“The most social place of all was the crossroads here outside the Killinaboy (1) post office. There was a huge tree and it was under that big tree people used to meet on a summer evening and we’d play pitch-and-toss (2) and the older people would be talking about farming and local topics or who was getting married, who was born or who was dying. I was only in my teenage years then”. These are the words of the late Vincent Lahiffe. Vincent was a native Killinaboy with a great fondness for remembrance of things past.
The tree at the crossroads has long since been cut down and most of the pitchers and tossers have passed away. Moreover, the other great social hub at the cross, the post office (P.O.), is no more either. It was closed down in 2002.
The Killinaboy P.O. closure is part of a bigger picture of the long, slow death of the rural post office. 310 post offices were closed in the period 2005 -2014. According to an Irish Postmasters’ Union statement this autumn, the government plans to soon close another 400 of the 1,100 post offices still trading. The decimation of the network is taking place despite the fact that even our political masters accept that the post office is a key national resource – a very valuable social space as well as a centre of commerce. With the demise in 2002 of the post office as a commercial and civic space, Killinaboy cross was largely reduced to a junction for passing cars. That was until local artist Deirdre O’Mahony reopened the post office as a community and arts space in 2007. She cleverly christened the “new” space X-PO.
Deirdre also set about archiving as much information as possible about the former postmaster John Martin “Mattie” Rynne. The post office was Rynne’s working and living space but the world was his oyster. At night he would listen to short wave radio and teach himself languages. By all accounts he was a private, sensitive man with a great thirst for knowledge about the big world.
Deirdre made a large wall-drawing of Mattie above the stove in the living room. It was in fact soot from the stove which was used in the drawing of the portrait. Locals say the drawing bears a remarkable likeness to the man himself. Mattie is now a giant at the shoulder of all who walk into his former home.
Since 2008 X-PO has been run by a team from the local community (including Deirdre O’Mahony). The X-PO activists are an interesting mix of long-term locals and “newcomers”. As of autumn 2017, X-PO plays host to a singers’ club on Monday evenings. A mapping group meets in the space every Wednesday. There is a film night once monthly as well as a monthly heritage talk. There are field trips in the spring and the core programme is supplemented by one-off X-PO events.
The mapping group, (Brendan Beakey, John Kelleher, Francis Whelan and Seán Whelan), has been meeting at X-PO on a weekly basis since the space opened in 2007. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the group thus far is the tracing in map form of the history of human occupancy in the 51 townlands (4) of the parish of Killinaboy over the last 150 years. The group drew on local knowledge and documentary sources to complete the monumental exercise in community mapping. The end result was the subject of an exhibition in the Courthouse Gallery in 2012 The October and November 2017 film evenings feature rare public screenings. The October film was “Tim Robinson: Connemara” (2011), a portrait of the great landscape writer and mapmaker, by Pat Collins of Harvest Films. The film focuses especially on Robinson’s extraordinary Connemara trilogy of books (3). The highly acclaimed British nature writer Robert Macfarlane has called the trilogy ‘one of the most remarkable non-fiction projects undertaken in English’. The November screening is “The Revenge of the Mekons” (2013) – a Joe Angio documentary on the genre-defying cult band The Mekons, who have been together almost 40 years. The Corofin-based Lu Edmonds is a member of the group and will present the film on the evening. The X-PO is open from October to May each year. John Martin “Mattie” Rynne, former postmaster of Killinaboy and citizen of the world, looks on contentedly. Come and see.
• Killinaboy is the most south-easterly parish in the Burren region. It is home to one of only six national parks in the Republic of Ireland – the Burren National Park.
• Pitch-and-toss is a gambling game in which the player who manages to throw a coin closest to a mark gets to toss all the coins – winning those that land with the head up.
• Tim Robinson’s Connemara trilogy is “Listening to the Wind” (2006), “The Last Pool of Darkness” (2008) and “A Little Gaelic Kingdom” (2011). Publisher is Penguin Ireland.
• A townland is the smallest officially recognized geographical unit in Ireland. It is smaller than a barony, parish or county. There are estimated to be over 60,000 townlands altogether on the island of Ireland. The smallest is less than an acre (2,700 square metres) in size. The largest is more than 7,000 acres (28.3 square kilometres).
Text: Tony Kirby / Images: Carsten Krieger