Volume 3, Number 4

Irish Philatelic Newsletter

Volume 3, Number 4                                                                                                                                         April, 2001

A periodic publication for the members of the Éire Philatelic Association, the Irish Airmail Society, the Irish Philatelic Circle and the Forschungs-und Arbeitsgemeinschaft Irland e.V. The newsletter will be e-mailed to all interested members.

Published and edited by Michael Connolly
Stan Challis

Although not of immediate interest to a philatelist, the study of mail routings does of course comprise much of the pleasure of studying postal history. Every so often one will discover a postmark showing the name of an office or even a post town of which one has never previously heard. 

My own interest in postal history and postmarks could perhaps be said to stem from a day back in the mid 1960’s when, as office junior, I had the task of opening the mail for it to be passed to a more senior clerk to distribute.  I saw an envelope bearing a Scots regional stamp, the stamp itself worth nothing, but it was the postmark that attracted me. It read simply MINTLAW, MINTLAW STATION.  I had passed a geography examination at school; I knew how to read a railway timetable….but where was Mintlaw Station?  When the senior clerk was not looking, I managed to wrap the envelope in my newspaper and, when I got home that night, managed from the family atlas to find Mintlaw in the wilds of Aberdeenshire.  Thereafter, I looked not at the stamps (which were all common enough) but at the postmarks, for in those days the majority of villages and small towns in Britain still cancelled their own mail, a situation that has largely persisted in Ireland until recent years.

The interesting fact was, of course, that the village of Mintlaw got its mail from Mintlaw station (about 2 miles distant) and far away in Edinburgh and/or Glasgow and, possibly too, on the night train from London, bags of mail were made up for Mintlaw Station.

straight line postmark reading BURTONPORT/ ARDARASo, what’s all that got to do with Ireland?  Not a lot, but it serves to tell us about the system. Ken Smith, a British Postmark Society member living near Worcester, England, has done a huge amount of work on the subject of postal addresses and, for my part, I have managed to get hold of copies of several of the old circulation maps produced by the British Post Office between 1838 and 1912 (other dates may exist).  I have combined our efforts and looked at one office in particular, Burtonport in West Donegal, a small fishing port to this day and once the terminus of the Burtonport extension railway.

The office was open by April 1852, probably as a sub office to Ardara in that a straight line postmark reading BURTONPORT/ ARDARA exists   I do not have a circulation map for that period (in any case mine are all photocopies!), but the 1838 map shows a foot post from Ardara to Dungloe, 4 miles from Burtonport, and one must assume from the choice of Head Office that the foot post was merely extended on the opening of the office at Burtonport.

Ardara was downgraded, probably later in 1852, Donegal becoming the Head Office.  The BURTONPORT/ ARDARA postmark certainly remained in use until October 1855 and possibly until 1860 when the undated postmarks were withdrawn as no Burtonport, Donegal postmark is recorded.

On 1 April 1862, Burtonport was transferred to the control of Strabane, which in 1860 had assumed control of the whole of North West Donegal including Letterkenny, which had been reduced to the status of a sub office. The reason was simple – the railway. 

The Great Northern Railway (I) had reached Strabane in 1847 and it is reasonable to assume that mail arrived by train from that date (although a TPO did not operate until 1879) and, in consequence, that town became a major sorting centre. As roads gradually improved, certain minor head offices were downgraded and more and more mail was routed through Strabane.  The 1862 circulation map shows a mail cart operating from Strabane through Letterkenny to Dunfanaghy and finally to Gweedore. From there mail was conveyed the final ten miles to Burtonport by foot.

Figure 2Burtonport, meanwhile, became a minor money order office in 1863 and would have been issued with a dated postmark at that time. The type of postmark issued was likely to have been a small single ring mark.  I do not possess any postmark prior to 1888, but the style is likely to be similar to fig 2a.

In October 1865, Letterkenny regained Head Office status and became the Head Office for Burtonport and some 25 other offices in North West Donegal; presumably with mail volumes growing, the experiment of downgrading that office in 1860 had not proved successful.

The next change in Burtonport’s status came in September 1878 when, once again, it found itself under the control of Strabane. The Finn Valley railway had begun operating west from Strabane to Stranorlar in 1863.  Soon thereafter a mail cart was operating west as far as Ardara, bringing the mail from Stranorlar, but until 1878 Burtonport (and Dungloe and Lettermacaward) mail was routed over the tedious circular route via Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy.  It seems that in 1878 a new mail cart routing was established from Burtonport to Fintown, there connecting with a mail cart from Glenties to Stranorlar. The harbour c 1905Thus Strabane became the Head Office again but the mail was routed across Donegal by a completely different route to that employed when Strabane had been Head Office previously. It is interesting to note that now a letter from Burtonport to Gweedore 10 miles distant previously taking perhaps an hour by mail cart now had to be routed via Fintown, Stranorlar, Strabane, Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy, a journey of almost 120 miles.

