Navan Postal Area in the Twentieth Century

Navan Postmasters

Liam McCarthy


John Alexander Parker 1908-1913

He was born in 1853 and was appointed postmaster at Navan on 1st September 1908. His salary was £216 per year. He was not the first civil servant to hold the position as Joe Norwood had been promoted to Killarney some months earlier having served in Navan for a number of years. There is no official record of Norwood and the only source for this information is through the Meath Chronicle of 4th July 1908.

Parker oversaw the growth of the postal service in Navan during his five year term as postmaster and by 1911 there were six male and four female officers.

Navan was now served by three fulltime "walking" postmen. The town continued to be served by three "walking" postmen up until the 1970s. It must be said that they often used bicycles, unofficially, and incurred reprimands such as a loss of stripes or a fine if they came under official notice for doing so. The records show that Parker was superannuated which means retired on 18th December 1913. Although it is not recorded in official records it appears that Parker must have been absent from duty for some reason as he was succeeded in Navan by William Clark whose appointment date was 16th April 1913.

William Clarke 1913-1917

Clarke started his service in the post office at Kingsbridge, Dublin in 1881 and, subsequently, spent some of his career in Exeter, Devon until he was appointed postmaster at Gorey in 1910. His service in Navan saw a number of the staff signing up for military service during World War 1. Amongst those who joined up were Robert Carson, Jim Egleston, Pat Brien and Jack Brien. In later years pat brien was known by the nick name "Sahara" because of his service during the war in that area of Africa. Clarke was appointed postmaster at Bideford in England in August 1917.


Thomas Hodgett 1917-1921 See also:Thomas Hodgett, Postmaster

thomas hodgettClarke's successor was to be one of the most tragic figures of the century. Probably the only recorded murder of a postmaster in the history of the Irish Postal Service occured in Navan. The history of Navan cannot be written without drawing special attention to the heinous death of Thomas Hodgett.

The period of Thomas Hodgett's postmastership in Navan

can only be regarded as the most troubled in the history of the Post Office in Ireland. The immediate repercussions of the Insurrection of 1916 had only just begun to subside. World War 1 was still in progress and militant nationalism was about to unfold when he arrived in the town. The emergence of the Irish Republician Army was to cause a troubled period of time throughout the country and the Navan Postal Area was no exception. This troublesome time which continued until after the Civil War in 1923 saw the tragic death of Thomas Hodgett.

Hodgett was born in 1866 in Dungannon, County Tyrone. He arrived in Navan on 12th October 1917 to take up duty as postmaster. He had commenced his post office career at Dungannon in 1887 where he served for three years before going to Derry for about two years and then returned to his native town. In 1904 he was appointed postmaster at Newtownstewart where he served for three years before going on promotion to Castlebar for a further year and thence to Claremorris before arriving in Navan.

By all standards Thomas Hodgett was regarded by his superiors as a model post office person, an exemplary official and an enthusiastic sportsman. In his younger days he was regarded as an excellent rugby player. While in Navan he lived at Academy Street with his wife Grace.The Hodgett's had four children, Bessie the eldest, Henry, Miss J.G. and Frederick.

Like all postmasters before and after him, Hodgett would be in constant liason with the police on security as a matter of routine. There would be substantial amounts of cash on hands at all post offices. Cash would also be required to be sent to the various sub post offices for the payment of pensions. In the wrong hands money orders and postal orders could easily be converted to cash. The postal, telegraph and telephone services have always been regarded as part of the integral security of the State.  During the "troubles" it would have been common for him to be called out by the police at any time of the day or night.

Thomas and Grace Hodgett, who were alone in their home at Academy Street close to Bernard O'Brien's public house, on the night of Friday 18 February 1921, had retired to bed, when at about 12-50 am, they were aroused by loud knocking at their front door. Grace put her head out of a window and called out to those knocking "whose there". The reply was "police".  Both Grace and Thomas, by the light of a candle, then went to the front door and admitted two men who now said they were "Sinn Feiners" and wanted the postmaster. One of the men knocked the candle out of Hodgett's hand with a revolver. They spoke amongst themselves in a tongue that Grace Hodgett did not recognoise but later described it as gibberish.  Although she did not know the Irish language, when spoken to her in it she stated it did not resemble the language spoken by the raiders. Thomas Hodgett was ordered to dress quickly. Grace Hodgett helped him to dress as he was slightly paralysed from a stroke he had sometime earlier. The two raiders then took Thomas Hodgett away from the house. Hodgett, at this stage, was dressed in a light grey suit and overcoat. His boots were not laced and he had only one sock on. When the raiding party left the house with Hodgett they warned his wife to stay inside. She heard a bit of commotion in the street outside and shots were fired as a warning to some passer by.

