Each month, we compile a progress report and one of the things we track is the top 20 transcribers. On more than one occasion, Fidelma Carroll has been the top Letters of 1916 transcriber. Fidelma told us about why she contributes to the project.
Having retired in 2006 and subsequently completing a business degree I found myself with some time on my hands and was looking for a volunteering opportunity. I was lucky to discover the Letters of 1916 Project in my local volunteering newsletter. The flexibility offered in terms of time and location really appealed to me, and although warned by a friend that reading other peoples handwriting would prove a “nightmare”, I felt that skills in deciphering handwriting acquired during a forty year career in Financial Services administration would stand me in good stead, and indeed so it proved. When I joined the project a good number of the letters available for transcription were hand written and some were quite faded. I enjoyed the challenge of using context and my own life experience to rediscover the words of those who lived through such important historical events.
Very quickly I became engrossed in the human story of everyday life revealed through the letters. The confusion born of a lack of real information concerning the events of Easter 1916, experienced by those living just a few miles from Sackville St as it was then. The humanity and at times the palpable exhaustion conveyed through her letters to her mother of Mary Martin as she nursed injured soldiers during World War 1. In later life she founded the Medical Missionaries of Mary and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda.
On a personal level I enjoyed, if that is the correct word, transcribing the daily letters of Sir Wilfrid Spender at that time a British Army Officer servicing behind the trenches in France to his wife. After the war Sir Wilfrid was responsible for the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. I feel I got a real insight into the man from his own words. Such insights are the gift of the Letters 1916 Project to 2016 and to future historians.
On a lighter note should I ever need to apply for a position as Crown Solicitor I will be able to write the application in my sleep having transcribed so many. Letters of 1916 is a wonderful and innovative project to which I have been privileged to contribute.
In 2017, MA student, Seamus Callagy made a video with Fidelma at her home.