This arrangement was clearly a success, for Burtonport was upgraded to a Railway Sub Office (RSO) in December 1883 and allocated a numeral cancellation (85) to cancel its outgoing mail – (has anyone got an example?)  On the opening of the Glenties extension of the Co Donegal Railway in 1895, the sorting arrangements were clearly changed again as Burtonport lost its RSO status, the address becoming Burtonport, Strabane, the mail now being transferred from the railway to mail cart at Fintown.  A postmark reading BURTONPORT/ STRABANE is known used in between December 1901 and March 1903 (fig 2b).

The remains of the former station in 1995Routing via Glenties proved to be a relatively short lived arrangement.  The railways were still expanding. The 50 mile circuitous Burtonport Extension from Letterkenny finally reached Burtonport in March 1903.  It took the Post Office a little time to satisfy itself that the new line was going to improve the service (it took over four hours to reach awkwardly situated Graving Dock station in Londonderry).  However, in November 1904, Burtonport together with four other local offices was transferred to the control of Letterkenny once again and mail started coming all the way by rail.  A postmark reading simply BURTONPORT is known used between 1905 and 1907 (fig 2c) and a further postmark BURTONPORT/ LETTERKENNY is found between 1922 and 1928 (fig 2d).

The Post Office in 1995; this is some way from the harbour on the hill out of town.That one might think was the end of the story, at least so long as the railway was operational, but that was not to be. The town of Lifford, with a population of below 1000 had long been the County Town of Co Donegal, but had always been postally dependent on Strabane, just a mile across the River Foyle.  Then in 1921, the border arrived. Strabane in Co Tyrone could no longer serve as Head Office and post town for much of Co Donegal.  It took until 1 April 1927 for the new sorting arrangements to be put into place and, from 1 May 1929, Lifford found itself a Head Office with perhaps as many as 50 sub offices under its control.  These did not include Burtonport, but now substantial volumes of mail previously sorted and transferred at Strabane were handled at Lifford where a new post office had been built immediately adjacent to the station.  In November 1927, Lifford became the post town for Burtonport and also the neighbouring town of Dungloe, but the Head Office remained at Letterkenny.  In the absence of a circulation map for this period, I have been unable to confirm routing, but it seems that mail used the railway as far as Glenties (via Stranorlar) and was then transferred by ‘road motor’. Thus it would appear that the Burtonport Extension railway did not carry mail over the last ten miles of its length after 1927 – the line to Burtonport closed in 1940. 

MapWell, that’s it, isn’t it?  No, not quite.  By 1946, Letterkenny was once again the post town. I have not been able to determine a date for this final change.  The absence of post office guides in the war years does not help; I have no documentation between 1938 and 1946. The Burtonport Extension of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway ran as far as Gweedore until January 1947 so perhaps mail was transferred back to that line during the war years. The southerly line from Stranorlar to Glenties was to be closed in December 1947.  Certainly we must assume that road transport from Letterkenny was the order of the day after January 1947 and now, of course, with north west Ireland effectively devoid of rail transport, mail arrives all the way from Dublin by road.

Go on……get your atlas out and find Burtonport and whilst you are at it check out Mintlaw Station on the old Great North of Scotland Railway’s now defunct Maud Junction to Peterhead branch!

Summary of the changes at Burtonport

circa  early 1852 
Open:  Head Office Ardara
late 1852 
Head Office: Donegal
Head Office: Strabane
Minor Money Order Office
Head Office: Letterkenny
Head Office reverts to Strabane
Becomes a RSO (Head Office remains Strabane)
A telegraph office (code BPJ)
By 1895 
Losses RSO status
The railway opens
Nov. 1904 
Head Office and Post Town: Letterkenny
Upgraded to Post Town
Post Town reverts to Letterkenny
Post Town now Lifford (Head Office remains Letterkenny)
The railway closes
By 1946 
Post Town once again Letterkenny
Stan Challis

To suggest that Harald Frank and Klaus Stange’s ‘Irish Post Offices’, which we all use and love (or certainly ought to), is anything other than a masterpiece is an insult to the authors and takes no account of the thousands of hours of work that must have gone into the production.  However, once in a while, it is rather nice to find new information.

A recent find indicates that the office at Rathkeale Co Limerick was open earlier than recorded in Frank and Stange.  As I suspect that they obtained much of their information from such directories as have survived from that time, it does beg a question as to the accuracy of those directories and, in consequence, the possible opening date of other offices.

posted at Rathkeale, Co Limerick, dated 27 September 1724The letter shown here is clearly dated 27 September 1724 and was posted at Rathkeale, Co Limerick. Charged 10d to London, this represented 4d to Dublin and a further 6d from Dublin to London. 