It seems that the raiders took Hodgett to the Blackwater Bridge between Watergate Street and Flower Hill. There is evidence that shots were heard and his body thrown into the river. Bloodstains were found on the bridge the following morning. The assailants and their captive would have to pass the Royal Irish Constabulary police station on their way to the execution spot. The perpetrators must not have feared observance by the police otherwise they would have carried out their foul deed on the bridge at the Athlumney Road which is in a less conspicious area.

About five weeks later, on Good Friday, a body was noticed at a weir near Aylesbury Saw Mill by some local fishermen. The police were called, the remains brought to the mortuary and identified as Thomas Hodgett. The funeral from the hospital to the local Church of Ireland graveyard was one of the biggest ever seen in Navan, with all the post offices in Meath represented. The Urban councillors and local Catholic clergy, unusual for the time, also attended the funeral.

Grace Hodgett always denied that republicans killed her husband. In a letter to the editor of the Irish Independent, dated 4 April 1921 she referred to rumours that he was killed because he was on friendly relations with the police or military but her letter goes on to say; "I most emphatically deny this...he, in the course of his duty, had reported the police on more than one occasion for robbing sub(post) offices".  She added that proof of this was substantiated but the authorities preferred to place the blame on others. At the military enquiry in Navan, instead of an inquest " some of these men were allowed to make statements in their own defence, but witnesses on the other side were excluded".

The establishment (personnel) book records that Thomas Hodgett died on 18 February 1921.This is the last entry against his name in official records, which makes no reference to the circumstances surrounding his death. No memorial stands to his life or death in the service of the Post Office and no one was ever found responsible for his death. Grace Hodgett died on 16 January 1931 and is buried with her husband. A brother of Thomas Hodgett also served in the post office and was postmaster at Lurgan when Grace died. Elizabeth Frances (Bessie) Hodgett served as a telephonist at Navan from 2 May 1921 to 4 June 1932 when she resigned.

Bank and Post Office robberies were common events during the period that Hodgett served in Navan. Post Office bicycles were regular targets for robbery. It may seem strange today but in those days the bicycle was a very practical means of transport over narrow roadways. They could also be abandoned as quickly as they were taken and disposed of without fear of being easily found. Almost every week the local newspaper, the Meath Chronicle, reported on these events.

The robbery of mails was also a very common occurence and probably took place more to gain access to official communications for intelligence purposes than for money contained in letters, although the latter would also have been a factor. On a personal basis it would have been a very trying and arduous period for Thomas Hodgett in his capacity as postmaster. He would have been called out during the night by the police on the occasion of any of these events affecting the post office in the Navan area. As he did not have a telephone at his residence in Academy Street any call out would likely have been made by the police. These movements would have been well known in informed circles but would have left him not fearing of impending events on the night of his untimely and tragic death.

Statement made by Michael Hilliard to the Bureau of Military History and released in 2013:

The full statement is at Navan Coy. Irish Volunteers.

On the night of 18th February 1921, Mr. Hodgett, Postmaster, Navan, was taken from his home by a party of R.I.C. from Bailieboro in charge of District Inspector Hunt and shot dead. His wife was a witness to his arrest and some local people witnessed the shooting which took place on the bridge over the river near the town. Mr. Hodgett was a partially disabled man, a member of the Church of Ireland, and, what was known in those days as a loyalist. The shooting was all the more baffling as he was not connected in any way with the I.R.A. or Sinn Fein.

It would appear that the R.I.C. had discovered a leakage of information as to their movements from Navan Post Office. Mr. Hodgett's corpse was recovered next day from the River Boyne; it had a bullet through the body. For some months previous to the murder of Mr. Hodgett I was in contact with a clerk in Navan Post Office named Patrick Hughes, who was a member of the I.R.B. and a native of Dundalk. By arrangement, he supplied me regularly with copies of messages sent in code to and from the R.I.C. barracks. The messages were from the County Inspector, R.I.C., or Dublin Castle, or vice versa. I always passed the messages on to Patrick Clinton, Brigade I.O.

