Some aspects of Galway postal history

The idea for regular stages for carrying letters is as old as history itself. The regular use of the words “post” and “litir” in 15th century Irish manuscripts suggests that by that time a postal system was already in existence here.

A Londoner named Witherings, having reformed the English postal system, was asked in 1638 to do the same in Ireland. By 1653, post was being carried by postboys who walked 16 to 18 miles a day to most Irish cities twice weekly. Ballinasloe was the first post office in this county, followed by Loughrea. It is believed the Galway office was set up in 1653 while the Cromwellians were in occupation of the city. Zachary Browne was probably the first postmaster here. There is no information available for the location of the Head Post Office in the earlier years. The postmasters had to provide premises either in their own private house or shop if they had one, so every time there was a new appointment, there was a new location. This situation prevailed until 1886 when the first official post office was built in Eglinton Street.

This building was three storey with a red brick front and limestone dressings. the accommodation for public business and staff was 'ample and a great improvement' but the street required flagging in front and a public lamp and a clock were also needed. They bought more property in 1901 and extended the premises in 1911. In 1937, a central heating system was installed to replace open fires. In 1952, they bought further land at the back and also the Empire Theatre which had an entrance from William Street. The entire post office building was demolished in 1958. A new automatic telephone exchange was built at the rear and and this brought the number of phone subscribers in the city to 1,000; in 1921 there had been six subscribers and in 1935 there were 75. The existing main premises were officially opened on May 23, 1960.

In 1764, post was received in Galway from Dublin on Monday and Thursday, and despatched on Tuesday and Friday. In 1807, a mail-coach service was provided by private owners between Galway and Dublin. These coaches were often robbed and two armed guards were required on each. In 1847, the coach would leave the GPO in Dublin at 8pm and arrive in Galway at 10.46am, a journey of 14 hours and 46 minutes.

Because of its size, Galway city, in addition to head office in Eglinton Street, has seven town sub-offices: Salthill opened in 1852; Dominick Street opened on 15/2/1853; Newcastle opened on 1/1/1938; Taylor's Hill opened in 1905 and was replaced by Father Griffin Avenue which opened on 19/10/1974; Bohermore opened on 1/12/1945; Renmore opened on 22/5/1970; and Mervue on 21/11/1975.

Our main photograph shows the staff outside the Eglinton Street premises in 1910. They are, from the left: John Burke, John Doherty, Thomas S Meally, ED. Hanrahan, Miss Emily P Kenny, PA, Jos O'Halloran, Jane Flynn, Martin Kelly, Patrick Hynes, John O'Connell, Martin S Lally, Patrick Flaherty, Jack Hynes, Mike Hynes, -- Cornwall, boy messenger, boy messenger. Thomas E McGowan is the man at the first floor window. As you can see, they had the public lamp and the clock by then. Our second image was taken in 1960 as Stewarts was finishing the building of the current main post office.

Most of the above is taken from an outstanding article by Jimmy O'Connor which was published in The Galway Archeological and Historical Society Journal, Volume 44, 1992.

An Post has plans for the development of the overall site in Eglinton Street, and as part of those plans, it has designated a part of the Eglinton Street complex as a cultural venue to be used by the city. It is a wonderful gesture and will enable groups such as the Galway Arts Festival to bring large scale exhibitions to town and thus raise the artistic bar a little higher. For a city with so few venues, this is a major boost to the arts in the west, a huge endorsement of creative potential in this city. So thank you An Post, for your vision, your generosity, and your belief in the citizens of Galway. You will leave us a rich cultural legacy.


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