The postal markings are RATHKELE, Straight line town mark, CNTRY, Country mark on Irish originating mail applied at London (this type known from 1721) and 15 OC, Bishop mark applied at London (no Dublin marking, so we cannot prove the route)

Frank and Stange (F+S) lists Rathkeale as opening 1726-29; now we know it was open by the autumn of 1724.  Interestingly the address of the sender is given as Killarney, an office which was not opened until c1755.  This begs the question as to whether Tralee was open by this date (also given as opening between 1726 and 1729 by F+S), as Tralee would have been but a 16 (Irish) mile ride from Killarney when Rathkeale was a 40 mile slog.  Items from the same correspondence have been seen postmarked CORK, so it may have been that the sender waited until a reliable man was leaving Killarney and asked that he put the letter in the post at the first office he reached.  Certainly (per F+S), there was no other office open west of Cork City at this early date.

The letter is legible and interesting, although not immediately easy to understand. The writer has ‘Re fiend (sic) seven tons and 9 hund. of Lead and I find it to have full eighteen owens (ounces) of silver pr ton’.  Some of the spellings are lovely but not necessarily easy to interpret – chipe = cheap; complend = complained; sarvvantt = servant etc. 

Can one imagine having to go 40 miles to put a letter in the post today?

Modern skeleton
Maurice Barrett

Drumkeen, Lifford, Co. Donegal (DON 067), is using a skeleton handstamp in Irish worded DROIM CAOIN, which was seen on cover received 6th March 2001. The postmistress at Drumkeen told me that the post office was raided and the safe, with the steel datestamp inside it, was stolen. Presumably, the permanent datestamp will, in time, be replaced.

The year in the skeleton reads “1” rather than “01”.



Dublin Ioctha handstamp query
Maurice Barrett

Ioctha dated 19 December 1986I have seen two covers, both dated December 1986, with adhesives cancelled by the Dublin steel handstamp worded: ÁTH CLIATH ÍOCTHA GO hOIFIGIÚIL / 3 /(DATE).  One is dated 19 December 1986 and the other is dated 30 or 31 December 1986. 

Ioctha dated 30 or 31 December 1986Does anyone know why these would have been used at that time to cancel
adhesives? Both letters were addressed to a Dublin 2 addressee.



Maurice Barrett

BAILE DAIGHEAN / * / 5 I / 87Can anyone tell me from which office a single ring handstamp worded: BAILE DAIGHEAN / * / 5 I / 87 comes from? 



Auction Action 

Whyte’s Stamp Auction Now On-Line
Michael Connolly

Whyte’s next auction is now on-line at: www.whytes.ie/0104/contents.htm
Alternatively, follow the links from: www.whytes.ie

The auction contains 495 lots (387 Irish), including the Tony Cutchey collection of Irish Airmail Covers.  Online bidding for all lots is permitted.

Auction starts at 1:30 p.m.., Saturday, 28th April 2001. 

Among the better lots, I noted:
Lot 148 is a 1922 (November 4) cover to Dublin with 2d 5-line overprint tied MOUNT NUGENT, and with SALVED FROM/FIRE GPO DUBLIN hs in violet, on reverse GR OFFICIALLY SEALED IN THE/POST OFFICE label tied by the same hs in violet. Scorch marks. Estimate IR £200/£250 

Lot 292 is D13 St. Patrick 2s6d right marginal copy on cover, cancelled 8.SP.37, first day of issue, cancel just ties through perfs at right. Estimate IR £300/£350 

Lot 336 is a 1870 (Nov. 5) EL on printed �PAR BALLON MONTÉ� letter sheet, Paris to Dublin, franked 10c yellow brown and 20c blue, Empire issue, PARIS/R. DOM QUE AT GN. cds, carried out of Paris during the siege on La Ville de Chateaudun. Estimate IR £800/£1000 

David Feldman Auction
Michael Connolly

The David Feldman SA Auction scheduled for April 30 – May 4 is now on-line at: http://www.davidfeldman.com/
There are 147 Irish lots in the GB and Commonwealth section (May 3) and 6 collections in the Kleinberg Estate section (May 4).

The sale catalogues can be downloaded in PDF (Portable Document File) format or their online catalog can be searched for Ireland and all lots will be retrieved.  Online bidding for all lots is permitted.

Their advertising in Linn’s Stamp News refers to the Dulin Collection of Ireland and the Father Brennan Collection of Ireland, but I could find no reference to them in the PDF catalogues.

Among the better lots, I noted:
Lot 20395 contains numeral cancellations 1844 to 1907 with an estimate of US$ 3,000/4,000.

Lot 13487 is the 1929-64 �Field� collection of Irish commemoratives, definitives & postage dues.  Catalogued IR£65,000+ (1991).  Includes a substantial amount of research & reference material. 
(Est.Swiss fr. 30,000/40,000)

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