The post box

The green post box, in various shapes and sizes, is a familiar sight on city streets and country roads throughout Ireland.

Introduced well over 150 years ago by the novelist, Anthony Trollope, who worked for the Post Office in Ireland for several years, the letter box is an instantly recognized symbol of the Post Office. The intention was to make it easier for people to post their letters and make it unnecessary for them to have to wait for a post office to open. The first boxes appeared on the streets of cities like Dublin, Belfast and Cork over 150 years ago and were subsequently introduced elsewhere. The big pillar boxes were soon joined by smaller boxes that fitted into walls and later by lamp boxes which were cheaper to make and could be attached to lamp and telegraph poles.



One particularly attractive box, the hexagonal-sided Penfold, caused complaints when it was introduced as letters could occasionally get stuck at the edges. The classic cylindrical shape did away with these problems, however. A great many old post boxes remain in use today and they bring an elegance to their localities that is often much appreciated. Post boxes, of course, are first and foremost functional and they form a vital part of Post Office infrastructure. Today’s boxes – less ornate than some of their predecessors perhaps – are designed with a firm eye on the  efficient and functional operation of the postal business and their presence represents a continuing tradition of faithful service to Irish people.The following extract from a poem puts it well:

                        I’m standing here quite lonely, on this cold December morn
                        It’s 60 years or more, since the day that I was born.
                        And from that very moment, I’ve worked hard for to serve
                        The people of my village, yes, to all without reserve.
                                                                    (Courtesy of Tommy O’Brien, The Village Postbox)

Quite apart from their decorative and utilitarian qualities, Irish post boxes have symbolic value too. Before Irish independence post boxes were red but one of the first acts of the new Irish Government was to order that green would be the new colour for Post Office letter boxes. Sometimes a bit of red paint still shows through!  The symbols of our past – in the form of crowns and royal insignia – take their place alongside the signs of independence – Saorstát Eireann, P&T and, of course, An Post.

The fascinating story of the Irish post box is told in Stephen Ferguson’s book: for more information go to www.irishstamps.ie.