independent

Monday 17 June 2019

Nicola closes the post office door in Carrig for last time

Postmistress Nicola Howlin with her husband Nicholas
Postmistress Nicola Howlin with her husband Nicholas
Locals and schoolchildren with post mistress Nicola Howlin last Friday

Brendan Keane

The post office in Carrig-on-Bannow closed its doors for the final time at the weekend and for post mistress Nicola Howlin it marked the end of a postal services career stretching back over 33 years.

'We opened the post office on May 1, 1985, and when it closed on Friday it was 33 years and seven months in operation,' she told this newspaper.

Such is the significance of the post office to the local community that for years many local people would refer to the fact they were 'going to Nicola's' to do business rather than say they were going to the post office.

It was a reflection on the social importance of the post office locally and that was indicative of how important they are in rural communities in general and that fact didn't go unnoticed on Ms Howlin.

'A lot of people have been very upset over the last few weeks knowing it was closing,' she said.

'There is a very important social aspect to the post office especially in rural areas and for some people it's the only social outlet they will have all week,' she added.

Ms Howlin said post offices have not been used to their full capacity and attributed that to being one reason why closures were and are inevitable.

'Post offices have not been used to their full capacity but it's too late now,' she said.

'It should have been done 10 years ago but it wasn't,' she added.

'There is a social aspect to post offices but unfortunately people do not value that.'

Such was the emotion surrounding the closure on Friday that Ms Howlin said some customers were crying when they went in to see her and she said that was reflective of how post offices help combat loneliness and rural isolation.

'A lot of people feel lonely and we give them time,' she said.

'People suffered a lot over the last few years through the recession and you would hear about it here and you would try to brighten up their day a bit,' she said.

'You would try to give them something to smile about.'

Ms Howlin said interaction with the local community and the people around the parish is what she will really miss now.

'The post offices were institutions in local villages and meeting local people every day was great,' she said.

'It's that interaction with the community that I will really miss,' she added.

She also suggested that many more closures are imminent and commented: 'There will not be that many left.'

Ms Howlin said she knew since March that she would be closing following a meeting with her union and added that while around 600 people were given new contracts for her there was no other viable option.

'Technology hasn't helped us either as people are doing a lot of business online and are being encouraged to do so,' she said.

She said An Post and the Government tried to do the best they could but were perhaps not forward-thinking enough in some respects.

'People don't send letters that much any more and parcels that would go out would be delivered directly,' she said.

'There would have been a post office every three miles but now it's about every 15km,' she added.

Ms Howlin said the business model for Irish post offices was based on an English version and that's something that An Post is trying to change.

'It's basically been the same model since 1904 and they want to change that,' she said.

'The bigger post offices were subsidising the smaller ones and they want to change it so that everyone is getting paid the same but that will decimate the smaller ones unless you could increase the volume of their business,' she added.

When asked what she will miss most about not being a post mistress anymore Ms Howlin said: 'It will be the interaction with people coming in and out. I've shared a lot with the people and I will miss that.'

She said for her the closure was perhaps not as difficult to take as other people in similar positions.

'I'm involved in things in the community and I have the B&B as well but for people in their 50s it could be very difficult,' she said.

Ms Howlin pointed out that local shop owner Breda Walsh will be providing as many services as she can that were provided in the post office.

'Breda will be providing a certain amount of services including bill payments and I would encourage local people to visit the shop and keep supporting local business as much as they can,' she said.

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