Love Letters 1916-1923

Love Letters | Letters 1916-1923

St. Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated on 14 February each year with e-cards and gifts of roses and chocolates, often ordered on the internet. Within this context, love letters, sent by ordinary post, might seem old-fashioned and nostalgic. In 1916, however, love letters were sometimes one of the only ways of expressing feelings to loved ones, especially those at a distance.

The Letters of 1916-1923 project contains the written words and the forgotten words of ordinary people during during this extraordinary time in Irish history. Love letters are part of this picture too. For the day that’s in it, we have chosen some LOVE(ly) highlights from the collection.


Postcard from Thomas Murphy to his sister Anna Murphy

Postcard from Thomas Murphy to his sister Anna Murphy, 11 February 1916

Michael and Susan Gorman
Michael and Susan Gorman

Michael Gorman and Susan Fitzgerald came from very different backgrounds. He spent his early years with ten siblings, in a large thatched cottage on the family farm of Ballinalug on the northern slopes of the Slieve Bloom Mountains near Clara Hill. She grew up on the other side of the mountains, in a large house called Raheenahone, near Stradbally.

What made their relationship so special was the fact that she was Church of Ireland Protestant and he was Catholic. As a consequence, neither family wanted the other, and Michael and Sue had to spend half a decade meeting in secret and exchanging letters in what was a love affair that would last all their lives.

Click here to read more of MIchael and Susan’s story


Letter from May Fay to James Finn,14 February 1916

James Finn and May Fay's wedding photograph
James Finn and May Fay’s wedding photograph, image courtesy of Tessa Finn

This letter comes from a series written between James Finn and his fiancée Mary (May) Fay. They became engaged in January 1916 and married in June. He lived in Dublin, she in Westmeath. At 39 years of age, he was 20 years her senior. He had become acquainted with her during his regular visits to his relative Mrs Mary Seery, her neighbour. Throughout the correspondence, their relationship develops from their first somewhat tentative letters.


Tessa Finn is one of the individual (as opposed to institutional) contributors to the Letters of 1916. She shared this collection of letters between her grandparents, which she describes as “a document of their love and their time.”


As Tessa writes: “These letters between James Finn and May Fay, most of them written in 1916, are part of my family’s inheritance, lovingly treasured by my grandmother, May. She had every reason to cling on to these reminders of the love of her life, my grandfather James Finn. They were married not quite six years when he died leaving her, twenty-five years old and seven months pregnant with their fourth child. They are a document of their love and their time.”


– Tessa Finn, Letters – May & James: A Private love in a Revolutionary Year – 1916

Click here to read or here to transcribe more Love Letters.



Letters of 1916 Transcriber Tales video by Seamus Callagy

As part of his coursework on the MA in Digital Humanities 2016-2017, Seamus Callagy created a video about Fidelma Carroll‘s work as a transcriber on the Letters of 1916 project.

On many occasions, Fidelma has been one of the top Letters of 1916 transcribers. Fidelma discovered the Letters of 1916 project in my local volunteering newsletter and very quickly became engrossed in the human story of everyday life revealed through the letters. Read more about Fidelma’s contribution to the project here.

Featured Profile: Nicole Lottig

Nicole Lottig is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Gender Studies. She also studied at Maynooth University during the Spring of 2015, obtaining a Certificate in Irish Studies. During her last semester of college, she got involved in Digital Humanities and fell in love! She has continuously been working on a … Read more

Featured Profile: Letters 1916 interns: Mattie & Emily

In Summer 2016, the Letters of 1916 and An Foras Feasa project hosted two interns from Beloit College in Wisconsin, USA. Mattie Ganson, a native of the Chicago suburbs, is a Creative Writing major and Spanish minor. She is a brunch enthusiast who loves zine-making, flowers, arts and crafts, and having fun outdoors. Emily Blackburn is a … Read more

Profile: 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 … Read more

Profile: Samantha Simpson

Sam Simpson is a graduate (masters) student studying comparative history at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. Originally from Pocatello, Idaho, Sam received her Bachelor’s Degree in History from Idaho State University in 2015. Sam is an avid traveler and has always had a love for Irish history. She am currently finishing up her MA thesis which focuses on … Read more

Profile: Gabriel Doherty

In November 2015, the Letters 1916 team collaborated with The School of History and the Boole Library at University College Cork for an SFI-funded outreach event. The event involved a workshop and talks and provided an opportunity to digitise letters from the public. Many people attended to find out about the project and to get … Read more