Post and Telephones and the Price of Bacon
Today in 2023, we expect to be able to connect in real time from any location and on any device making real-time communications a critical element of unified communications and collaboration. Real-time communication has been revolutionised through high-speed internet, mobile phones and smart devices which have enabled instant messaging, team messaging platforms, file sharing and video conferencing systems. Businesses and members of the public communicate daily by email, mobile phone and messaging. We use courier services for next day delivery from any part of the world. All of this has become the norm we take for granted in today’s world in 2023. The evolution of communication over the past 100 years has been transformative and shapes the lives we live today.
What a contrast with the world of communication in the early years of Sligo Chamber in the 1920s and 1930s. It was only in the early 1900s that the public switched telephone network (PSTN) was introduced in America and in 1915 that a transcontinental line allowed users 3,000 miles apart to hold conversations. As we read the minutes of the early days of Sligo Chamber, we learn how reliant business was on the postal system and on the telephone, even if the telephone service was limited and restrictive. Even after the emergence of the Irish Free State in 1922, the post is still very connected with England and there is a heavy reliance on the mailboat and on the mail trains for delivery to and from Sligo. Telegrams are a fundamental mechanism for business activity and the Telephone Directory important for client contacts. It is against this background that we read of Sligo Chamber advocating for improvement throughout the 1920s and 30s in the post and telephone communication systems of the day.
We first read about delays in the mail from England to Sligo in the minutes of a General Meeting of Sligo Chamber on Thursday, the 12th July 1923, Mr. F. Nally, Vice-President, in the Chair. Mr. H.C. Lyons referred to the delay in the letter and parcel post to Sligo from England and the Secretary, J.A. McLoghry “was directed to write to the Postmaster General on the subject, and suggest that the stamp of the receiving office should be put on all parcels and letters heretofore so that in cases of undue delay the receivers may be able to find out where the delay occurs”. The meeting goes on to discuss the question of having a night mail service between Sligo and Dublin and it was
“Proposed by: Mr. H.C. Lyons
Seconded by: Mr. F. Nally and resolved
That this meeting of Sligo Chamber of Commerce desire to urge upon the Postmaster General of the Irish Free State the necessity of having the night mail service from Dublin to Sligo and from Sligo to Dublin restored. The service from Dublin would fall in with the morning delivery of local letters at Sligo allowing replies to be sent by the outward day mail at 2.55 p.m. At present letters are only delivered in Sligo between 1 and 2 p.m. not giving sufficient time for replies to catch the outward day mail, hence replies would have to wait until the following day mail causing great inconvenience and loss to the trading community.
These discussions were reported on in the Sligo Champion on the following Saturday, the 14th of July, 1923. The Champion reports that “Some matters of interest were brought before a meeting of the Sligo Chamber of Commerce this week, and those who may have doubted the practical utility of such a body are likely to have their misgivings allayed. Railway and mail accommodation, railway rates and through rates are matters that vitally affect the business community, and these were freely discussed at Thursday’s meeting.
The delays in the Parcels Post service, as well as the letter post, are interesting to businessmen, as they are scandalous from an official point of view. It is ridiculous that parcels posted in England should take a week to reach their destination in Ireland.
It was also mentioned that a letter posted in Glasgow on 20th June did not reach Sligo until 7th July, and Mr. Quinn, Manager of the Ulster Bank, gave an instance where grave inconvenience was caused by delay in correspondence. It was decided to communicate with the Postmaster General”.
The difficulties with the mail train to Sligo continue through to the 1930s with Mr. H.C. Lyons noting at Chamber Meeting of the 25th of November 1930, H. Campbell Perry, President, in the Chair, that “a great deal of inconvenience is caused by the late arrival of the mail train from Dublin, now 11.55 a.m. This delayed the delivery of letters leaving very little time for replies to be sent by the out-going mid-day mail”. The Secretary was directed to write to the Great Southern Railways Company in connection with the matter.
The Chamber also advocated strongly for improvements in the telephone system, particularly for direct line connections from Sligo to Dublin and from Sligo to Ballina as well as the local system. At the meeting of the 7th of January 1924, H. Campbell Perry, President, in the Chair, the defects of the trunk and local system was discussed and the Secretary was directed to urge upon the Postmaster General the necessity of having a direct trunk service between Sligo and Dublin via the Midland Great Western Railway route and also to point out that improvements are needed in the local service. Mr. D.M. Hanley suggested that the matter should be brought before the Senate and Dáil through the local representatives and it was decided that this be done.