Around this time, Head Constable Queenan of Navan R.I.C. had been trying to have his daughter installed in the Post Office as a clerk, without success. Hodgett would not employ her. It was thought at the time that Queenan wanted to get his daughter into the Post Office for the purpose of seeking information if possible about the I.R.A. or, alternatively, to ascertain if possible how the leakage occurred relative to police movements. It is possible that those messages sent by me to Brigade H.Q. led to the death of Hodgett.


William Henry Killinder 1921-1923

Thomas Hodgett was replaced as postmaster by William Henry Killinder who started his post office career in Mullingar and moved to a number of offices before being appointed postmaster at Charleville, County Cork, then Tullamore and arrived in Navan in July 1921. He spent less than two years in Navan before being appointed postmaster in Drogheda in May 1923. His time as postmaster saw major changes in the postal service.

On 6 December 1921 the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed which gave self government to the Twenty Six Counties of Ireland. In April 1922 the British and Irish Free State separated their their postal departments. For a couple of years the Irish Free State used British stamps over printed with Saorstat Eireann.  J.J. Walsh the new Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, immediately introduced many changes that would signal the policies of the new regime. One of these was that post offices were graded or classified and pay and salaries were set on this basis. Navan was graded as a Class V (5) office.

Another change, which has survived to the present day, was the introduction of Irish for all place names. Navan became An Uaimh, a decision that has led to local controversy to the present day. Even a victory in a local plebecite in 1970 to change the official name of the town to Navan did not impact on the policy of gaelicisation of post office names. The official post office remains An Uaimh.

Letter post boxes which up to now were painted red were repainted green although the old monograms of Victoria and Edward remained on them. Many of these letter boxes still survive in the Navan area and are the subject of curiousty for visitors and research for local historians.

A section of the terms of the Treaty was that officers wishing to transfer to the British Post Office were allowed to do so while others were entitled to be superannuated (pensioned) on special terms. Killinder facilitatated a number of officers in Navan to avail of these terms. Hannah Carson, a clerk, who was called up for military service in July 1918 and resumed post office duty on 17 November 1918, a week after the cessation of hostilities, transferred to Blackburn on 1 January 1923. Sarah E. Harvey transferred to Lisburn on the same date.Thomas Dowd, a postman,was pensioned under the terms of the treaty on 31 March 1923 and awarded a pension of £45 10s 7d per annum. His pay was 34 shillings with an additional 3 shillings per week for "good conduct stripes" on the date of his retirement.

The post office was still in transition mode in 1922 when it was confronted by a strike by its employees. The cause of the strike was an attempt by the government to reduce the wages of post office employees in an attempt to balance the budget. Efforts to amicably settle the dispute failed and on 9 September 1922 the postal workers went on strike.

In Navan all the outdoor staff, with one exception, all the male indoor staff except Killinder and some female staff supported the strike. On Monday 10 September there was only a very limited delivery of mails in the Navan area. Some people called to the office to collect letters which were handed out by some of the female staff who had remained on duty. The strike lasted until 28 September. During the twenty days of the strike there were no worthwhile postal services in the Navan Area. The post at Trimgate Street was protected by the military and remained closed for the duration of the strike. The outcome of the strike was that the government insisted that the proposed reduction in wages would have to take place but it was willing to spread the reductions over three months. After negotiations it was agreed that" three eights of the reductions to take place on and from 1 September, the balance on 1 December".

Charles William Blanc 1923 -1935.

Killinder was promoted to Drogheda on 16 May 1923 and was replaced in Navan by Charles William Blanc. Blanc began his career in Portarlington in 1886 and served in a number of offices before arriving in Navan. He remained in Navan until he retired in 1935. It is of interest to note that when he became postmaster in Navan his salary was £206 per year and when he retired twelve years later it had reached the sum of £295 per year.

During Blanc's time as postmaster rural mail services began to be extended and an innovative way of dealing with the expansion without large additional costs was devised. Shelters were rented for the postmen, generally at the end of their delivery and where they were required to wait to make connections with other postmen or collect mail for an evening dispatch. The postmen were not paid while they waited at these shelters. Usually these shelters were rented from local subpostmasters but occasionally they were hired privately and the rent ranged from £1 to £2 per year.

