Old customs book listed all kinds of everything seized on the border

It probably won’t be too long until the Irish Sea border drifts gently back to its previous position on mainland Ireland, having floated there on rising sea levels caused by global warming!

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 6:00 am
Customs Post at Strabane Railway Station. Photo C P Friel Collection
Customs Post at Strabane Railway Station. Photo C P Friel Collection

While that would most likely bring some unpredicted changes to the protocol, things won’t ever be like what was recounted on this page recently, from an old Irish Customs Seizure Register.

Packed full of handwritten details by Irish customs officials and the Gardaí about goods confiscated on the Pettigo border between 1937 and 1945, the Register has recorded in meticulous detail the size, weight, quantity and value of farm animals, perishable and non-perishable goods and other immensely varied items seized on border patrols, in Pettigo Railway Station and in the Post Office.

Everything in the old book was signed, countersigned, dated, checked, coded, referenced, double-checked and sub-referenced, with additional information included about court cases, fines and the ultimate sale or disposal (or ‘appropriation’!) of smuggled goods.

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Meticulously Detailed Entries in Old Customs Seizure Register

There are more than a few curious, colourful and bizarre entries in the old register.

An RAF Gunner from Castle Archdale was stopped and ‘three contraceptives’ were confiscated.

Another RAF-man from St Angelo airport was intercepted with ’3lbs of chocolate and a pair of stockings’.

A Fermanagh-woman was caught with eight dozen rolls of wall paper; a Pettigo-man was relieved of two dead rabbits and two live hens and whatever the list was intended for we’ll never know but someone was caught with ‘a dozen knickers, a horse and cart, a pint of jelly, a piano accordion and a rifle.’

Pettigo Railway Station. Photo by JJ Smith

There are a lot of obscure details, abbreviations and legal references throughout the register but a News Letter reader who’s very knowledgeable about such matters and comes from a border community has kindly agreed to peruse the register and explain some of its complexities.

Meanwhile, some more entries.

On June 20, 1937 three seizures were recorded of eight, 10 and 16 gallons of ‘skim milk’, taken from three Pettigo farmers, from their horse and cart, though one of the entries called the horse a donkey!

The three farmers were stopped on the border by a patrolling Garda officer and a Customs Official at 10.15 am.

Each case was given a lengthy reference number - C&E305.B6YY594/5/6 - and a deposit of £1 from each farmer was ‘remitted to the Station Officer’.

The Irish Excise Commissioners approved ‘destroying the goods’ on 31 July 1937 and ‘the deposit of £1 is to be brought to account as a compromise fine.’

This must have been retrospective approval because a previous note had been made in the register on June 26, 1937 stating ‘sample taken, retained at station. Skim milk destroyed by dumping in local river at Pettigo’.

The case was countersigned in red ink on 30 June 1937 and countersigned yet again on 28 July 1937.

On June 25, 1937 a two-man night patrol stopped Elizabeth (15 years) and Alice (10 years) at 11.30 pm and seized a long list of goods with an estimated value from several old pennies to a dozen old shillings.

The meticulously detailed list included: ‘one gent’s cap, two gent’s ties, four pairs of gent’s socks, one girl’s beret, three lady’s belts, one pair of black socks, one pair of gloves, three lady’s collars, one boys pullover, seven leather purses, one leather shopping bag, one lavatory brush, one pot cleaner brush, one hammer handle, two note books, one bar of soap, six cotton dusters, two glass cloths, six ice cream glasses, one gramophone sound box (whatever that was it was valued at three shillings!), one pair of leather sandals, one pair of lady’s leather shoes, one pair of girl’s rubber shoes, one fibre suitcase (valued at 10/6), one toilet paper hanger, one pair of pliers, one corkscrew, three bundles of pipe cleaners, one child’s storey (sic) book and intriguingly, six pieces of music valued at four shillings.’

Monetary deposits were taken by the patrol - a different sum for each of the named goods - from as little as a penny for the beret to 3/6 for the suitcase.

Having given them a long reference code - C&E653/3354/37 - the Excise Commissioners ordered that ‘the goods are to be retained as a seizure. The soap is to be destroyed locally.’

Another column in the Register noted ‘the suitcase and contents were checked and found correct in the presence of (illegible name and the abbreviation ‘JPM’.) Two gramophone sound boxes were amongst the contents, only one shown on list.

The bar of soap was destroyed in the river in the presence of (illegible name).’

A foot note was added on August 7, 1937 ‘forwarded to State Warehouse, Galway’ where the goods were held, prior to being sold on behalf of the government.

Gramophones and their ilk were evidently of some significance!

A Pettigo resident was stopped and searched by no less than seven Garda and Customs officers in November 1937 and several hundred pounds of flour and 13 gramophone records. were seized.

The Commissioners ‘elected to proceed for £100.’

The case went three times to Pettigo District Court, the gramophone records were held by Customs and Excise before being ‘returned’ and the ‘flour was destroyed by dumping in the local river at 10pm on 25 March 1939’.

There’ll be more here from the Register after perusal by an expert.

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