The rural village of Baltinglass, County Wicklow was a quiet community where people tended to mind their own business until 1950, when they took on the Irish Government. The appointment of a new sub-postmaster shook things up and forced their hand...
Producer Donal O'Herlihy writes about the Documentary On One production The Battle Of Baltinglass - listen to The Battle Of Baltinglass above...
"It's amazing. You cross the big hurdles, and when you get to the small ones, you get tripped up." This is a quote from Albert Reynolds and if applied to the circumstances surrounding The Battle of Baltinglass would seem highly apt.
In November of 1950, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, James Everett made what he believed was a simple decision. He needed to appoint a new sub-postmaster in Baltinglass County Wicklow. He considered what he did a small act. However, the choice he made had fatal consequences for his Government, divided an entire community for decades, would enrage much of the Irish nation and bring about a state of anarchic resistance to authority that has been rarely witnessed before or since.
Today there is a lot of debate regarding Post Office closures, however it is unlikely that any of the affected communities would cut down telephone poles, sever crucial communication cables, storm the Dail, the GPO and conduct an airborne assault on Dublin with loudhailer propaganda. These are just some of the elements of protest employed by the citizens of Baltinglass during the so called, battle.
At the centre of the conflict was a diminutive middle-aged lady of severe disposition. Miss Nellie Cooke was fired from her job as sub-postmistress of Baltinglass Post Office. But, she was a force to be reckoned with. In an earlier life she trained as a nun, was a motorbike courier for the IRA during the War of Independence and assisted in producing an underground news-sheet. Nellie knew how to fight and to fight dirty if necessary. One local said "if she wasn’t so small she’d ate you"
A protest army formed around her led by a retired Major General and decorated war hero of the Battle of Alamein. One man strapped a loudspeaker to the top his car and loudly announced the times and locations of protest meetings. The town of Baltinglass rigged up air-raid warning sirens, mounted pickets and sentries and hunkered down for what was soon to be known as the Battle of Baltinglass.
It seems unbelievable today but the story grabbed international headlines with journalists from around the world holed up in this tiny town making regular dispatches back to their newspapers. The story seemed to encapsulate the battle between the might of the state and the ordinary man and punters consumed the goings-on with glee. There were many vignettes which emerged on a daily basis. At one point supporters of Nellie Cooke sat on the junction box to stop it from being rewired to the new postmaster. They maintained a constant vigil at this site known as "the slab".
The situation became increasingly bizarre. One local tells the story of his Dad who supported the man who had been given the job, Michael Farrell. However the local scout master supported Nellie Cooke. He duly banned his son from attending scouts. Things became so confused in Baltinglass that on pension day people were unclear who go to to collect it. Eventually a combination of dozens of Gardai along with workers from the department of posts and telegraphs did manage to cut the cable to Nellie Cooke’s premises and the battle appeared to be won… but no.
Because meanwhile in Dublin, the issue was causing ructions in Dail Eireann. Things became so heated that Deputies were forcibly removed from the chamber. James Everett and his government was becoming increasingly embattled. The government of the day was a coalition of a number of parties and was inherently unstable, and ultimately the events in Baltinglass helped to topple that government. Nellie Cooke was re-installed as sub-postmistress of Baltinglass.
The fallout from the Battle left bitterness and shame amongst the community. Until now, many have been reluctant to comment on what took place in the winter of 1950 in that small Wicklow town. This is the story of The Battle of Baltinglass...
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