Declan Fitzgerald has one of the most important jobs in the country this Christmas. A busy rural postman for An Post, Declan has the responsibility of carrying all the very special letters to Santa from boys and girls in the Kilbrittain area. For over 20 years postman Declan, like his father before him, has been helping to make Christmas wishes come true by ensuring that these letters safely reach the post office in Bandon before being sent on to the North Pole.
“It’s a very important part of our job to help Santa manage the thousands of letters he receives every year,” explains Declan. “We do enjoy taking a peek at some of these wonderful letters. In one, a couple of years ago, a little boy, 9, who had seen a family sleeping in their car on the news, asked Santa to bring those children some toys. He asked for nothing for himself.
“Of course you do get the letters with really, really, really long lists too,” he says laughing.
This time of year means long hours for the postman who goes to great lengths to ensure the right parcel gets to the right person. “I could be working until 6.30 or 7pm on a few evenings of Christmas week. Sometimes it can get pretty hairy delivering presents that aren’t meant to be seen, particularly when they arrive with just the address label on the box and no packaging,” says Declan. “Recently, under instruction from the woman of the house, I had to reverse the van into a shed and quickly hide a present behind a stack of tyres, while also trying to come up with an explanation for the child who came running out to see why the postman was driving in to his shed!”
A few years ago, when there was post on a Sunday before Christmas, Declan came up with an efficient timesaving delivery method. “I went into Kilbrittain around mass time and delivered the post to everyone who was there,” he says. “If I had a parcel that needed a signature, I knew I’d meet them at mass. You get to know everyone’s routines, when they’re dropping and collecting kids to school and so on.”
This comes in handy, particularly when a letter arrived addressed to ‘Nana and Granda’ with just one line of the address. “Through a process of elimination, we did manage to figure out who the recipient was meant to be in the end,” says Declan smiling. “Another letter came in addressed to the Post Office in Bandon. Inside was a photograph of a family of local children. The letter was from another family who had met and become friends with a family from Bandon while on holidays. They had lost the family’s full address but remembered they were from Bandon.
“They enclosed a photograph they had taken of the kids on holiday in the hope we might recognise the family,” explains Declan. “We passed the photo around the post room and sure enough the family were located successfully. When we get a letter in without a proper address it’s very much a competition between everyone in the post office to see who can solve the mystery first!”
Declan loves his job and gets great enjoyment out of meeting and chatting to people on his route every day. “When you’re a rural postman the job is not just about delivering the post,” he says. “Oftentimes I might be asked to block a road while a farmer is getting his cattle across or help an older person to connect up their gas bottle. It’s a varied role.”
The country postman has often been called a social worker. “I suppose that’s true in a way,” says Declan. “Often I’m the only one a person might see or get to talk to from one end of the day or even week to the next.”
For a number of years, Declan delivered a London newspaper every day to an old man in Kilbrittain. “I’d leave it on the kitchen table, have a few words with him before heading out the door again,” he says. “One day I happened to meet his son on a visit home from London. He told me that his father couldn’t actually read. He posted the newspaper every day on his way home from work to make sure that his father had someone calling to him.”
Another time when he was delivering to a remote house, Declan noticed that the post from the day before was still inside on the porch floor. “I could see the dog walking around inside, which was unusual; he was normally outside,” says Declan. “I rang the local Guard who advised me to check if a door was open, and if it was, to go inside and check each room.” On this occasion fortunately there was nothing untoward about the situation. “It turned out that the homeowner had gone off unexpectedly without telling his neighbour and left the back door open so the dog could get inside if he was cold!”
Declan is married to Geraldine and the couple has five children, ranging in age from 23 to 14. His father was a postman in Bandon for 40 years, so Declan’s childhood Christmases were very similar to the way he celebrates with his family today. “Christmas doesn’t start in our family until I get home from work, which more often than not is Christmas Eve. It was the same when I was growing up. When my father came home from work on Christmas Eve, the box of USA biscuits was opened. That was the start of Christmas. With Christmas Day falling on a Monday this year, we’re off on Sunday, Christmas Eve, so we don’t know ourselves,” he says happily.