Monday, April 1, 2013

Amaneusis Monday: '...tell him he has an uncle on a little island...'

When we think about family members emigrating from their homeland, perhaps never again to set eyes on the parents, siblings, and friends they leave behind, we might often find ourselves focussing solely on the emigrants. We wonder how they were feeling about leaving home for a new world; however, what about the feelings of those who were left behind?

Recently I came across an extraordinary letter which I had never before seen. The letter was in the very bottom of a box of negatives, tucked away within a larger box of photographs. It was written to my mother by her youngest brother, just two hours after he last spoke with her on the day she and my brother emigrated from Ireland to join my father in Canada.

Written by a young man who was barely twenty years old to a sister five years his senior, it is the poignant and sometimes funny prose of a brother who did not know if he would ever again see his sister Mary and his nephew Michael, whom he calls 'Junior' in the letter. It bears all of the words and the feelings that he was perhaps unable to express to her in person.

Dear Mary,

                 This letter will, I expect, arrive just before you do 'Please God', and I hope it finds you well after the journey.

                 The real reason why I am writing, only two hours ago I spoke to you, and I feel terrible guilty for not going as far as 'Liverpool'. I want to say sorry; I could have at least made a better effort to go. I don't want you to understand; 
I should have made a more sincere try at it, only now I realize my mistake.

                 You once said, "Paddy is my favourite brother", and now I want you to know you are and always will be my favourite sister. Let's you and me keep that a little secret.

                 Well Mary, 'Please God' your new surroundings will make you and Michael forever happy. You will I know settle down quickly and use the dollars Canadian style.

                 I hope Junior was okay on the trip, and didn't try to throw the captain into the ocean. Or did you feel that way inclined? When Junior grows up 'Please God' tell him he has an uncle on a little island who one day hopes to see him with his Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters, etc, etc. No limit nowadays , especially with that Canadian Climate. It works wonders. Who knows maybe the 'Irish Climate' will play a few tricks on me...

                 Well Mary I could write a longer letter but perhaps some other time. If you ever have time to kill drop me a line, even if it takes you all of your life to do so. I think my address will always at least be "Ireland".

Lots of Love to Michael and Junior.

                                   Take care Mary and God Bless.

                                   Your Loving Brother,




  1. What a sweet and tender letter, though sad to see him reflect on "Paddy is my favourite brother." Hopefully, he had many chances to see his "favourite" sister again...

    1. Hi Jacqi,

      As always, thank you for your comments. It is sad to see such a reflection, although Paddy was the favourite of all of the siblings. He was quite a bit older, and took great care of the younger children. As well, the sense that John did not want to be forgotten seems evident in the letter. This probably speaks to the fact that my mother's youngest brother was raised away from his siblings after their mother died. He was raised by my grandfather's brother and his wife, and so apparently never felt truly part of his family of origin. Although it took more than ten years for my family to return to Ireland, John did have many chances to visit with my mom (and with us) and they remained very close until my mom's death. As well they corresponded with one another on a regular basis.


  2. A letter full of pathos and the realisation that life had truly changed permanently. It was such a sweet letter and no wonder your mother treasured it...perhaps she even felt a little guilty for favouring Paddy even though he was something of a father-figure for them. I was pleased to read that they kept up their correspondence and were able to visit back and forth to that little island of Ireland.

    1. Thanks for your comments Pauleen! They are always much appreciated. So true, as you say, the letter conveys the fact that life was forever changed. One of the phrases which particularly strikes me is, "...only now I realize my error". It must have felt awful to come to such a realisation when in that moment he could do nothing about it. I am thankful that they were able to bridge the miles.



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