Castlebar Courthouse back in the years.

My fortnight as a county council messenger boy

MANY moons ago when I was a young teenager I was lucky enough to get a two-week stint, during the summer, as messenger boy with Mayo County Council, writes Tom Gillespie.

It was holiday cover when the regular incumbent was on annual leave. I got the position as a friend of my mother, Angela Reidy (Lally), from Linenhall Street, held a senior position with the council and put in a good word for me.

It was a time when all the offices of the local authority were based in the courthouse in Castlebar, both upstairs and downstairs. It was a warren of corridors and rickety stairs.

My base was in the small public office on the corridor opposite the District Court and Urban District Council chamber. A telephonist and some clerical staff were based there.

The major task of the morning was the delivery of cups of tea to the various offices and departments. There was a protocol as to who would be served first and I soon learned the routine.

The tea was brewed in the public office and I carried trays of piping hot liquid to the various offices, accompanied by a jug of milk and a bowl of sugar and several spoons. Half an hour later I had to collect the empty cups, wash them and have them ready for the following morning.

One of the perks was the use of the messenger boy’s heavy bicycle. I did own my own bicycle at the time.

Earlier I had been a messenger boy at Kelly’s Drapery on Main Street where I undertook chores for the three Kelly sisters - bringing in turf, burning excess cardboard for the shop down the back garden and fetching a small batch loaf from Gavin’s Bakery on the top of Knockthomas twice a week. The sisters required the loaf to have a black crust on the top.

For this I received 10 shillings every Saturday and on Sundays I was required to sweep the street outside the shop and stock up on turf. I received an additional 1s 6p for this - the admission and spending money to the Sunday afternoon matinee at the County Cinema on Spencer Street.

Over the months I had saved enough to purchase a bike from Bourke’s Cycle Shop on Ellison Street. But the use of the heavy, black messenger’s boy bike back then was a status symbol so there was no way my ‘old’ bike would be seen around the courthouse.

At that time the council rates office was located in the military barracks, where Malachy Touhy was in charge. During the day I would have to make several trips with various messages to the barracks. Likewise, I would make several daily trips with messages to the County Clinic, opposite the Travellers Friend Hotel. Back then the council had responsibility for the health services.

Each evening the daily post had to be prepared for the post office. There was a big franking machine in the public office and I had to run the letters through it to be franked or stamped. There was a large basket attached to the handlebars of the bike into which I used to convey the post to the post office on Mountain View.

Again because it was county council post it received priority attention when I reached the post office. Instead of having to queue I could go to the counter directly inside the main door where one of the postal clerks would take the bundle of letters from me.

At that time Dolly Chambers and family were caretakers of the courthouse. They resided in the building in accommodation below the stairs near the District Court office. Up that stairs was an office occupied by the then county secretary, John O’Donnell. It was a place you did not want to go. It was a daunting, frightening and intimidating place for a young lad.

Outside the door was what I would describe as a set of small traffic lights mounted on the wall. To gain entry you pressed the main buzzer. If the green light came on it said ‘enter’ and you could go in, most reluctantly I must say. If the red flashed it meant ‘engaged’ and you waited, and waited, until the green finally appeared. And once inside Mr. O’Donnell’s office you addressed him as ‘Sir’, something I are well advised of before of making my first visit there.

Many years later I used this as a ruse for fledgling messenger boys at The Connaught Telegraph when we sent them on a wild goose chase.

At the time we were printing the Register of Electors, which was a major contract for the firm. The proofs had to go to the rates office and the unsuspecting messenger boy would be dispatched to the military barracks with the documents with the instructions to collect the ‘keys of the Mall’ while he was there.

A quick phone call to the rates office resulted in the fall-guy messenger boy being redirected to Mr. O’Donnell’s officer in the courthouse and the request for the keys of the Mall once he gained entry to the office.

As you can imagine, the messenger boy would return red-faced after a dressing down from Mr. O’Donnell and was smart enough not to heed a request some weeks later to go to the rates office for some sky hooks.

The fortnight I spent with Mayo County Council was a great learning experience and certainly opened my eyes to the ways of the world.


* Read Tom Gillespie's column every Tuesday in our print edition