Sunday 23 July 2017

Gertie Downey

A postmistress for 80 years, whose memoirs include tales of WB Yeats and the notorious Black and Tans

Gertie Downey, who died recently, was a postmistress in Dromahair, Co Leitrim, for 80 years.

Born in Dromahair in 1913, shortly after parcel post was introduced, she was the youngest of seven children and went barefoot to the local school.

Gertie, whose stepson is the political commentator James Downey, was politically active from her youth and with a little assistance she cast her final vote in the last general election.

Fortunately, her grand-daughter has recorded Gertie's memoirs which recall night-time raids by the Black and Tans on her home and the attack by republicans on Markree Castle, Colooney, Co Sligo, during the Civil War when her brothers fought against each other.

She also recalls WB Yeats visiting the parish priest on whom, according to local tradition, Yeats based the poem The Ballad of Father Gilligan.

Gertie began her career in Dromahair Post Office in 1929 and two years later it was her duty to send a telegram to a young Paddy Downey from Drogheda, informing him that he had been appointed a teacher in Kilcossey national school. She would marry him in 1948.

She served in Tinahely post office in Wicklow for a short time before returning to Dromahair in 1935. From her memoirs, she recalls having to sort the mail each morning and sending nine postmen on their deliveries. When the post was being delivered the main part of the business was receiving money orders from emigrants in the US, and issuing payments to their families, all of whom relied on this money to exist.

"Nowadays there are no money orders coming in from America, instead non-nationals are sending money to their families abroad, times have really changed," she noted.

Throughout those years, the post office was also the telephone exchange, which had to be attended round the clock to receive and connect all calls until automatic connections came in the Seventies.

In her lifetime, Gertie Downey saw the demise of the railway and the village decay rapidly through emigration. She also witnessed its revival as a dormer town for Sligo and is now a very restful and picturesque place. She is survived by her son Tony, daughters Francis and Maria, her stepchildren James and Eva and grandchildren.

Sunday Independent

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