Penfold Pillar Box

Part I

Penfold Pillarbox, Mainguard Street, Photograph, by Derek Biddulph, of the Penfold Pillar Box on the corner of High St and Mainguard St, Galway, c. 1980s.
Galway City Museum Collection.
Galway Railway Station, c. 1877.
Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
Dillon's, William's St, showing "Dublin Time", c. 1880-1915.
Courtesy of Brendan McGowan.

This article is one of two focussing on a Penfold Pillar Box that formerly stood in the heart of Galway. This article looks at the postbox as being symbolic of progressive developments in education, transport, and communication in mid-nineteenth century Ireland; the other examines the postbox as a symbol of both the British Empire and the Irish Free State.

Penfold Pillar Box, c. 1870s

This cast-iron Penfold Pillar Box originally stood on the corner of High St and Mainguard St, Galway. It was first placed there in the 1870s and remained in situ until c. 2004, when Galway City Museum acquired it on loan from An Post. In the intervening 130 years of service, this postbox collected all kinds of mail, from letters to local men serving in the trenches of Flanders, and Galway emigrants in Britain and America, to postcards from visitors to the town.

Education & Emigration

This postbox is symbolic of the sweeping changes that were taking place in the mid-nineteenth century.

From the 1830s onwards, the national system of education gradually brought about mass literacy in English (although it also played a part in the decline of the Irish language), and improvements in book production methods and printing technology resulted in the printed word in English becoming more readily available to all classes.

Simultaneously, the introduction of the penny stamp in 1840 meant that, for the first time, letter posting became affordable for the poorer classes. As a result, Irish families could keep in touch with their emigrant sons and daughters and, perhaps more importantly, those emigrants could send money home to Ireland with their letters.

Changing Times

Improvements in transport also impacted on travel and communications. In 1834 the mail coach from Dublin took sixteen hours to reach to Galway, but by the mid-1850s, following the arrival of the railway in Galway, the same journey could be undertaken in just five-and-a-half hours (Horner, 2007, 27).

The arrival of the railway to Galway had another impact. Previous to the 1850s, “Galway Time” was eleven and a half minutes behind “Dublin Time”, which in turn was 25 minutes behind “London Time”. This was an unworkable system and as the railways operated to Dublin time it became the standard, thus effectively putting an end to local time in Ireland. The sign underneath the clock at the Galway Camera shop (formerly Dillon’s), William’s Street, features the words “DUBLIN TIME” bears testament to the end of this era.

Recommended Reading:

  • DULIN, Cyril I. (1992) Ireland’s Transition: The Postal History of the Transitional Period 19221925. Dublin: MacDonnell Whyte.
  • FERGUSON, Stephen (2009) The Irish Post Box: Silent Servant & Symbol of the State. Dublin: An Post.
  • HIGGINS, Jim (2005) ‘Treasures of Galway City Museum: No. 5 Some Galwegian Postal History’. Galway’s Heritage/Oidhreacht na Gaillimhe, No. 5, pp. 4-6.
  • HORNER, Arnold (2007) ‘ Ireland’s Time-Space Revolution: Improvements to Pre-Famine Travel’. History Ireland, Vol. 15, No. 5, pp. 22-7.
  • O’CONNOR, Jimmy (1992) ‘Aspects of Galway’s Postal History, 1638-1984’. Journal of the Galway Archaeological & Historical Society, pp. 119-94.
  • ANDERSON, Benedict (2006) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
  • DAVIES, Mary & MURPHY, Damian (2008) ‘Victorian Post Boxes’. History Ireland, Vol. 16, No. 3, p. 47.
  • FERGUSON, Stephen (2010) The Irish Post Box: Silent Servant & Symbol of the State. Dublin: AP Books.
  • ROBINSON, Martin (2004) Old Letter Boxes. Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications.

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