Pushing the envelope – Alison Healy on the heroes and eccentrics of the Irish postal service

One postmaster from Lismore travelled to Fermoy in a Dungarvan oyster tub

Some people are born to add to the gaiety of the nation. Step forward, Richard Huddy. Mr Huddy was appointed postmaster of Lismore in 1795, according to An Post’s records.

He worked away quietly, doing all the things postmasters do, until, 26 years later, he did something so remarkable that it was reported in many British newspapers.

In January 1821 the postmaster travelled the 25km journey to Fermoy. So far, so normal, you might say. Until you consider his mode of transport and his travelling companions. The brave Richard Huddy travelled to Fermoy in a Dungarvan oyster tub.

The unorthodox mode of transport was reportedly drawn by a pig, a badger, two cats, a goose, and a hedgehog. The postmaster wore a large red nightcap and held a pig-driver’s whip in one hand and a cow’s horn in the other. He sporadically blew the horn to encourage his travelling companions onwards.

Apparently, the astonishing adventure was a wager, but the newspapers don’t tell us what Mr Huddy won when he triumphantly trundled into Fermoy. Adding yet another layer of remarkableness to his feat, he was reportedly in his 97th year.

Even more astonishing, this was not front-page news. Most newspapers dedicated a paragraph or so to it, burying it in the middle of local news. The Royal Cornwall Gazette, for example, sandwiched a paragraph about it between a story about Frederick Wall’s giant 13¼ pound potato, and a glum report about a case in the Insolvent Debtors’ Court.

I checked with An Post to see if it had any more information on this singular occurrence. Happily, its historian and archivist Stephen Ferguson knew the story and was able to tell me that the postmaster was earning the princely sum of £42 per year in 1823, two years after the epic journey.

However, he couldn’t find any mention of the epic odyssey in official Post Office papers, so we are forced to conclude that Mr Huddy had undertaken the project on his day off.

He deserves an award for approaching Fermoy in the most unusual style ever seen in the county of Cork. And that’s saying something when you think of some of the driving on display around the Dunkettle roundabout.

All we are left to wonder is why the good denizens of Lismore and Fermoy have not teamed up to re-enact the journey and build an annual festival around the event.

At the very least, a statue of Mr Huddy and his trusty travelling companions should be erected post haste.

Mr Huddy’s achievement is further proof, if needed, that the Irish postal service is peopled by heroes.

After all, what other country would put up with the sort of nonsense that our postal workers must endure? They are forced to moonlight as amateur sleuths when letter writers put only the vaguest hint of an address on an envelope and expect them to solve the mystery.

Nine years ago, there was the case of the letter addressed to “Your man Henderson, that boy with the glasses who is doing a PhD up here at Queen’s in Belfast. Buncrana, County Donegal”. It was successfully delivered.

Then we had the mysterious case of the postcard sent from Germany which contained a photograph of a dog lying on a wall in Westport. It was addressed to the family of the dog. And yes, the Hercule Poirot of postal workers solved that particular riddle.

In 2015, a mischievous blogger took things to an entirely new level. The “Me Versus An Post” blog by Dave Curran detailed his bizarre challenges to postal workers. He posted a dice, with one line of the address written on each side. On another occasion, the address was hidden in broken-up jigsaw pieces. The diligent postal worker completed the puzzle and delivered the package. Then there was the time he tried to recreate pigeon post by attaching an address to the leg of a toy pigeon named Percy. An Post thoughtfully wrapped Percy in protective plastic before delivering him.

But even An Post has its limits and this point was reached when he tried to post a concrete block.

On being told he would have to put it in a box, he abandoned that quest.

The blog fell silent in 2020, after displaying a photograph of a very long, and socially distanced Christmas cracker, ready for the post box.

An Post confirmed by email that the campaign had petered out and its spokesman wondered if it was because the postal workers proved fit for all challenges.

“Although it was a bit of fun at the time,” he wrote, presumably smiling through slightly gritted teeth.

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