One Dole Day in the mouth of Christmas, as I waited outside Danny Logue’s to be sent for errands by some of the men drinking inside, ‘Willie’ approached me and asked me to collect a “lock of stuff for the Christmas” from Jim Gallagher the butcher. I duly obliged but couldn’t understand why the neck of a big bird wasn’t hanging out of the bag, like some I’d seen tethered to the bars of bikes outside the pub. ‘Willie’ thanked me profusely, handed me a very generous half-a crown (extra for Christmas) but before he made the usual spalter at trying to mount the bike at a run on the Downings road, I ventured: “Will you be back up for the turkey?” “I’m naw haveen tirkey, young Galligan, I’m haveen soup…did you naw find the bones heavy?” I said that I hadn’t but then asked him what he was having after a soup. “A sleep,” says he.
In ‘Postie’s’ case, the delivery of mail was just part of his unofficial brief in the local my mother’s village, Carrick, and the environs. His greatest gift – particularly for those who lived in the more isolated outposts – was that he would call to every house, whether or not he was bearing letters. I can recall him vividly coming down the long lane to my grandmother, Brigid Byrne in Bogagh, and when she opened the door, exclaiming with a big flourish: “Not to worry, more tomorrow!”
Somehow, that took the sting out of there being no post but crucially, he was bearing real ‘news’ from neighbours and adjoining townlands. His visits were eagerly awaited in many houses and particularly at Christmas time. He was never in any great rush, often reminding us, “What wile rush is on youse?” He was a great raconteur and razor-sharp with the repartee. Once, in the middle of the Rosary at a wake in Teelin, the late Father McDyer was horrified to have the muted responses interrupted by someone ‘letting off’ loudly. “Who did that?” he queried, to which ‘Postie’ responded, “If it was the corpse, Father, your prayers are working!” Father Mc was not amused.
Growing up in Carrigart, the extraordinary generosity of local shops and pubs at this time of year is something I will always treasure. Dad didn’t have a car at the time but somehow managed to land home on Christmas Eve with a crate of stout and minerals, biscuits and sweets, as well as miscellaneous baubles and goodies for the ‘weans’. From the Atlantic Drive to High Glen, Devlinreagh to Mulroy, the Guard was being rewarded by those who appreciated his assistance during the year. For a young boy, it was a salutary lesson in the reciprocal benefits of being a good neighbour.
The excitement of those pre-Santa gifts ensured that the Galligan family were still as bright as buttons when it came time to walk the mile and a half to the Church of John the Baptist for Midnight Mass. There was something genuinely heavenly afoot as the stars twinkled out over Sheephaven and Mulroy and we and our neighbours, Boylans and McBride’s, tripped up Umlagh whispering conspiratorially, “I wonder what will he bring us?” I was an altar boy then and there was a palpable sense in the chapel of bearing witness to an awesome miracle as the congregation responded in Latin and inside us, the excitement mounted at what else was to come. We didn’t walk home afterwards - we levitated - and my mother’s big treat early on Christmas mornings was scrambled eggs on toast. As warm as toast, we went to bed with no argument, tingling with anticipation.
Our stockings were never empty, but I have never forgotten the sheer excitement in our wee hallway, as we tried to manoeuvre our way around two dozen bottles of Guinness, two dozen McDaid’s banana minerals, a big fruit cake with the raisins bursting out of it, a tin box of biscuits within which you prayed there was two layers of pink wafers and a few big boxes of chocolates that you fervently hoped did not contain coffee or Turkish Delight. Aah...the eternal taste of memory!