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The fifth Station: Writing

Saturday, 28 November, 2015

This box is filled with some of the letters my mother wrote to me during the course of four decades. It’s one of many boxes because she wrote often. Three times a week sometimes, and as well as the letters there were cards: birthday cards, Christmas Cards, Easter cards, Saint Patrick’s Day cards, Mass cards, get-well cards, good-luck cards, postcards…

Long before blogging was invented, my mother was posting early and often. Everything that happened at home was noted and remembered and a lot of what was observed made it into her letters.

Mother's letters

“The sun is shining now, but for how long? It’s very cold, no late news of the Tipp murder. You’ll read all the latest on the paper clippings. Too bad.”

“Today is the feast of St Martin, 3rd Nov. I have been making novena, I’ll be going to First Friday to-night so I finish it. I was at mass last night for the Souls & on Wed for the Saints. I went to mass in M-Town yesterday morning for at 10 AM & went to the graves of the Fitzgeralds.”

“It was cold this morning when cycling down at 9.30 to chiropodist. There were 11 before me. I got out a quarter to one. There were 12 more after me inc. Mgt Maguire. She offered to bring me up. I said no as she’d miss out her place in queue.”

The “news”, to use my mother’s term for all things great and small was evaluated, filtered and then committed to bits of paper, usually at the end of the day. The topics featured family, friends, farming, sport and, especially, the weather, and while this framework might appear narrow, these miniature narratives are as revealing as the paintings of Vermeer, whose works are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft. The more one looks, the more one sees.

All human life is expressed in these hundreds upon hundreds of letters. The characters that populate their pages are affected by love, pain, happiness, greed, luck and despair. There are weddings and wakes; there is profit and loss, darkness and light, sickness and health.

In total, the letters represent a tremendous act of communication. Throughout, the voice is unique, the script is always legible and age does not dim the ability to express that which so many people find difficult or impossible to say. What powered this fierce determination to document so many details? The wish, no doubt, the offer comfort to those far from home. But there was something else at work here. There was sharing and there was caring in all this articulation. The time and energy devoted to all these letters were acts of selflessness that had its own rewards when they were written and posted, and nothing can repay such generosity, but the least that can be done is to bring these letters to a wider public and place them before a wider audience. They are worth reading.

Our next station in this series of 14 photographs is Childhood.


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