The residents of Ferrybank bid farewell to an old friend on Monday when workmen from Telecom Eireann disconnected and removed the public pay-phone that stood for many years at Rockenham close to the Garda Station and just across the road from the church.
For many years before that, the box stood further down directly opposite the priest’s house just around the corner from Pat Joe Penkert’s and Mrs O’Brien’s shops, emporiums and universities of life that stood on a site now occupied by a pub and Chinese restaurant.
To younger people it won’t mean much but, to several generations, the Ferrybank phone box was one of the most important facilities in the village. In the days, not too long ago, before mobile phones, the internet and private land-lines on demand, it was just about the only communication with the outside world. To and from Britain, the United States and other far flung countries came news of births, deaths and marriages. Over the years, countless people emerged into the fresh air from that tiny space stricken with grief or elated with joy.
More than a few marriages were more or less confirmed on the phone in that little box and some romances were ended there also. There were also a few hard words spoken in its vicinity when there was a queue for its use and people nattered on relentlessly, shoving sixpence after sixpence into its ever hungry slot. It was said that, in wintertime, it kept courting couples warm and dry out of the wind and rain.
It was common place for somebody to be passing the box when the phone would ring. It was the ‘done thing’ to answer and, more often than not, somebody was on the line ‘long distance’ and would instruct whoever answered to go up or down to Mrs So and So’s house and say that Jimmy or Mary would call back in fifteen minutes and for them to be outside the box waiting. Often I delivered such messages only to be anxiously grilled by the woman of the house. “Oh God, was it good news or bad news? How did they sound?”
The Ferrybank phone box was a marvellous thing of its time and the messages relayed in its inner sanctum irrevocably changed the lives of a great many people. It really was a temple of fortune and if its walls could only speak, they would have many interesting stories to tell.