Usually, I try to make you guys laugh…. and I fail, but the important thing is, I try. Today, I’m posting something that may make you cry.
This song was first played to me by a friend and I remember trying to hold back tears as the final verse played. I’ve since played it for my own students and they have also found it moving and poignant. It is a moving song about emigration and its effects not only on the people who have had to leave but also on the people left behind.
The song was written by two American men, Steven and Peter Jones. Their great-great-grandfather, Brian Hunt, had written letters from Kilkelly, Mayo, Ireland, to his son and their great-grandfather, John, who had emigrated to America in the nineteenth century.
The letters were found by the men in an attic in the United States and they were so overcome with emotion that they decided to write a song based on the content of the letters.
The writings revolve around local and family news being given to John by his father Brian. John had emigrated during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 and the letters cover a period of time from 1860-1892. As Brian was illiterate, the local schoolmaster, Patrick MacNamara, wrote the letters down. His sense of isolation and loneliness at the loss of his family to emigration is obvious, but he remains jovial and kind in his letters.
Here is a beautiful performance of the song by Robbie O’ Connell and I’ve also included the lyrics. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.
Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 60, my dear and loving son John
Your good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara’s 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 infected,
A third to a half of them bad.
And your sister Brigid 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, 18 and 70, dear and loving son John
Hello to your Mrs and to your 4 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 we have nothing to burn.
And Brigid is happy, you named a child for her
And now she’s got six of her own.
You say you found work, but you don’t say
What kind or when you will be coming home.
Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 80, 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 Brigid were there.
You don’t have to worry, she died very quickly,
Remember her in your prayers.
And 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, 18 and 90, my dear and loving son John
I guess that I must be close on to eighty,
It’s thirty years since you’re gone.
Because of all of the money you send me,
I’m still living out on my own.
Michael has built himself a fine house
And Brigid’s daughters have grown.
Thank you for sending your family picture,
They’re lovely young women and men.
You say that you might even come for a visit,
What joy to see you again.
Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 92, my dear brother John
I’m sorry that I didn’t write sooner to tell you that father passed on.
He was living with Brigid, she says he was cheerful
And healthy right down to the end.
Ah, you should have seen him play with
The grandchildren of Pat McNamara, your friend.
And we buried him alongside of mother,
Down at the 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 in the end.
Oh, why don’t you think about coming to visit,
We’d all love to see you again.