Records show that post office business has been conducted in the Eglinton Street area since the 1850s. The Ordnance Survey map of 1872 shows the ‘Postal and Telegraph Office’ in the house at the corner of Francis Street and Daly’s Place, where Emerson & Conway solicitors are today. Prior to 1885, the local postmaster Mr Cornwall provided the premises but, as business expanded, the building became too small. It could not accommodate parcels and a separate outside premises for a parcel office was rented at a cost of £15 a year.
The telephone service, like the earlier telegraph, was started by private companies. The Post Office took over the telegraph in 1870 and the telephone in 1912.
A site on Eglinton Street for a new post office was purchased by the Postmaster General from Alexander Moon in May 1885. It opened on November 1 1886, the first official premises provided in the city. The building was three-storey with a red brick and limestone dressing. The accommodation for public business and staff was said “to be ample and a great improvement, but the street required flagging in front and a crossing to the opposite side of the road. A public lamp and a clock were also required”. Notice the use of the word ‘road’, Eglinton Street did not as yet have ‘street status’. Our photograph of the GPO, which was taken c1890, shows that the lamp and the clock were eventually installed. Living quarters for the postmaster and his family were provided on the top floor. Additional property at the rear was purchased from a Mr Halloran and the premises were extended in 1911.
During the Christmas period of 1931, 65,000 letters plus 3,000 registered letters came from New York for Galway city and county. In addition, there were 981 bags of American mail landed at Galway Port for distribution throughout the country, and these had to be dealt with by Galway officials. The incoming parcels for the Galway postal district during Christmas week numbered 7,000. During the same period, 13,800 money orders from America came through the system here. About 6,000 parcels were posted out in the four days preceding Christmas, of which about 1,200 were to England and were mostly parcels of fowl.
A central heating system to replace open fires was installed here in 1937. In 1952, the Empire Theatre of William Street was acquired and further land at the back was purchased from a Mr Lally.
During the 1953-58 period, to allow for the enlargement of the telephone exchange, the telegraph office and the payment of social welfare pensions were transferred to 16 Eyre Square. The building in our photograph was demolished in 1958 and replaced by the current GPO, which was built by James Stewart of Lower Salthill. It was officially opened on May 23 by Michael Hilliard, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. The new building may have been more efficient, but the old one was far more elegant.
The first lecture of the New Year in the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society’s programme will take place on Monday next at 7.30pm in the Harbour Hotel. Its title is ‘An aerial perspective of some heritage sites in the west of Ireland’ and it will be given by Eamonn O’Donoghue. All are welcome.