Friday, 13 June 2014

Remembering Sadie Ferguson and Ballyronan Post Office

Ten years ago today, my mother Sadie Ferguson died.  Too young at 73 - she never did get old.  In fact, in those final weeks she seemed to look younger.  The face of a frightened child greeted me on my last visit before she died. Here she is in happier times.

And here is an extract from the short memoir I wrote last year, about her 35+ year career as postmistress in Ballyronan.

When I was very young, about 3 or 4, our dining room, a dark place with heavy wooden furniture which was never used, was transformed into Ballyronan Post Office. The old postmaster, Mr Love, a bald man with a grey moustache like a scrubbing brush, retired, giving up his grocer’s shop and post office business.  Mammy, despite having at that stage 3 girls under five, took over as village postmistress, a role she fulfilled for the next 35 or so years.  She was unusual in the 1960’s: most of the local farmers’ wives brought up their families and some helped with the farm work.  Mummy was different: she would have nothing to do with the farm; never helped with the milking like Auntie Cissie, and pursued her own career and independent income. And so the post office played a large part of our lives when we were children.  

As we lived on the premises with a connecting door from the shop to the living room, Mummy was able to care for us get on with housework and preparing meals while responding to the bell which told her that someone wanted to collect their pension or post a letter or buy a postal order.  Sometimes when it was busy, floors remained unbrushed and meals were late, but that was just how it was and we soon learned to help.  So did Daddy when it came to getting the dinner on the table.  Our family was very different to those portrayed in the television advertisements or in the Janet and John books we read in school, with the mummy in an apron welcoming home the daddy from work with a hot meal ready on the table.

In the Post Office we also sold some other goods, mostly stationery: envelopes, brown paper by the foot from a big roll under the counter, birthday cards, pens, pencils and rulers.  But Mummy also stocked some goods for her own convenience as well as selling them to other local women.  So there were drawers full of colourful Sylco spools of thread, knitting needles of various sizes and a tall glass fronted cupboard full of wool from Hayfield: 4 ply, double knitting and Aran.  For back then the women of the village would knit matinee jackets and bootees for new babies in pale blue and pink and lemon and school jumpers for older children in shades of grey or bottle green.  You could also buy knicker elastic by the yard and Dr Whites’ sanitary towels, wrapped discreetly in brown paper and kept under the counter.  

We were fascinated by the Post Office : the date stamp with its ink pad; the little damp sponge and plastic thimble Mummy would use when counting notes; her high chair; the little brass scale with tiny weights as well the big black parcel weights with handles.  The post office was busiest on Tuesdays and Thursdays because Tuesday was Family Allowance payment day and Thursday was Pension day.  You could set your watch by certain customers who came at the same time every week.  Some would stay and chat to Mummy, if she wasn't busy.  But she took her position seriously; whereas customers called Daddy 'Jim',  she was always Mrs Ferguson.  She also seemed to act as local citizens' advice, making phone calls for those whose benefit hadn't come through and helping the family who always ran out out money before the next family allowance payment was due.  She really was a cornerstone of the community. 

And on these lovely long summer evenings, I remember the rare sunny evenings when we were children in Ballyronan.....  

On sunny evenings in summer after the Post Office closed Mummy would sometimes take us to ‘The Point’.  This was a narrow strip of soft sandy beach on the Lough a few miles away, officially called Traad point.  For us it was heaven. 

To get there you had to walk down a narrow overgrown path through trees which seemed a long way to us when we were six or seven.  You eventually emerge onto the beach which is sheltered on one side by the point which gave it the name.  The beach slopes gradually so we could paddle there happily when we were small.  In my memory the water was warm and the evenings sunny and we would drink C&C brown lemonade or my favourite strawberry flavour.

Mummy loved the sun.  Though often cross with us, she wasn’t fussy about the house like some other mothers and so was happy to leave the tea dishes on the table and take advantage of the long summer evenings when the sun shone.  We would bring the big brown tartan picnic rug and she would sit there and turn her face to the sun while we played in the shallow water....

I arranged for a In Memoriam notice to be placed in this week's Mid Ulster Mail.  I hope it will encourage others who read it to remember her too.


  1. A lovely tribute to your Mum. I feel as though I'm right there in the post office, standing at the counter, peeping through to the kitchen. And I love the old photo - it's a real treasure to have.
    My Mum died too young too, sadly never known my husband or son.

    1. Sorry about that, Mairead. My daughter just about remembers her Granny as she was 4 when she died. But there are now four more grandchildren she never met.

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  3. Agree with Mairead that this is a lovely tribute. One of my aunts ended her days in a nursing home in Ballyronan and after visiting her my mum and I used to go and watch the ducks. Your sunny evenings spent on the shore of the lough sound idyllic.

  4. You can see that nursing home and the lough from our front window. Glad you''ve been to Ballyronan.

  5. What a lovely way to remember your mummy, I can see her sitting on her high chair in the post office, or watching you play. I can also see you paddle in the shallow water. Beautiful pictures. My dad died 12 years ago, too young. Sadly, I don't have such evocative memories, just glimpses here and there, and sometimes I dream about him. He has never aged in my dreams. x