Letters From Kilkelly
All content © Jeff Snow January 2013
In 1855 John Hunt left his family's home in Kilkelly Ireland and came to the United States. When he left Ireland, John Hunt was 13 years old. He settled in Maryland, found a job, got married and had children. He never returmed to Ireland and never saw his family again.
Without cell phones and the internet, communication was with the annual family letter. In the 1970's these letters were discovered by songwriter Peter Jones. He wrote the ballad that tells the story of the Hunt family.
To see and hear the ballad visit Kilkelly Ireland
There are about 20 letters over a period of 35 years. The first and last letters are below.
Orlaur January the 24th 1858
My Dear and Living Son
Received your long wished for letter on the 22nd instant and I felt very much delighted at hearing that you are enjoying good health as I and your mother your brothers and sisters are at present thanks be to God. I am happy to state to you that your mother's health is very good at present and she is desirous to lay it as an obligation on you to avoid going to work in a railroad or any dangerous work. Your brother Thos. and wife are in good health and they got another son called Michl. Denis Kern's wife and family are quite well at present. The Clooniron people got no letter from America since May went. I am surprised that you forgot mentioning about your comrade boy John O' Connor, or is he still along with you or not. We are all very sorry that you did not come home before you went off it grieved your mother very much, whereas you did not come to pay her a visit and see the friends and neighbours before your emigration and we very lonesome after you but we expected that the day will come that we may see you in your native land in joy and happiness.
I mean to inform you that the friends and neighbours feel very happy at the good account we have received from you. I will expect that you will abstain from the drink in that Country as well as you used to do when in this Country. Let cheapness of it not induce you to have any recourse to drinking and intoxicate you at anytime. I hope that as you went to that Country you will make the most of your time that you possibly can and consider in yourself that it is not to remain during life you emigrated but to realize your fortune so that I can expect that after spending 4 or 5 years in that Country you may come home amongst your friends and neighbours amongst whom you would find pleasure, not withstanding the consolation and comfort you would derive from being among your brothers, who feel very sorry for your absence, but we hope that it is not a departure during life that you will have some nights of pleasure as yet in your own native village. I am sorry that I have not some news of importance to state to you, but I am of the opinion that in answer to your next letter I may have some news to relate. I am of opinion that after the Shrovetide there might be some marriages or some news besides, the hearing of which might be some interest to you. There are none of us yet, except Denis Kern's daughter, who stopped in Clooamma, who got married to a boy from Glanvolley, and I hope that you will write to us frequently as we would wish how often we could get a letter from you and always stating to us about the state of the Country, and that things that come under your notice as what may appear insignificant to you may interest the relations and the rest of the family. I hope that when you are writing again you direct it to Mr. O'Grady, fearing that you might forget, you will direct as thus In Care of Francis R. O'Grady Esq., Tavrane, Kilkelly by Swinford County Mayo Ireland, for Bryan Hunt of Orlaur, and I will expect you to write to us very often as you can write yourself. I hope that you will not leave us long uneasy at any time I, and all the family join with love and best respects to you and you will accept from friends in general who are to numerous to insert. Peter Farrell talk of coming on Eastrickmas, but you know coming on the time of writing another letter to you if he does
I remain your ever loving father, Bryan Hunt
Orlaur February 1893
My Dear Brother John,
I received your letter this morning, I was very happy to hear that you and your family were enjoying good health, which is a blessing we all enjoy here. I thank God, I hope you will excuse me for writing at the time Father died, Mr.Mack ascertained to me that he would write to you and send you all particular accounts about Father's death and sister Mary, I understand it must be the cause he did not write about the first of October. He came to visit father at that time he requested him write to you, he always felt uneasy about you and Brother Michl. and your families until he departed, he kept preying and calling for you, he was in very good health until about 2 months before he died and very good feeling too. He was entered in the churchyard of Aughamore along with mother may the Lord have mercy on their souls, sister Mary died with 3 days sickness. The children are in good health they are doing well they keeping the public business, still two of them are good girls only that they fell lonesome after their Father and Mother may their souls rest in peace; I mean to tell you that we did not hear anything about your letter until now nor we got no glimpse of the likeness we would have great welcome for it if we got it. I trust you will send it again we have a girl here of the name, we would wish to see it, I guess I told you before about our family, we have now six boys and three girls, we are enjoying good health at Present except Patsy is getting poor health.
The style of writing, and the language of the time, makes the reading and understanding of the letters a wee bit of a challenge.
As a part of the Celtic Music Program in schools the students are given copies of the letters and assigned the task of writing one back to the family as if it had come from John. The results are interesting and give the students insight into what life was like a long time ago.
I have all the letters so if you enjoyed reading these send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send them to you as a PDF file.