The old Castlebar Post Office and looking down towards Ellison Street.

Castlebar’s first pensioner was Miss Nancy Hughes

I CAME across this article in a copy of the 1987 Castlebar Parish Magazine in relation to Castlebar’s first pensioners, which makes interesting reading, writes Tom Gillespie.

It posed the question: Who was the first person to receive an old age pension at Castlebar Post Office?

Well, she was 90-year-old Miss Nancy Hughes, who lived at ‘The Marsh’ in the town and had been in the employment of the Sheridan family for years.

The first old age pension books were distributed in Castlebar on January 1, 1909, the Old Age Pension Act having been passed the previous year.

Over 200 senior citizens turned up at Castlebar Post Office at 10 a.m. on the first day of the new year to be paid their first pensions, the vast majority of whom received the sum of five shillings per week.

Some of the old people walked distances of two to three miles into Castlebar, and one 100-year-old man travelled from Cappagh on foot.

Some were disappointed, however, as about 20 pensioners from the Burren district could not secure their books. The problem was that they were residents of the Laherdane dispensary district.

The books were distributed by Mr. J.J. Forde, Customs and Pensions Officer, assisted by Mr. Thomas Moclair, clerk of the County Pensions Committee, and Mr. Michael J. Egan, clerk of the Castlebar Pensions Sub-Committee.

Mr. Egan, who lived at Mountain View, was later to become secretary of Mayo County Council, on the passage of the County Management Act, and was appointed Mayo’s first county manager.

If ever a man received a blessing, it was Mr. Forde that morning. It was ‘May God bless you’, and ‘God protect you’, or ‘May you be spared your health’ from every one of the participants.

After receiving their books at the courthouse, the pensioners walked to the post office to receive their allowances.

The handing over of the money was in the charge of the postmistress, Mrs. Mulligan, and she was assisted by Misses Smith and Potter and Messrs. McElroy, Scott and Griffin. There was an adequate supply of silver and coin and by 5 o’clock all of the applicants had been paid.

Over £500 had been distributed by Castlebar Post Office and the various sub-offices served by it on the first week the pension was introduced.

Many of the recipients were over 100 years and had vivid recollections of the night of the Big Wind, the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act, the Great Famine and the split between Young Ireland and O’Connell’s supporters which culminated in the armed rising of the former in 1848.

In 1909, five shillings was a fair bit of money when the prices of goods are considered.

Tea could be had for 1/6 per pound, sugar at 2d. per pound, potatoes from 2d. to 3d. per stone, bacon at 4d. per pound, beef at 4d. per pound, and milk at 1.5d. per quart.

Whiskey was 4d. per glass, stout sold for 2d. per bottle, and Woodbine cigarettes were one penny for a packet of five.

Also in that year’s magazine we were told that Castlebar Gas Company, located at Newtown, was flourishing back in March 1894, and the profit for the year exceeded £200.

However, there was a general feeling in the community that their price of 7/6 per 1,000 cubic feet was a little on the excessive side, forcing people to use oil instead.

The point was made in a letter to The Connaught Telegraph that a reduction of 5/- would encourage more and more people to use gas.

The introduction of an electric plant at Castlebar by the late Mr. Joseph Bourke and his offer to carry out the public lighting of the town at a lower figure than that quoted by the gas company meant the beginning of the end for the latter firm.

Another fascinating item referred to a visiting band who refused to play the National Anthem.

Controversy flared in Castlebar in 1957 because a Northern Irish band refused to play the National Anthem at the conclusion of a dance in Castlebar Town Hall.

Letters poured into The Connaught Telegraph offices for weeks following the incident from people highlighting their resentment.

One correspondent, under the nom-de-plume ‘Fair Play’, put the question: “Does it appear altogether wrong for us in the 26 counties to give employment, at the expense of our own nationals, to people such as these who show such little respect for us, and who come here to collect their big fees and then retreat rapidly across the Border without spending any money here - neither tax, insurance, nor even petrol?

This is but another example of how we are impoverishing ourselves through our own thoughtlessness and ultra tolerance.

Is it any wonder that our taxes are so great and our emigration rate has reached such a record?”

In 1987 the priests attached to the Castlebar parish were Fr. Sean Blake, P.P., Fr. Paddy Curran, Fr. Joe O’Brien, Fr. Martin O’Connor, and Fr. Gerry Needham, while the hospital chaplains were Fr. Des Fahey and Fr. Paddy Gilligan and the parish sister was Sister Enda.