In this era where cars are taken for granted, and communication systems have improved immeasurably, it is of value to examine the modes of transport and communication used by previous generations. `Mail’ is a French word meaning a connection or link, and `post’ means a position. In the 13th century, post-masters waited at certain positions along the highways with relays of horses for the King’s messengers. In latter years when carriages began to ply for hire between towns, they were called `mail-cars’ or `stage-coaches’. The word, `stage’ was used because journeys were travelled in stages of 10 miles at a time before resting at an inn or tavern and getting fresh horses for the next stage.
The roads were very bad, and the stages only managed to travel at a rate of 6 m.p.h. even though four horses were pulling. The coaches carried people on top and inside, with 4 /6 inside and 6 on top with the coachman and armed guard. Towards the end of the 18th century, John Mac Adam invented a new system for laying roads which involved putting down a base of broken stones, then covering this base with smaller stones and sand to form a “cushion”, and finally binding the surface together with fine gravel. The traffic passing over a Mac Adam road, helped by the rain, bound the whole surface together. The roads were arched slightly so that the centre was higher than the edges, and drains were dug along each side. Mac Adam’s roads lasted a long time, and coach horses could work for much longer on the new highways with their springy surfaces.
In addition to the improvement in road-surfaces, the quality of the stagecoaches was improved by Charles Bianconi, an Italian, who was responsible for opening up the whole country to travel. With the advent of better roads and better-built coaches, travel became faster and more dependable. The stagecoaches were able to travel about 80 miles in a day, but they never travelled at night.
Milestones and Inns
With coaching and the new roads came the milestones and the inns. The first milestone between Swords and Dublin was on Pennock Hill, and the seventh milestone from Dublin to Swords was in North Street. In Swords, Peter Early owned the inn [Swords Hardware now] and on the laneway to the left of it, new horses were led out to replace the tired ones. [Some of the other famous inns in the area such as Murtagh’s at Ballough, the Man O’ War and the Cock at Gormanston are still in business].
Besides the road through Swords, there was another coach road to the north from Dublin via Ballymun, the Forest, Brazil (there was an inn called Brazil which was also known at the “Post House”, not to be confused with Brazeel), the Leas, Ballyboughal, the Naul and on to Drogheda. [This was the road that Cromwell travelled].
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