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Book of Leap letters to immigrants is a snapshot in time

March 4th, 2022 7:05 AM

By Brian Moore

The book is a fascinating account of some of West Cork’s emigrants.

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A NEW book of letters from families in Leap to their loved ones who had set off for America during the latter part of the 19th century is proving a hit for anyone looking to discover more about our West Cork emigrants.

Patricia Trainor O’Malley, a retired professor of history from Bradford College Massachusetts, has gathered letters from her relatives in and around Leap and has compiled them all into a fascinating book – So far from home: Letters from Ireland to family in America.

‘The letters referenced were sent to my grandfather, Dan Donovan, of Dreenlamane, Ballinlough, who immigrated to Haverhill, Massachusetts, USA in 1885,’ Patricia told The Southern Star.

‘There are also letters sent to my grandmother, Nora McCarthy from Ballinlough, Leap, who immigrated to the same place in 1895.

‘The letters were written by parents, siblings, cousins, schoolmates, and even an aggressive former girlfriend of Dan’s!’

The letters in the collection that are included in the book are also from fellow immigrants, many of them former schoolmates of Nora at the Knockskagh National School, north of Leap. Most of them had become domestic workers in the homes of the wealthy in America.

‘The letters have attracted much attention from scholars because of their numbers and quality. This collection of 200 letters was the largest collection of previously unpublished Irish immigrant letters until they appeared in this book,’ Patricia said.

The relatives of Dan and Nora are still on the family farms in Ballinlough and Dreenlamane and other relatives can be found from Clonakilty to Bantry, with a significant cluster of O’Donovan cousins around Dublin and Cork city.

‘There are stories of dancing at the four corners,  the boys road bowling, the many Fair Days throughout the area where friends met, gossip exchanged, horses, cows, and pigs sold. ‘The fisherman cousin describes the storm that blew him and his craft from Glandore Harbour to Kinsale,’ Patricia said.

In one letter a sister laughs about her brother Tady and his friends dancing so enthusiastically that they broke down Tom Kingston’s loft in Leap village, or the humour of the young man who came from America to marry his girlfriend and bring her back to America.

‘She turned him down, and in a matter of weeks, he had found a more willing female, and they were off to America!’

So far from home: Letters from Ireland to family in America is available in bookshops or online.

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