Blanc's time as postmaster oversaw a revision of clerical duties which involved the creation of the new position of overseer at Navan post office. The position was regarded as assistant to the postmaster with general supervisory duties. The first person to hold this position in Navan was Robert James (Bob) Carson who had started his post office career in the Navan office on 4 October 1902 as an unpaid learner. He held this position until 19 August 1904 when he was appointed acting S.C. & T. 14 shillings per week. The records show that Carson joined up during World War 1 and was discharged as a lance corporal. On appointment as overseer in 1926 his salary was £150 per year. He held this position until 6 December 1939 when he was appointed postmaster in Roscrea, County Tipperary. His salary as overseer when he left Navan was £180 per year.

Liam McCarthy the writer of this biography spoke to postmen who served under Blanc and Carson whom they regarded as hard disciplinarians but very fair gentlemen. They were, of course, part of the culture of a period when nobody questioned the authority of their superior and when records were meticulously kept.

George Smith 1936- 1942

Blanc retired on his sixty fifth birthday in 1935 and Carson would have acted as postmaster until a new appointment was made. The new appointee was George Smith who started in the post office as a learner in 1904 in Longford. Before taking up his appointment in Navan on 8 January 1936 he was overseer in Galway. He had served in the British army during World War 1 between 1915 and 1919, reached the rank of sergeant and was discharged with an M.S.M. and mentioned in despatches.

Delivery of post on Christmas Day was a long standing feature of the mail services but this service was abolished nationally during Smith's first year in Navan. World War 2 broke out in 1939 and although Ireland was a neutral country, it suffered many shortages and calls for personal committment. Paper and turf were in short supply with strict economy in the use of electricity being enforced. During the Emergency post office staff were encouraged to join the local security force and many of them, both clerks and postmen did so. The clerical staff were received in the army with great enthusiasm because of their knowledge of morse code. One of the clerks, Oliver Kelly, enlisted in the regular army but later resumed duty in Navan.

Matty Lynch, postman, delivered post in the Tara area for forty five years. he retired in 1985 after forty nine years service. He recalled to Liam Mccarthy the difficulties of performing a cycle post duty during World War 2. In the course of his delivery he would cycle a minimum of twenty five miles a day in all kinds of weather and he estimated that he cycled over a quarter of a million miles delivering post before he was provided with a van. The major difficulty was maintaining the bicycle free from punctures. Spare parts were very difficult to come by and he would have to devise all sorts of arrangements to carry out minor repairs. Bits of wire always came in handy and kept as part of the repair kit. Of course there was always the bright side of his work and was one of the best to his recollection was being called upon by a farmer to help with the delivery of a calf. The inflexibility of civil service rules is shown in that Lynch was sixty five years old on 21 December 1985 but he was not allowed to continue on duty for a further three days to finish Christmas deliveries.

George Steenson 1942- 1951.

george steensonSmith was promoted as postmaster to Drogheda in September 1942 and was replaced by George Steenson who took up his post on 17 November in that year. Steenson began his post office career in Lisburn in 1915 at 6 shillings per week. He often spoke of his success in obtaining a position in the post office. On the same day that he received this he was also notified of success for a banking position. He opted for the post office as it was the better paying position at the time.

The time of his arrival in Navan was a difficult and trying period. It was the middle of the emergency when travel was very difficult. There were very few cars and petrol was issued on ration cards. He did not own a car and he travelled from Belturbet, where he was previously postmaster, to Navan by train and bus.

Any travel incurred for checking and auditing of sub offices through the hire of a hackney or by bicycle for the nearer offices. Steenson would set out early in the
morning by bicycle to arrive in Athboy for a check at 9 am, or even earlier if he intended to observe postmen at work. It was often late in the evening before he would arrive back in Navan as auditing sub offices could be a full day's work.

This was also a period of blackouts which required that no lights were seen through windows after dark. The post office was no exception and personnel were required by the government Emergency Order 1942 to ensure that all black out curtains were in place during the hours of darkness.Steenson put in place clear and concise instructions to ensure that these regulation were observed.

