It's in the postcode
Address snobbery is set to raise its head all over the country, reports Gemma O'Doherty
So who's going to get Kil? Will it be Killarney, Kildare, Kilkenny, Killybegs, Kilbeggan, Kilfenora or Killorglin? And what about Rat when there's Rathdrum, Ratoath, Rathangan, Rathsallagh and Rathcoole all fighting over it? And as for Bal, there could be blood shed with Ballyshannon, Ballymacarbry, Ballymaloe, Ballyvolane and Baltimore all in the fray.
Ah yes, the number crunchers who win the tender to implement our new postcode system have some sleepless nights ahead of them. But pizza delivery men and purveyors of junk mail were smiling this week as Green Communications Minister Eamon Ryan unveiled his plan to give every home and office its own six-digit identity code in less than two years.
There will be no more rejections in cyberspace for the Irish address. The days of having your online order shredded because the zip code section has been left suspiciously blank are coming to an end.
And all those disappearing ambulances and fire brigades we've been hearing about will become a thing of the past so long as callers to 999 have their shiny new IDs at hand amid the contractions or the flames.
At last, Ireland can take her place among the nations of the world proud in the knowledge that her citizens will get their mail three milliseconds earlier than they did in the dark old days of 2009 when a letter could find its way to 'Pat Doherty, Donegal' without a hitch.
If you're not up to speed with the €22m plan, the new postcodes, which, in vintage Ryanspeak, will be 'rolled out' in 2011, are set to become the last line of your address. They will contain both letters and numbers, so for example, an address in Athlone might read ATH 123 in the future. The last three digits of the code will relate to a cluster of houses or a road, depending on the area.
For now, Dublin remains the only county in the Republic to use postcodes, which were first introduced in 1961, when the city was facing rapid development. Mail volumes were starting to soar and postmen had to find their way through a labyrinth of more than 350 streets.
To make their life easier and letters arrive faster, the city was split into nine numeric subsections, with odd numbers going north of the Liffey and the even ones south. At the time, Ballyfermot, one of the city's fastest growing suburbs, was starting to develop, and in the 1970s Dublin 10 was introduced because Dublin 8 was becoming too populated.
But even then, having the right or wrong number in your address was starting to effect the social mindset of the city and the postcode snobbery that is now embedded in the capital's psyche began to rear its haughty head.
At first, there was a demand for the Dublin 10 code because grants were being given for houses in the area. But as the nearby Liffeyside suburbs of Palmerstown and Chapelizod started to grow, some of its more affluent residents claimed that having 10 in their address was thwarting their ascent up the social ladder. They lobbied politicians and demanded that their association with the more working class neighbourhood of Ballyfermot be brought to an end and a new postcode introduced especially for them.
And so, Dublin 20 was born, leaving Dublin 10 as the only postcode in the capital that relates to just one area simply because no other suburb wanted to be a part of it. But that was just a taste of things to come. Cormac O Dalaigh has been a postman in well-heeled Dublin 6 for over 20 years. He had just started deliveries amid its leafy period terraces in the mid-1980s when an unholy row broke out among residents after An Post decided it should be split in two.
"There was absolute uproar over it," he recalls. "Templeogue and Terenure were going to leave Ranelagh and Rathgar and have their post delivered out of Kimmage instead of Rathmines. At first, they were going to be designated Dublin 26 but there was a huge fuss over that because it was too close to the postal code for Tallaght and Jobstown, which was 24.
"Then a compromise was reached and we came up with Dublin 6W (west) in 1985.
"Even now, there are still about 200 people who cannot accept they are part of Dublin 6W and refuse to use it. It's a fantastic example of snobbery. By using Dublin 6 without the dreaded W, it means they get their mail a day late, and in some cases, have it returned to sender, but that is the price they are willing to pay.
"At the end of the day, we are just alphabetical gynaecologists. We deliver letters and our job is to get them to you as quickly as possible. But there will always be a bit of militancy in the Irish people. It's a bit like the way they refuse to use the middle door on the bus."
Dr Mark Hennessy, lecturer in Geography at Trinity College Dublin, believes postcode snobbery is by no means exclusive to Dublin. "People will go to any lengths to ensure they belong to the right sort of place. You get it in London, Berlin and Paris. Postcodes draw lines around areas and if you are seen to be in the wrong postcode, it can effect the value of your house and how you think you'll be perceived by others.
"I work in Trinity and live on the northside. The overwhelming majority of my colleagues live in particular places on the southside. They wouldn't even consider living on the northside. Yet the same thing happens over here. You get places calling themselves Clontarf that were never considered Clontarf before. One thing that may happen as a result of the new system is that in rural Ireland, the townland may be replaced by the postal code. That would represent a very major shift, given the associations between people and their townlands that have been there for centuries."
Just how Irish people will take to the new postcode system remains to be seen but postman Cormac O Dalaigh is not convinced it is required at this point in the country's history.
"You have to remember where we are at the moment. When you think that they turned down a vaccination for young girls at a cost of €10m, I think I know what the public would rather spend the money on.
"I don't have a problem with postcodes per se but if you think that pizza deliverers being able to find houses more quickly is more important than a cancer vaccine, then I think you've got your priorities wrong.
"We've got by fine without them until now."