Willie Dennigan at his home in Lanesboro surrounded by cards and good luck messages on his retirement
Three decades in any job is an ever growing rarity, yet for Lanesboro postman Willie Dennigan it was a tenure which could not have been more rewarding.
The genial father of four stepped down from his role after 32 years two weeks ago, bringing the proverbial curtain down on a career which the south Longford native was only too happy to reminisce over past times with the Leader last Friday.
As we sat down inside the welcoming surrounds of a home he shares with his wife Kathleen, streams of good luck cards and balloons could still be seen occupying the dining room in a striking indication of the esteem in which this courteous frontline worker was held in by both colleagues and members of the public.
“I will miss it,” conceded Willie.
“As the years go on, it takes its toll but I will miss the people, there is no question about that and I will miss the communication with the people and many of them are still great friends.”
Many of those friends Willie spoke so glowingly of may not have materialised had the former Fermoyle National School pupil not been made redundant from a previous 12 year spell with Bord na Mona.
As it turned out it was a move which suited Willie as he, together with Kathleen, reared their four children and dabbled in his other great penchant on the family farm.
“I was working in an office in Bord na Mona for 12 years before that and I took redundancy as we have a farm here as well and it was just by pure chance that this (postman’s job) came up.
“That was November 1988 and in all that time I say I was never any further than five minutes from the house.”
As with any job there are certain sacrifices and tough decisions to be made. For Willie, it was the early start, but like most, if not everything he has turned his hand to, it was a challenge which was taken up with more than a hint of gusto.
“I’d have had to have been up at half five and I am still used to getting up early, not at half five now or anything but you would go into the sorting office and do your bit of work there for three quarters of an hour and then you would be out to the country,” he said.
Given his location, on the outer reaches of Lanesboro, the vast bulk of Willie’s daily rounds would have involved calling to and delivering post to those for whom a chat and even a ‘hello’ would have been a much sought after commodity.
“My area was all rural and all rural people I was dealing with,” added Willie, hands clasped.
“There were people so isolated on my run that probably I would be the only one they would see in a day and it did become a social thing.
“You were everything, from filling forms for grants to counselling them and then there was politics which was, of course, a fierce topic that used to take place.”
One such customer who would later go on, like so many others before and after him, to be “extended family members” routinely used to boil a kettle over an open fireplace just to extend the length of time he spent with the Lanesboro postman.
It was a refreshing and indicative insight into the level of respect Willie commanded, not just as a frontline worker, but as a human being.
“There were days you would get it very difficult to get home and that went on for years, but as time went on things changed too.
“That older section of people have gone and the younger people are all working which means a lot of houses are now closed up during the day.”
The sense of melancholy in his voice at that societal shift was palpable. So too were his views on the introduction of much tighter drink driving laws.
“One man actually cried to me in the corner one day about it,” remarked Willie, somewhat despondently.
“He used to go for his two pints every night. This man was out driving for 60 odd years and he came home every night and would go in for the two pints just to have the chat.”
But it wasn’t just being able to hold down a conversation which made Willie such a likeable and trusted face down many a boreen.
“Sure when I’d develop a friendship, you would call on them too and if they wanted groceries you would take the list and bring it back to them the next day.”
It’s that versatility which made Willie such a credible and exemplary member of An Post’s frontline staff.
“There was people that would tell you their most intimate secrets and they would rely on you almost for advice . You would be talking the social end of it, the religious end of it and I have even delivered calves while on the job.
“I went to a house where a cow was calving and I remember just being asked: ‘Give us a hand’. As well as that, I would have jumped across the ditch several times to take sheep off their backs.”
And it’s that sense of respectability which has also seen the Lanesboro man become an integral part in the south Longford town’s educational sector.
A parents representative on the former VEC and its present day Longford-Westmeath Educational and Training Board (ETB) equivalent for ten years, Willie stepped down from his role in 2014.
That said, the avid farmer still occupies the helm of Lanesboro Community College’s Board of Management chairmanship and is ultra defensive as to the overarching merits of a system which has educated not just himself, but his four adult children.
His take on the current coronavirus epidemic is more circumspect and by his own admission is one which could see the Government renege on its plans to re-open schools by the start of September.
“Speaking from the board of management point of view, it will depend totally on the number of cases and if cases spike over the next two weeks, it’s likely this won’t go ahead,” he said.
“I know the Government are hellbent on getting children back to school but you have to weigh up the options and you have to consider the staff too in all of this.”
You get the feeling Willie is someone who thinks both analytically and from an impartial standpoint.
It’s a sentiment which he insisted had been lost when asked to confront the huge challenges which await a community he is very much front and centre of as it looks to limit the damage caused by the impending departure of both the ESB and Bord na Mona from its landscape. “The planning should have been done for this a good few years back,” he contended.
“Everybody knew that Bord na Mona and ESB was coming to an end, but the forward planning in my opinion was not put in place early enough.
“The economy of Lanesboro is at rock bottom because the huge amount of money that has come into that town through the 60s, 70s and 80s through both Bord na Mona and ESB, the economy was booming, absolutely booming.
Despite his insistence of the local community having been “let down” by various Dublin centric bodies, Willie maintained the real abandonment courtesy of a lack of cross agency support.
“We can blame the government agencies but it should have been in conjunction with the semi states, this planning should have taken place five or six years ago. “Everybody knew this day was coming but nothing was done. There is still potential there but we need something that will create jobs and serious jobs because what is on the table at the minute is not going to create jobs,” he said.
Whether those words ring true with those holding the legislative power strings in Leinster House, only time will tell.
Whatever about its various intracacies, one thing is certain, An Post and the societal fabric of Lanesboro has lost one of its greatest servants and selfless of ambassadors.
Thank you Willie Dennigan, thank you.