For Magilligan brothers, Harry and George Canning, the post office and shop business has become a ‘way of life’.
“We were born into it,” says Harry, who runs the Spar shop and Post Office on Seacoast Road with his brother George. “Sure we know nothing else!”
The post office became part of Canning family life when Harry and George’s mother Olive ran a small branch and shop near their family home, close to Benone.
Their father, George, also ran a shop and two travelling shops (vans) after his brother Harry gave it up.
He then built the shop on its current site at Seacoast Road in 1956.
Olive continued to serve as post mistress at the facility near Benone until she died in 1981. After her passing, the brothers took it over.
For a month, Harry was post master at the former Bellarena post office, until it closed, and at the one his mother ran until they amalgamated the two at the new shop on Seacoast Road in 1984.
More than three decades on, Harry and George are still working in the business, which they say is an important part of the community.
“Ah, you hear some stories,” says Harry.
“You’re the first point of contact.
“You’re the first to know when someone’s sick, or something has happened.
“It’s very much part of the community.”
George says the shop - which joined the Spar group in 1974 - and post office are a great social hub, where people stop for a chat when they’re buying their groceries or have business at the post office.
As young boys, the brothers helped out in the family business and used to walk with the postman to get the bus to school while he would collect the mail.
“It’s a way of life for us,” says George, aged 64.
“We work here six-and-a-half days a week. Since we were the age of seven we’ve been working.
“We never knew what it was like to have a Saturday off!”
Through the years, the brothers have witnessed plenty of change, including the move to a decimal system, and the use of computers.
“It used to be that everyone had a pension book or an allowance book.
“That’s all done away with now,” says Harry, who works in the post office alongside his niece, Joanne White.
Online shopping has also changed the nature of post, says Harry.
“That’s big business nowadays,” says Harry, who believes if there was no post office in Magilligan/Bellarena, it would be a big loss.”
Today, the siblings employ 10 full and part time staff.
Their sister Olive also helps out in the shop, as did their sister Anne when she was younger.
The brothers are very close and say they work well together; so well in fact the last time they had a row was when Harry was 11.
A few potatoes were “clodded” at George by Harry, but the row was short lived and they’ve worked in harmony since.
The pair are also extremely grateful for the support of local people over the years, and say Magilligan/Bellarena has a great community spirit and they were delighted when their community syndicate scooped £100,000 in the lotto a few years ago.
“We’ve been born into this, and we know nothing else,” says Harry, who celebrated 30 years as post master in 2011.
“People ask me ‘do you ever get browned off?’ Of course you get tired and scundered at times but, sure, Georgie and I know nothing else.
“We have a great community here, and we provide a first-class service.
“I think our parents would be proud of us.”