THE community of Leap and Glandore turned out in great numbers recently to mark the retirement of Billy O’Brien who has been their friend and postman for the last 44 years.
In all that time there was nothing to compare with the last two years when Covid brought a protracted period of isolation, only made bearable by the thoughtfulness of the men and women of the postal service.
‘We were able to move around at a time when so many people were on lockdown,’ said Billy, ‘so it was easy – second nature – to look in on people living on their own, usually in the countryside, who couldn’t travel outside of their 5km limit.’
Billy began his career at the age of 16, delivering telegrams on a pushbike. ‘That was in 1975,’ he said, ‘a friend of mine told me there was a vacancy and I decided to give it a try.
‘I grew into it. I liked the social aspect of it and I liked the people I was working with,’ he said. ‘I was also the kind of person who liked living close to home so in many respects it suited me.
‘At the start, I was based in Skibbereen for two years, but when a postman retired it was a natural progression for a telegram boy to go on delivery.
‘Over the years, I have seen the change away from handwritten letters to today’s large volumes of parcel post.’
For the first few months of his career, Billy was covering Union Hall and Leap, but a change of duties meant he ended up covering Leap and Glandore, the same route he has now been doing for the past 44 years.
For the first two weeks, he said, he had to do his rounds on a Honda50 because he didn’t have a driving licence.
But he passed his test on his first attempt and was good to go.
He believes he has covered 1.3m kms in all of that time.
‘The job for me was always easy because I liked interacting with people. But the real pleasure was in being able to do simple tasks for people,’ said Billy.
‘Some days, you might be asked to change a wheel or a lightbulb, or collect something from a shop, and it was so easy to oblige.
‘It makes you feel good to help people who are not able to do these things.
‘It’s a Christian thing to be kind to people.’
Billy, who lives in Skibbereen with his wife Hester, never changed his route.
‘I was offered alternatives on different occasions, but I was very happy where I was,’ he said.
‘I like the location, being near the sea, the people, and the friendships I built up over the years.
‘Seeing so many people gathered at the Harbour Bar was incredible,’ he told The Southern Star. So many nice things were said it made me wonder, are they really talking about me?’
Retirement for Billy will involve travelling throughout Ireland and the EU with Hester.
He said it will also involve lots more walking. It is one of his passions because, as he said, ‘you feel great afterwards’. He is also planning to fit in some more swimming and to continue to enjoy the great outdoors.
‘When it comes down to it, good health is very important and I am blessed to be feeling fit at 62,’ added Billy, who thanked the people of Leap and Glandore for always making him feel so welcome.
Adrian Healy, Skibbereen branch manager of An Post, told The Southern Star: ‘I have worked with Billy from 1981 until the postmen transferred to the new sorting office in 2019.
‘He was an outstanding postman and a great friend of the people of Leap and Glandore ¬– going far and beyond his duty.
‘Billy kept an eye out for people living on their own and also made sure they had their everyday needs delivered to them.’