It was many years after the events outlined in the following ballad that the box of letters upon which the story is based, was found in an abandoned drawer. The tale was heart-rending:
and the story was repeated a thousand times over, these past two hundred years. You might be able to find the sung version on CD or on the internet. Though the tune is poignant too, it’s the words of the song I focus upon. They purport to tell the message sent in a series of letters from Ireland to children emigrated to America.
Song and video
Song and video
Kilkelly, Ireland, Eighteen and Sixty, My dear and loving son, John
Your good friend the schoolmaster, Pat McNamara – so good as to write these words down
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England – the house is so empty and sad
The crop of potatoes is sorely affected, a third to a half of them bad
And your sister Bridget and Patrick O’Donnell, are going to be married in June –
Your mother says not to work on the railroad .. and be sure to come on home soon.
Kilkelly, Ireland, Eighteen and Seventy, My dear and loving son John,
Hello to your missus – and to your four children, may they grow healthy and strong
Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble, I suppose that he never will learn
Because of the dampness there’s no turf to speak of – and now there is nothing to burn.
And Bridget is happy you named the child for her, although she’s got six of her own
You say you’ve got work but you don’t say what kind – or when you’ll be coming home.
Kilkelly, Ireland, Eighteen and Eighty, Dear Michael and John, my sons
I’m sorry to give you the very sad news – that your dear old mother has gone
We buried her down at the church in Kilkelly, your brothers and Bridget were there
You don’t have to worry, she died very quickly, remember her in your prayers.
It’s so good to hear that Michael’s returning, with money he’s sure to buy land
For the crop has been poor and the people are selling, at any price that they can.
Kilkelly, Ireland, Eighteen and Ninety, My dear and loving son John
I suppose that I must be close onto eighty, it’s thirty years since you’ve gone
Because of all of the money you’ve sent me, I’m still living out on my own
Michael has built himself a fine house, and Bridget’s daughters have grown
And thank you for sending your family picture, your lovely young women and men
They say that you might even come for a visit, what joy to see you again.
Kilkelly, Ireland, Eighteen and Ninety-two, my dear brother John
I’m sorry I didn’t write to you sooner – to tell you that father passed on
He was living with Bridget, she says he was cheerful, and healthy right up to the end
Ah, you should have seen him play with his grandchildren – of Pat McNamara, your friend
And we buried him alongside of mother, down at Kilkelly Churchyard
He was a strong and a feisty old man, considering his life was so hard
And it’s funny the way he kept talking about you – he called for you at the end ……
Oh, why don’t you think about coming to visit ?
We’d all love to see you again.