It takes a year before we see reference to a response being received when at the Chamber Meeting of the 22nd of January 1925, H. Campbell Perry, President, in the Chair, we read
“The Post Office Engineering Department wrote relative to previous correspondence from the Chamber regarding the Trunk Telephone Service, stating that a new trunk circuit had now been provided between Sligo and Longford and additional trunk service between Longford and Mullingar which would, it was hoped afford the necessary relief for traffic between Sligo and Dublin.
This was considered satisfactory”.
With regard to a direct telephone line to Ballina, Mr. W. J. Tolan mentioned at the Chamber Meeting on the 9th of November 1925 that he understood telephone facilities were being extended in County Mayo to Ballina for the first time and he suggested “it would be good if Sligo was linked up directly with that place and the intermediate important centres”. It was decided to request the Post Office to have this done. However, the Chamber did not meet with success on this occasion as it is recorded in the minutes of the next meeting on the 21st of December, that the Post Office Department has responded stating that “for technical reasons it was not possible to provide the desired facility by connecting the gap between the Telegraph Offices at Skreen and Beltra”.
The provision of the direct telephone line to Ballina remains an issue for the Chamber through to 1928 when at the meeting of the 4th of May, Mr. F. Nally, Vice-President suggests that the Authorities should be asked to extend the telephone service to Culleens Post Office pointing out that “this is a populous district and a good business is done there and several of the Traders in the district have stated that they would have considerable use for a telephone. There is a telephone line from Ballina to Easkey and this line could be tapped and extended to Culleens, a distance of about four miles”. It was decided to make the necessary representations in the matter. Once again, the Chamber request is unsuccessful. The letter of response from the Minister of Post and Telegraphs is read to the Chamber Meeting of the 22nd of October 1928 stating that “to provide a telephone Call Office at Culleens, it would be necessary to erect new poles for double wires for a distance of 51/2 miles, the cost of which would exceed the estimated revenue from such a service and it is regretted such a charge on the public funds would not be warranted”.
Communication by telegram was important for business activity and the Chamber was in regular correspondence in the 1920s and early 1930s with the Associated Chambers of Commerce (now Chambers Ireland) and the Minister of Finance in relation to increases in costs of telegrams. Sligo Chamber repeatedly contests the Minister’s statements that the “majority of telegrams in the country were betting telegrams”. The depth of feeling is clear from the Chamber Meeting of the 4th of May 1928 where the minutes record that
“The following Resolution was
Proposed by: A.C. Cook
Seconded by: John Sinclair and Resolved:
That we the Sligo Chamber of Commerce view with grave alarm the proposal of the Minister for Finance to increase the minimum cost of Telegrams in the Free State from one shilling to eighteen pence. We feel that the proposed increase will fall very heavily on the already over taxed business community.
We cannot agree with the Statement of the Minister that the bulk of Telegrams in the Free State are in connection with Betting Transactions and we would suggest, if an increase is necessary, that Telegrams purely for commercial purposes be allowed to remain at the present rate and Sporting and other Telegrams bear the proposed increase.
It is not only the cost of telegrams that concerns the Chamber, repeated errors in telegrams are having an impact on business to the extent that Senator Arthur Jackson suggests at the Chamber Meeting of the 9th of November 1925 that the Secretary of the General Post Office is written to calling attention to the matter. This follows from Mr. A. C. Cook asking if anything could be done in regard to errors which are occurring in the transmission of telegrams and he mentions “that last week he quoted a customer in Mohill by wire 110 /- per cut for Bacon and the telegram was delivered with the quotation as 108 /- ”. A costly error indeed for Mr. A.C. Cook.
The delays in the mail which led to Sligo Chamber writing to the Postmaster General to urge upon him the necessity of restoring the night mail train from Dublin to Sligo was emphasised by the grave inconvenience caused to Mr. Quinn, Manager of the Ulster Bank, who only received a letter from Glasgow on the 7th of July, seventeen days after it was posted on the 20th of June, on this week in 1923.
Researched and written by Conor McCarthy
Supported by the Sligo Chamber Centenary Committee:
- Catherine Maguire – Admin & Photographic Research
- Geraldine Courtenay – Creative Direction
- Aidan Doyle – Review & Publication
The next Article in the series commemorating The Centenary of Sligo Chamber and entitled
“J.A. McLoghry, First Secretary, Sligo Chamber” will be released on the 26th of June 2023.
#Sligo Chamber Centenary