whats a phone box?

As a child the village shop was owned by Molly Doherty, on the spot where Ben Power now trades.  There’s a photo hanging up there of Molly standing in front of it all those years back.  It was a much more modest building, but one feature of it was as you went in the door, there was a chocolate coloured box with a door and windows on the left hand side of the door.  In the box was a telephone.  I never had any call to use it, or can say I ever stepped inside, but I do remember it being used. 

Looking back on it, I guess the box was to afford some sense of privacy when it came to transacting your communication with the outside world of 1960’s Ireland.  However, the reason I can remember it was that very often, and I suppose it was particularly older users, they would shout so hard into the mouthpiece, that you could hear every word.  It sometimes made it hard to put in your order to Molly. 

Apparently the first phone box in the country was installed on Dawson Street in Dublin in 1925 and it proved so popular that they spread nationwide.  Some history here and more here.

It must have been sometime in the early 1970’s that the phone was moved outside the shop to a “modern” call box.  In a way that would make sense, it must have been hard if you needed to make a call when the shop was closed! There again, I’m sure Molly would have had many a call out in an emergency.

The new box was a concrete, wood and glass affair, with the P&T emblem for the Post and Telegraphs, and I can remember using it well.  In those days if you had a call to make you trudged to the cross roads with change in your fist.  There was a receiver and a coin box.  To make a call you lifted the receiver, put in the correct amount, then dialled the required number on a dial that had to be turned for each digit and awaited the response from the other side.  Once received you had to press a button, marked A, which allowed the coins to drop in and thus your were connected.  The call lasted as long as your money did.  If the call didn’t go through, or you wanted to cancel it, you had to press the button B.  failure to do so meant the loss of your cash.

A replica

 Of course that was also the era of ringing the operator if you had difficulties.  To ring the operator cost nothing, so of course as youngsters we often rang just for the craic.  “Hello Operator?”…”Yes, how can I help you”…”get off the line, there’s a train coming”. 

It was a great place to shelter on a wet night, being completely closed in, but terrible if you were waiting to make a call and someone was in there already.  As teenagers, you might have arranged to call someone at a particular time.  Alas on arrival, there was someone in there who you knew would be half the evening.  You would wait discreetly at first, but then trying to make sure you were seen, obviously waiting, and obviously needing the call box in a much more “urgent” way, but you just knew it was pointless.  Meanwhile, someone else, a girl perhaps, oblivious to your dilemma, was thinking you didn’t care, and you could go to hell for yourself. Those with a phone in their home, had no ideas of the tribulations faced by us non phone owning folk.

Another feature of the phone box was that people rang looking for someone in the village.  I was never sure if they thought it was a home number or if it was pre arranged and expected the other person to be there.  In any case, if you answered it, you could be asked to run anywhere.  Maybe it was a measure of our boredom or just some throwback to an earlier and more community like time, but you could never refuse to run a message.  It wasn’t too bad if it was to Veronica Duffin who lived next door but at times it was for the new houses, the back road or worse down the Mount.

I once took a call from a Londoner who asked if Johnny Murphy was around.  I said he lived in the village.  I was asked could I get him.  I ran down the road and into Johnny’s home.  Johnny wanted to know who it was.  I could only tell him he was ringing from London and he’s better run or the fella would be broke.

At some point the old box was removed and a newer fancier phone came in with the Eircom logo splashed across it.  I can’t remember now if it was cash operated or if you needed a phone card – a collectable of the 90’s.  The box was a waste, the ends were open, so if it was raining t’was useless to shelter in, and in a gale of NW wind, a common occurrence at the cross roads, you would be blown out of it. 

Accessed from:

There were other coin boxes in the village at the time.  Both pubs had them, and Jim Doherty (RIP) and Phil had one just inside their door in the village.  I remember William telling us about a neighbour knocking up the household one night to call an ambulance.  It reminded me of my grandmother running out of the house one night to call a neighbour to go for the phone, after her brother had a heart attack.

I don’t know who had the first domestic line in the village.  But I remember my uncle John (RIP) and Mickey Duffin (RIP) having ones for their jobs as pilot men.  Over the years the domestic phones have become more prevalent and the public phone boxes disappeared.  The one at the Corss roads went in the last ten years.  With the modern communication revolution, such things must seem like a historical throwback.  Indeed I heard a child asking her father “whats a phone box?” when one was exhibited at this years Spraoi weekend in Waterford.  There again, if anyone is thinking I’m one for nostalgia, take a look at this page dedicated to bringing back the old phone box

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