During World War 2 the post office acted on behalf of the government censor. Correspondence received from any foreign country, with the exception of Great Britian, that was not stamped "Released By Censor", "Exempt from Censorship", or "Opened By Censor" was required to be witheld from delivery and returned to the Foreign Mails Section, Dublin.

The war years was also a period when shortages of paper and turf were of great importance. Constant reminders were issued to staff to conserve electricity which was only used sparingly for lighting. Turf was used for heating in the four main parts of Navan post office- the counter, the telephone exchange, the sorting office and the postmaster's office. One open turf fire "heated" the sorting office which was seventy feet by twenty five feet and has mostly a glass roof. The economy in the use of paper was almost taken to extreme. Even the smallest slips of paper were put to use. Many of these restrictions continued until well after the war and it was in the late 1960s before electric central heating and flourescent lighting were provided in the Navan post office.

A number of sub post offices in the Navan postal area were transferred to the Dublin postal area on 1 June 1948. These offices included Batterstown, Culmullen, Drumree, Dunshaughlin and Warrenstown. Personnel and telephone services were also part of the transfer.

Jim Egleston 1951-1962.

George Steenson was promoted postmaster at Bray, which was a class IV office, in 1951, but commuted home to Navan at weekends. Jim Egleston replaced him in Navan. Egleston began his career as a boy messenger in Navan in 1912, rose through the ranks and was appointed postmaster in Kells in March 1950. He now returned to Navan in November 1951 after his short time in Kells.He retired in 1962 and spent fifty years in the service of the post office. All his service was in Navan except for his service during World War 1 and twenty one months in Kells. It is interesting to note that some ardent nationalist deleted his war record on his establishment (personnel) record.

In April 1953 a salary conciliation award recommended that Navan be upgraded to a Class IV office. This was a big boost for the importance of Navan Postal area. There were eighty post offices that were regarded as state offices. Post offices were graded from class two to class six. Dublin was on a class of its own and only Cork ranked as Class II. There were fourteen class three offices, thirteen class four and the remainder class five or six.

It was during Egleston's time as postmaster that the post office in Navan got its own motor vans. Prior to this, mail delivery and collection to and from sub offices was done by two mail contractors: John Cantwell, Brews Hill, Navan and Paddy Doran, Navangate, Trim. Parcels for the Navan town delivery had up to now been delivered by hand trolley. The growth of the parcel service, for which the post office had a monopoly and the gradual expansion of the urban area necessitated the change. In addition the volume of mail St. Columban's College, Dalgan Park, where over two hundred students were studying for the Catholic priesthood, required a special service provided by John Cantwell. The two mail contractors providing motorised services ceased with the arrival of the new post office vehicles.

Jim Egleston had a brother Billy who worked in Navan Post Office and had reached the rank of overseer. This was an unusual situation as immediate relatives were not normally allowed to be in supervisory positions in the same office. Had members of the staff objected to the situation Jim would not have been permitted to take up his appointment as postmaster in Navan. It is a tribute to the esteem that both brothers were held in, not only in the post office but throughtout the community, that there were no objections.

In 1960 a number of offices in the Drogheda postal area were transfered to the Navan area. These included Beauparc, Drumconrath, Lobinstown, Meath Hill, Rathkenny and Slane. The telephone exchanges in Lobinstown, Slane and Beauparc were already under the control of Navan but the exchange in Drumconrath remained under Dundalk post office. This was to be the last postal revision affecting Navan.


Michael King 1962-1967

When Eggleston retired in April 196M MacConrai2 he was replaced on 16 May by Michael MacConraoi.

He was the first postmaster to use the Irish form of his name.He was a native of a gaeltach area in Galway and spoke fluent Irish. However he was always known by the english form of his name, Michael King, but never objected to this use. He was also the first postmaster in Navan who joined the post office service after the foundation of the State. He was young to receive this appointment as he was only forty five years of age when he came to the office.

 

Motrorisation of mail deliveries to rural areas began in the 1960s and by the time King left Navan to go on promotion as postmaster in Dundalk in 1967 there were five motorised delivery postal routes operating out of Navan. This scheme involved the abolition of a number of of auxiliary and fulltime cycle posts plus a revision of all the delivery routes involved. Extensive use of the ordnance survey maps was used for this work as well as local knowledge. Paddy O'Brien carried out most of this work. The revisions were sensitive to staff concerns and only took place as postmen retired and with the cooperation
of all involved.

