royal Mail” and Day Car from __ to __ _ miles”. .
Our Artist’s sketch was taken at a village on the road between the City of Kilkenny & the town of Thurles, in County Tipperary. No railway communication had as yet been established between the comparatively thriving towns, which are twenty - one Irish miles apart- a distance about equal to twenty-seven English miles. The mail car traverses the road between Kilkenny and Thurles twice daily, carrying passengers as well as mails.
Besides the driver, who is skilled in balancing himself securely on the little box on the front, four people can be accommodated with seats on the vehicle, at the trifling rate of twopence each per mile. The driver, who acts as mail guard, leaves a made-up bag at each rural post-office, and receives one in return, which he deposits in the “Well” of his vehicle.
.When the car, as happens in many places, arrives at the office during ordinary bedtime, the postmaster , roused from his couch, comes to a front window, with a long crook in his hand. The incoming mail-bag is hooked on to the crook, hauled in through the window & retained, while the outgoing on is left with the driver by a similar process.
For his duties, the rural postmaster receives no greater renumeration than £4 a year, out of which sum he must provide cord & sealing-wax, but being almost invariable a shopkeeper, he undertakes these duties willingly enough for sake of the connection the mail business may bring around him : and when, as not infrequently is the case, he happens to be a publican, the revenue secured in this way should be a source of satisfaction both to himself and the excise department.
Many a strange scene is witnessed at his threshold, beggars for instance, lie in wait for the arrival of the mail car in expectation of open -handed passengers. Woe to the unlucky stranger who returns a harsh or uncivil answer to their oily supplications! The interrupted prayer for his weal may be suddenly lengthened into something remote from a benediction, in this wise_ “ may the blessing ’ o’ God folly you forever an’ ever _ an never overtake you:” or it may be supplemented by some ready sarcasm, such as _ “Arrah, Judy, have you a copper at all to throw to that poor starved creature there on the car? He wants it worse than ourselves, God help him” Let the passenger be ever so stoical, those dirty but merry mendicants will make him feel well satisfied when the car is again motion.
But the great “Sensation Scene” is produced by the arrival of an “American Letter:. It is well know that most of the Irish poor in the United States are mindful of their kindred in the “Auld Counthry” and frequently transmit donations of £10 or £12 to the loved ones they have left behind, very many millions having been thus passed through the post office during the last two decades. Every private epistle, besides, is sure to contain a selection of news that will be absorbingly interesting to the people of the locality from which the writer emigrated. “An American Letter” therefore, excites widespread commotion . The news of its arrival spreads like wildfire, and by the time its owner comes to claim it an eager crowd will have gathered nigh the office door. Someone is pressed in to service for the decipherment of the treasured scrawl - usually a child from the adjacent national school ; and the people stand around in rapt attention, the silence being broken only by impulsive cries of joy or woe from a listener , to whom the reading may announced the good fortune or disaster , perhaps the death of an absent husband or lover, a brother or a son'.
An Original Engraving of the Irish Mail Service,
Taking on passengers and mail at P. Fitzpatrick Grocers Store between Kilkenny & Thurles