Community Accolades For Newry Post Office Staff

TOP community accolades, both local and national, have been bestowed on Newry Post Office staff in respect of fund-raising for charities like the Newry Hospice, Gateway Club, the Samaritans, Daisyhill Hospital and PHAB, over the past number of years.

The chairman of Royal Mail presented the volunteers from the frontier town with the UK Top Community Team Award for their “huge, cash-raising efforts,” while the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action chose the Newry group to receive the prestigious Link Award.

Also, Newry and Mourne district council recognised the achievements of Newry’s Royal Mail, when chairman Danny Kennedy made a special presentation “for service to the community.”

Among the projects which the Community Action team undertook, - financed by participation in the New York Marathon; Co-Operation North Maracycle; `It’s a Knock-out`; Sponsored Walks; Treasure Hunts and a GAA match against `Past Masters’ from Mullabawn, etc., were a baby-delivery suite at Daisyhill Hospital; painting the Gateway Club, etc., along with financial donations.

In nominating the Post Office employees for the NICVA Link Award, Newry Hospice stated that “the community spirit and assistance, engendered by Royal Mail, has been very generous and most valuable.” Sorting Officer, Monica Magill presented a cheque for £2,000 to Kevin Short of Newry Hospice. And Area Delivery Manager, Cathy Matthews commented: “Newry has become legendary in fund-raising.”

Led by former Mails Manager, Billy Baines, the team consisted of Gerry Brady, Sean Murphy, Adrian Dillon, Anthony Morgan, Derek Hughes, Barry Kelly and Brendan Loy. Mr Baines stated: “I am extremely proud of the staff, especially since nearly all 65 of them contributed to the various charities.” His own efforts on behalf of `Children in Need`, including BBC TV appearances, raised £30,000.

A native of Catherine Street in Newry, Billy Baines, - whose son, Brian, is a counter-clerk at the Head Post Office in Hill Street,- joined Royal Mail as a messenger at the age of 14. Four years later he became a postman, delivering the mail in the Corrinshegoe, Jerrettspass and Donaghmore areas, as well as the `Back of the Dam` in Newry.

Recalling the personalities in old North Street and Water Street, Billy referred to Sandy McKee, Eddie McAteer, the O’Callaghan brothers and tailor Lennie Gallagher. His colleagues included Tommy Jones, Oscar Traynor, Peter Doran, Bertie Whitfield, Henry Stokes, Joe McCartan, Dessie and Brendan McAlister, later chairman of the N. Ireland Reconciliation Council. Progressing to Postman Higher Grade and Assistant Inspector, he was finally appointed Mails Manager, based in the new Sorting Office at Clanrye Avenue.

A dramatic episode occurred in 1972, when a no-warning bomb was planted at the Head Post Office on Hill Street. A customer noticed an abandoned pram, lifted a doll, noticed a device underneath and alerted the staff. The alarm was sounded and Billy Baines, who was on the top floor, rushed down the stairs and out the back. He had reached the present Bus Depot when the bomb exploded, causing extensive damage but no casualties.

And the Sorting Office where he was manager was the scene of a Provisional IRA operation, in 1994, when six men, some wearing Post Office uniforms but unmasked, forced their way into the building, making their way to the office where cash was stored. However, Frank Kerr from Camlough intervened, and was fatally injured by a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

But back to the beginning. In 1820, Newry was described as “an important postal town,” having 2,500 dwellings and 15,000 inhabitants, being “the most opulent and commercial town in the county.” There was considerable business for the Post Office, which operated on a 24-hour basis, with mail being delivered by coach, hackney car and train.

The Newry Chronicle reported that a mail coach, en route from Newry to Dublin, had been “attacked by a mob, who dangerously wounded the guard with a pistol,” a sum of £20 being offered for information about the gang responsible.

150 years later, nothing had changed. Four Post Office vans were held up at Aughanduff, on the road from Newry to Crossmaglen, with a shot being fired through one of the vans’ windows. When 45-year old Thomas Lloyd from Cullyhanna, driver of the leading van, attempted to pass a car parked diagonally across the road, a bullet was fired through a side window.

The other three vans were stopped, and petrol poured over the inside of the vehicle, as well as on the mail, after the registered post had been taken. The raiders then made off in the direction of Cross`. The car parked across the road had been en route to Newry with two occupants, when they were forced to stop.

Drivers of the other Post Office vans were Thomas Robb of Rathview Park, Crossmaglen; Patrick Moloney from Urcher, Crossmaglen; and Eugene Murtagh of Cullyhanna. A youth had been posted as lookout, giving a signal when the mail-vans were approaching.

Meanwhile, postal deliveries were suspended in the Derrybeg and Meadow estates, after a postman was robbed and threatened by a masked gunman. The victim was handed a note, which stated that “any postman who delivers mail here again, will be knee-capped”. No reason was given for the action.

The Official IRA condemned “this action against local people, especially those in receipt of pensions, unemployment and sickness benefit. No better method could be devised to twist the knife in the back of working-class people, who have borne the brunt of the jackboot society in which we live.”

And Derrybeg Tenants Association stated: “As a result of these actions, the residents of this estate have been deprived of their Giro cheques, personal and other correspondence, including hospital appointments and replies to job applications. We support the postmen in the job they are doing, and hope that the situation can be speedily and successfully resolved.”

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008