William T. Tighe 1967-1972

When King moved to Dundalk on promotion his position in Navan was taken by William T. Tighe. Tighe had spent his entire post office service in the Cork area and his move to Navan was from Cobh where he was postmaster at a Class V office. He did not have a car so he usually hired a local hackney operator, Willie Farrell, as his means of transport for auditing at sub offices. Tighe was one olf the "old school" of thought, very conservative in his views on post office matters and used paper and lighting very sparingly. He would often work in his office in twilight without any light switched on.

Decmilisation of pounds shillings and pence took place in February 1971 during his time as postmaster. He did not permit his own post office records to be entered in the establishment (personnel) records. Locally he was regarded as one of nature's gentlemen and was never known to raise his voice in anger.
paddy o brien rory gold hugh gsllsgher
Navan's last three Head Postmasters (l -r) Paddy O'Brien, Rory Gold and Hugh Gallagher.

Hugh Gallagher 1972-1985

Tighe retired in 1972 after three years in Navan. He continued to live in the town for a number of years after his retirement before returning to reside in Cork.  Aodh O Gallachobhair replaced him. This was another postmaster, a native of Donegal, who was a fluent Irish speaker using the Irish form of his name but was better known by everyone as Hugh Gallagher.

During Gallagher's time as Head Postmaster two matters of great significance took place that changed the post office for ever. In 1979 a major national strike by post office employees took place in pursuance of better pay rates. It continued for one hundred and twenty two days finishing on 27th June. This strike effectively finished the good will between staff and post office officialdom and was the forerunner of a number of strikes that affected the company to present times.

Also in 1979 a government review group recommended that the Department of Posts and Telegraphs be separated into two semi state companies. This came into operation on 1 January 1984 with the formation of An Post and Telecom Eireann. It is to Gallagher's credit that he handled these two major events with the greatest consideration for all involved. Through his managerial skills any rancour that followed the strike was soon overcome and he oversaw the transition from the civil service to An Post with the utmost ease. Also, during his time as Head Postmaster delivery of mails on Saturday ceased from 5 April 1978. When he retired in in 1985 the motorisation of of rural posts was complete.


Paddy O'Brien 1985-1995

Paddy O'Brien as he was known far and near in County Meath, or Padraig M O'Briain, officially returned to Navan as Head Postmaster, after a short sojourn in Kells. During O'Brien's time in charge in Navan the mails section was transformed. Navan became a major transit area for all mails in the north east. County sorting of mails was introduced and mails for Monaghan, Cavan, Louth as well as Meath were processed at Navan Forwarding Office. When he retired in May 1995 after forty nine years service he had almost literally grown with the postal service in Navan which was now at its peak.

In 2009 he was honoured by having a street in Navan Shopping Centre called Paddy O'Brien Street.

During O'Brien's time as Head Postmaster the post office moved to a new office on Kennedy Road. This office was built on a green field site and was opened for business on 27 November 1989. Senator Feargal Quinn, Chairman of An Post performed the official opening.


Rory Gould 1995-2000.

Paddy O' Brien was replaced by Rory Gould. He is a native of Kilmallock, County Limerick and began his post office career as a trainee clerk in Drogheda on 30 January 1964 and moved to Navan in November 1964. With the exception of training and a short period which he spent working at the G.P.O. Rory spent all his time in Navan rising through the ranks. During his time as Head Postmaster the demise of Navan Postal Area commenced. An Post introduced a policy to break up the mails and counter services into two separate businesses. Both new businesses arrived at separate policies to centralise their businesses or divisions regionally. Dundalk became regional Headquarters for the counter services while Mullingar became the Regional Headquarters for the mails division.

Each business then expanded these policies to rationalise their mails and counter services. The position of Head Postmaster at Navan was abolished and Gould transfered to regional office in Dundalk in 2000. The sub post offices came under the direct control of the offices in Dundalk and Mullingar. The Mails Division decided to move the processing of mails to its Mails Centre in Dublin where all mail is processed electronically. The L.F.O. at Navan ceased.

 

Navan Postal Area in the Twentieth Century by Liam McCarthy.