25 Jan 2022

Offaly postman adjusted to new routine during Covid-19

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Postman Ken Doyle on his trusty bicycle

It is difficult, even today, to visualize a life without a postal service. Public postal services, it seems, originated in the mid seventeenth century. At that time, it took up to two months to deliver a letter from Dublin to London. Over the centuries since, the postal service has been the bearer of good news and bad news, a means by which emigrants sent money home and through which families and friends kept in touch.

The art of letter writing may have diminished and the postal service may not any longer play the vital role it once did, but it remains a provider of essential services in every urban and rural community in Ireland.

When the Covid - 19 pandemic interrupted how all of us lead our lives, the postal service played a starring role in enabling us to cope with that experience. To do that required the ability to change and a high level of flexibility to meet emerging needs.

Essential Community Service

Tullamore native, Ken Doyle, is a veteran of fifteen years service as a postman, loves his job and is well equipped to describe all that it involves.

The title ‘postman’ has been retired and replaced with the more politically correct if less endearing one of ‘postal operative’ to describe the women and men who provide this essential community service.

The job is best suited to early risers willing to commence their day’s work at 4.30 am. The initial hours are spent organising the letters and packages that have to be delivered in all weathers. Their peak workload occurs in December, a month guaranteed to provide inclement weather. The task of keeping all that has to be delivered safe from the elements can be particularly challenging. Their ability to keep precious Christmas mail dry is remarkable.

Eerily Quiet

When the country went into lockdown last year, the impact on the postal services was immediate. Ken elaborates: -

‘For Health and Safety reasons, we were reorganised into teams. It was necessary to do that but it meant much less contact with colleagues in the other teams than we were used to but we learned to live with it.

‘Overnight the town became eerily quiet. The absence of traffic on the streets in the town took getting used to. On the other hand, it was much easier to get about.

“Normally we have a lot of contact with people on our rounds, especially those living alone. We are mindful that we may be the only human contact some of the people we call to will have that day. We had to get used to the social distancing advice and to bear in mind as well in many cases, those we were delivering to were fearful of making any contact. Social contact at a distance or through a window is difficult. We did the best we could to cope with that obstacle.

“Some of the mail we deliver has to be signed for. The relationship of mutual trust is important in situations like that and helped to overcome the difficulty that through up.

‘We found ourselves doing shopping and paying bills for some older people. We were only too glad to help out in situations like that when we were asked to help. That sort of thing is part of our job anyway but we were just more aware of how we could help some of the people we deliver to during the pandemic.

Novel Requests

“Mail-order shopping increased big time during the pandemic. In one month the mail centre for our area handled over one million parcels. We delivered a lot of household appliances and household goods generally during lockdown but the volume has come down somewhat since the shops reopened.

“We got some novel requests, involving extra travel sometimes, but we didn’t mind that. One day I was asked to deliver something to a person who was in hospital, which I was glad to do. Being asked to deliver food parcels to family members was a new one but there was usually a good reason why we were asked to do things like that and it felt good to be able to help.

‘Remember the postcards that An Post supplied to homes? That was a great success. The number of children in particular who used them to make contact with family and friends was remarkable and we enjoyed delivering them”.

Asked if he felt at risk personally during the pandemic, Ken was philosophical about that. ‘The building we work from is large and well ventilated and the Health and Safety measures introduced meant that we were well spaced out, in the socially distanced sense, at work. Then, most of our work is done outdoors in the fresh air. By observing social distancing advice we were able to keep safe”.

Ken is pleased that work life is getting back to normal. He loves his job, enjoys meeting people on his rounds. He keeps physically fit and values the contribution the exercise he gets from walking and cycling at work contributes to his fitness.

This article is one page from the 120 pages of the keenly awaited 10th anniversary issue of the Tullamore Annual. The Annual features articles on a broad range of subjects of local interest and will appeal to readers of all ages.

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