Profile: Rachel Downey

Rachel Downey
Rachel Downey

Rachel Downey is an American student who is studying English and Journalism at Beloit College in Wisconsin and lives in Gambier, Ohio. Rachel visited Ireland for the first time in March with a class of fellow ‘Beloiters’, and she is hoping to study abroad in England this upcoming autumn.

Rachel was one of our top 5 transcribers in May 2016 – check out our May 2016 Progress Update here.


I first heard about the Letters of 1916 project through my journalism professor and advisor at Beloit College. He constructed a special interest course based around the project, the history of the Easter Rising and Irish literature that myself, and eight other lucky Beloit students had the opportunity to take.

Thanks to Beloit College, we were able to fund a trip to Ireland as a class and experience the country we were reading about and studying. And thanks to An Foras Feasa in Maynooth University, we extended our learning to digital archiving as well. It was an experience I will never forget and I hope to visit Ireland again during my semester abroad.

Mix this sparked interest in Irish culture with a college student who has way too much time on her hands during the summer, and the result is many transcribed letters. I had a lot of downtime this past May and I noticed that many of the love letters on the site that were transcribed lacked the proper citations such as line breaks, dates and addresses. I guess I became a little obsessed with adding in the nitty gritty citations and the letters I edited just piled up.

Letter from May Fay to James Finn, February 1916
Letter from May Fay to James Finn, February 1916

To be honest, I didn’t really read the letters in depth while I was transcribing but there are a few that stood out. One letter I remember was a part of the correspondence between the couple May Fay and James Finn. The writer decided to be a little creative and hide kisses (written as Xs) within the letter for the receiver to find. A concept that oozed cuteness, but also posed some challenges when it came to editing the transcription. How in the world is an X (or kiss) hidden inside a B supposed to be transcribed!? I had no idea, so I settled for a user comment. Still, it was interesting to see this playful game that the writer had inserted into their letter. It revealed that it was possible to be cute and lovey dovey before the era of emojis and Snapchat.

I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to Irish history and help the project, it’s been an amazing experience. Lastly, I wish my two friends, who are fellow Beloit students and transcribers currently working with The Letters of 1916 project this summer, the best of luck during their internships. Enjoy the lower drinking age, the historic work you are completing, and most of all, the beautiful country our class visited. Keep transcribing!

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