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To the letter

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Martin Keating from Tuam collects the last post from Garrafrauns Post Office as Postmistress Monica McWalter looks on.

Michael Commins

IT was the last few hours of 2018 and a line of cars were parked outside the home of Pat and Monica McWalter in the small village of Garrafrauns. Neighbours and friends had gathered in the family home which had housed the local Post Office since 1990 to witness the end of a long era.
Shortly before 5pm, Martin Keating from Tuam called to collect the last post. You would need a heart of stone not to feel the emotion of the occasion on an evening that marked the end of 125 years of postal services in the village. The honour of posting the very last letter in Garrafrauns fell to Tommy Keaveny about an hour earlier.
The first Post Office in Garrafrauns opened in 1893. Three years later it was relocated to the Healy residence that had a small grocery and hardware shop at the time. The Healy family have been synonymous with the Post Office and postal service all down the decades.
Micheal Healy was the first Postmaster in Garrafrauns. He was assisted by his wife Mary (nee Boyle) and their sons Patrick, Michael and Eddie.  The three lads became postmen and cycled around the countryside delivering the post.
Michael delivered the post up until 1962 when his son Noel took over and he served as postman for the next four decades until he retired in 2006.
Margaret Healy, daughter-in-law of Michael Healy Snr, ran the Post Office until 1959 when Kathleen McWalter (nee Boyle) took over the reins. The shop was also an integral part of the business selling grocery items, minerals, sweets and ice cream.
The first phone was installed in Garrafrauns in 1952 and that was in the Post Office. Calls were received in Dunmore and transferred by operators to their final destination. The phone in Garrafrauns was assigned the number Dunmore 37.
Later, Coleman’s pub and the White House (Kilgarriff’s) acquired phones. However, they had to share the single line from Dunmore. Three rings meant the Post Office could answer, two rings for Coleman’s and one ring for the White House!
A phone box was installed in the village in 1971 and it was seen as a great development for the village as it was accessible at all hours.
The busiest days at the office in Garrafrauns, outside the Christmas period, were Pension day, Children’s Allowance day and Dole day.
Kathleen McWalter, who operated the post office for 30 years with her husband James and family, retired in 1990 but continued to operate the shop until 1993. Her daughter-in-law Monica took over the running of the post office in 1990 in her family home across the road.
Changing trends, computerisation, emails and a declining rural population has impacted hugely on the viability of many rural post offices. A spate of closures have swept like a tsunami across the rural heartlands in recent times.

Meeting place
Garrafrauns Post Office was more than just that. It was a meeting place, a rambling house, where neighbours gathered to chat about the news of the day. The advent of various forms of technology found many more senior members adrift and they depended on Monica to fill in forms, top-up credit on their mobile phones, and assist with their banking and much more.
The multinational superstores have little time for these decent and loyal sons and daughters of rural Ireland. But here in McWalter’s Post Office in Garrafrauns and hundreds of others around the country, the plain decent people of Ireland feel at home and welcome and at ease in heart and mind and soul.
Pat McWalter recalls how the bicycle was the main source of transport to the post office in years gone by. “This changed dramatically over the years until we were down to two or three who still held on to the old way. Paddy Coleman from Quinaltagh was our most senior customer who still came on the bike. Pádraig Doherty from Cloonfane was another who maintained the tradition right up to the closure. We also had Tom McWalter from across the Mayo border in Kilvine, Irishtown, who alternated between the bike and the motorbike and who was very faithful to the post office in Garrafrauns.”
The hand-over time between day and night had taken place and neighbours and friends joined the McWalter family between 4.30pm and 6pm for a quiet celebration in their home. There was tea and coffee and stronger ‘tay’ of another variety for those who wished to partake.
Emotion was in the air as Monica and Pat extend their thanks to the community. They were joined by cousin and former postman Noel Healy who also found it an emotional moment. Bernie Slattery, on behalf of the Community Council, joined in the tributes and made a presentation to Monica and Pat on behalf of a grateful community.
For one last time, Monica and Pat invited us outside to the public entrance to the room that served as the post office. They press the ‘send’ button on the computer and log out for the last time … the end of 125 years of the post office in Garrafrauns. No one said it would be easy and it wasn’t. The silence said it all … so lonesome we could cry. 

Hollymount Closure
See report and pictures on the closure of another institution, Hollymount Post Office, in next week’s issue.