St.Valentine’s Day: Love Letters in 1916


St.Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated today with Ecards and gifts of roses and chocolates, often ordered on the internet. Within this content, love letters, sent by ordinary post, might seem old-fashioned and nostalgic. In 1916, however, love letters were perhaps one of the most important ways of expressing feelings to loved ones, especially those at a distance.

The Letters of 1916 project is bringing to life the written words, the last words, the unspoken words, and the forgotten words of ordinary people during this formative period in Irish history.  Love letters are part of this picture too!


Letter from May Fay to James Finn,14 February 1916 Finn Family Collection
Letter from May Fay to James Finn,14 February 1916
Finn Family Collection

Letter from May Fay to James Finn,14 February 1916
Finn Family Collection

This is from a series of letters 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.


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

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 and transcribe the Love Letters.



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