END OF AN ERA Duffy’s Shop and Post Office in Finny closed last week after 138 years of trading
On Wednesday last Finny Post Office and Shop closed for the final time draping down the curtain on a business operating for four generations under the stewardship of the Duffy family.
They’ve been licking stamps and pedalling wares here since 1880. Patrick (Patcheen) Duffy and his brother came south from Monaghan in 1830. Known as the ‘Ultachs’ they worked in the linen industry before their mills were bought out by rich Protestant weavers. ‘Patcheen’ settled in Finny where he opened a shop and Post Office. His son William took up the baton later handing it over Paddy Duffy and Paddy’s daughter Margaret became the last key holder of this iconic landmark on the borderlines of Galway and Mayo.
Colloquially known as ‘The Shop’, Duffy’s served the region from Kilbride to Currevaugh and from Maamtrasna to Mary Ann’s Bridge for close on a century and a half. Margaret Duffy assumed the mantle in 1997. It was she who turned the key to cease trading. The business saw off two World Wars, the turning of two centuries, man walking on the moon, three currency changes, the arrival of rural electrification and technological advances beyond the grasp of even the most garish imagination. Technology combined with a lighter footfall is now the final death-knell sounding for a lengthening chain of rural post offices. On Friday John and Sarah Curran closed their door in nearby Cloughbrack and umpteen others are trading on borrowed time.
Michael Joyce was the last serving postman in Finny Post Office but for three years past the post is sorted in Ballinrobe for delivery to the Joyce Country region. On a sunny Finny morning Margaret Duffy sat at her kitchen table recalling her time working in the family store and the work ethic she acquired from her dad and mum, the late Paddy and Jean Duffy. “We never regarded it as hard work because when you grow up in a family business it becomes a way of life. To Dad it was a labour of love. After breakfast he opened the shop. Except for a break for dinner and his evening tea he was out there until late.
“The shopkeeper served everything off the shelves and totted up the amount on a copy or a slip of paper. Dad knew and had the utmost respect for every customer. If someone needed credit or purchases put on the tab he did that. And when the wool or cattle was sold or a relative sent a few bob from London, New York or Chicago they came in and settled their account. Sometimes a cheque would arrive years later for credit he might have written off as a bad debt. But he never let anyone go without and it was the same with the other shopkeepers around here. In fact they were glad to be in a position to help and nobody heard anything about it either.”
‘Let nothing disturb you – all things are passing’ is a religious quote handwritten on a cardboard sign inside the shop door. It was the mantra Paddy Duffy lived life to. Duffy’s served as a meeting place for locals to sit and chat. Paddy had two long seats in his shop and nightly when regulars called to buy a pouch of tobacco or a packet of Sweet Afton, Paddy invited them to rest awhile and engage in conversation. Paddy would also join them by way of relaxing as another long day dipped into night. Nightly card games were held too in every available space. More cards were dealt in Duffy’s of Finny than a Las Vegas casino.
Paddy’s sister Bridgie also helped out in the shop and farm. A graceful lady with a keen sense of style Bridgie journeyed to Dublin twice yearly to purchase fashionable outfits in the top department stores. But it was important Bridgie looked her dapper best because she provided another important service to the locality.
Families were large back then and babies arrived with greater regularity. Christenings were merely fulfilling a religious obligation and bereft of today’s celebrations. For most baptisms Bridgie was summoned to Finny Church to stand for a newly baptised baby. Bridgie Duffy was godmother to most children of a certain generation born around the Finny region. And she too had a deep fondness for the game of 25.
Margaret recalls her own time at the helm. “Tuesday was always busy. The guard signed the social welfare forms over in Walsh’s and they’d come here to cash them and do some shopping. It was the same with pension day on Thursday and Friday. We had Mass in Finny every Sunday and people came in and bought ice cream and desserts for after dinner. But then Mass changed to Saturday evening and they tended not to wait around afterwards. Biggest change I saw was people dying and lots of emigration from the area.
“There are cars in every house now and people travel and have more choice and that’s a good thing. We became computerised in 2010 and technology took over. Social welfare and pensions are paid directly to the bank in most cases now and items can be purchased online. The local shop hasn’t the same significance in the community anymore.
“But I enjoyed every minute of my time here and I appreciate the locals for the support and custom they gave to us over four generations. They are customers, great neighbours and good friends. I’ll miss the lovely chats in the shop more than anything else. Finny is a lovely place to live. There’s a good quality of life here and it’s the people and beauty of the area that make it what it is.”
The final credits have rolled in Finny’s longest saga. Everything changes as the wheel of life keeps turning. But as long as directions are sought or given to a lost soul rambling around Joyce Country ‘the shop’ in Finny will be the first reference point forever and a day.
It was the end of an era for the village, located south of Tourmakeady, and for shop owner and postmistress Margaret Duffy. Margaret is pictured serving Jack Joyce