FORTY years ago this month, a hardy group of Newcastle West residents mobilised to prove that there is no matter too small for a public vote.
In January 1973 residents of the Knockane and Boherbui areas of the town decided to hold a plebiscite to demonstrate how unhappy they were with the location of their local post box.
The letter box, an article published in the Limerick Leader at the time recalls, had been fixed to a telegraph pole hundreds of yards from the nearest house.
After growing frustrated in their dealings with the postmaster in Limerick, a Mr O’Neill, locals decided to take the “most unusual” step of adding democratic weight to their cause.
“There is no marking on the box to say at what times the post will be collected” said Paddy McAuliffe, a local resident who was well-known as a butter maker in the old Kantoher creamery. “It might as well be up on the top of a mountain”.
The sequence of events that led to the impromptu plebiscite, the Leader article explains, began some months beforehand when the residents of the nearby Free State houses applied to the post office for a letter box.
“Within a very short time the box appeared – attached to a telegraph pole in a place where there are no houses”, the article read.
The local residents association wrote to the postmaster in Limerick city to voice their disquiet, and soon the group’s secretary, Ned Guiry, received a reply.
“The postmaster, Mr O’Neill, stated that after consideration they felt that it had been sited in a suitable place”, Mr Guiry said. “Prior to getting this letter, one official in Limerick told me that he genuinely felt that the box would be re-sited”.
The decision to hold a plebiscite, the article claimed, “would be to demonstrate to the post office officials in Limerick that these areas are in favour of having the box re-sited where the association have been suggesting all along”.
Billy Rowesome, joint treasurer of the association, summed up local feeling: “It is ridiculous to have the box where it is now. I don’t know who decided on this particular location, but it really is a very silly place to have a letter box”.
Another resident was coy about it all: “Well, if all comes to all, I suppose we will have to go back and see the man in Abbeyfeale”, referring to Fianna Fail TD Gerard Collins, who was minister for posts and telegraphs at the time.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader this week, Mr Collins said that the committee obviously got their way in the end, as the matter never made it to his desk.
“If the postmaster got a strong petition, he would have moved it. I could have been their trump card if they didn’t get their way. But it obviously never had to go that far”.