Liz Toomey with family members at her retirement party
CHEERFUL bunting and bunches of balloons hung from the rafters; crocks and jars of delicate posies decorated the tables and daffodils stood like sentinels hemming the stage. Everywhere, was the happy sound of chatter and laughter and whoops of delight at the magic that had been wrought in the Village Hall.
Adare had come out to party and, in a huge outpouring of affection and community spirit, to pay tribute to retiring postmistress Liz Toomey.
“Liz, you are looking fabulous, like a Hollywood star,” declared Liam O’Kelly, MC for the occasion.
Many of those who came had never known anyone else to stand behind their community’s post office counter. But there were many who could recall the day, in 1975 , when Liz took up her first job in the post office under the guiding hand of then postmistress Winnie Treacy. And even more could remember when she moved up the street to take over the business herself in 1986.
“You have been an integral part of our village through generations,” Liam said, citing her many roles as caring and thoughtful neighbour and friend, as counsellor and go-to person.
And this was underlined in a very special letter from senior citizen Dolly O’Neill who thanked Liz for her kindness and help when she was widowed and when she reached retirement.
The long, family link with Adare post-office was traced by Tony Treacy, whose mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had run the post office until Liz took over in 1986. He himself was born in the post-office and Liz had become a friend and “part of our family” he said.
But he reminded the audience that Liz herself was steeped in post-office tradition. Her grandfather was a postman in Kilfinny and her grandaunt Annie had worked for his grandmother.
Both he and Billy Chawke entertained the audience with tales of the old days in the post office, when there was only one phone in the village; when telegram boys were dispatched to bring good news and bad, when turkeys were sent through the post for Christmas and a postman who had enjoyed one Christmas drink too many was found in a ditch still on his bike and singing Take me home again, Kathleen.
But they spoke warmly too of Liz’s great commitment and qualities. Tony recalled an occasion when one postman was sick and no replacement was available. Liz and his grandmother travelled into Limerick to collect the post, sort it and deliver it. That was the level of commitment and dedication they had, he declared.
Liz was always there to help people along, retired publican Bill Chawke said, and the post office was a huge focal point for everybody. When post offices close, the community is at a total loss, he said.
“We are very lucky here in Adare the post office has found a good home,” Bill said.
The packed hall loved every minute of it and the cheers were long and loud when Liz was presented with her retirement presents: a travel-voucher for €6,000, a painting of the post-office by Des O’Sullivan, a painting of Adare Manor by Lady Dunraven and the biggest bouquet anyone in the hall had ever seen. “The response from the people of Adare was mind-blowing,” Liam O’Kelly said without fear of contradiction. “It just shows what a community can do.”
Liz herself was quiet-spoken. “I feel very honoured and privileged to have served as postmistress in Adare for the last 33 years,” she said before acknowledging that Mrs Treacy had indeed given her “a very good grounding” and that the day also marked a break in tradition for the Treacy family. She paid special thanks to Willie Jackson who was a great support when she took over and also thanked her Three Musketeers: Mike Alfred, Mick O’Neill and Ollie Harnett.
Afterwards, Liz admitted: “I knew about the party but I didn’t realise the extent of it.” She was stunned, she said, when she entered the hall. “It is a fabulous thing for the community to do. I am so honoured that this was done for me.”
Since her last day behind the counter on February 15, she added, “it felt like I was off on holidays”. But she does plan to be busy, with overseas trips to visit family and providing holiday cover for other post offices.
“I will certainly miss meeting the people,” she added. “But I think it is the right time for me to go.”
One dreadful memory however will remain from her long career: the morning of June 7, 1996 when Det Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered and Det Garda Ben O’Sullivan was wounded by the IRA. At that time, Liz lived over the post office and normally would have been outside waiting for the escorted delivery. That day, however, she wasn’t. “I heard the first shot and started to dial 999,” she recalled. “That was probably a turning point for me in wanting to live somewhere else. It didn’t have good memories for me.”
But Adare has nothing but good memories of Liz. The new postmaster in Adare is David Curtin and it is located in Londis on Station Road where Cathy Lowry will be the new smiling face of An Post in Adare.