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Letter from Northern Ireland

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In 1921 Thomas and Elizabeth McLaren returned from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to visit family. The letter opposite was sent to Elinor Rushbrooke, their eldest daughter and my grandmother, who had just given birth to her first daughter Joan.

The letter was written while the couple were in Northern Ireland, near Carmavey in County Antrim where Thomas had grown up.

Where it has been possible to identify people mentioned in the letter, a link is provided to their details either on this site or in the family tree on Rootsweb.

The map below shows the location of places mentioned in the letter.


The handwritten letter was transcribed by me, with some words difficult to read acurately. Additional puntuation has been added to make the letter easier to read. Please advise if you spot errors, or have alternative words for me to check.

Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh
Looking north-west south of Ballyginniff

Photo © Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The Letter

July 31 1921

My Dear Nellie

We are staying at your Aunt Susan’s for a week. Annie cycled over with your letter and papers on Friday. I expect the money will be at the bank. Your father called the week before and it was not there then but we are not in any hurry as we have not spent any money since we came here, that is nearly a fortnight.

We are going to Belfast on Thursday for 3 days and will be buying presents for all the family. There is a good big all. I want to get a voile dress for going through the tropics. I saw some in London, looked just like what I wanted, but put off buying. The summer sales are getting over so I must not just put off any longer. I have brought three blouses for myself and the marabout cape. That is all so far. I forgot the small hat and umbrella. Dad has ordered two suits in Belfast to cost £16. He says one is a very good one.

I was pleased to hear from you and you had all got over the measles. Your letter was OK. More cheerful. Every mail something has happened. I hope Archie’s shoulder gets all right.

Tom must have been having a strenuous time with the carting.

I feel disappointed in Ethel encouraging young Russel; he will get the cold shoulder when we get back.

We only intended to stay a couple of days here but have stayed a week. The Molyneauxs told us what a bad state your Aunt Susan was in and advised us not to stay, but your father wanted to go to so many places we have stayed on.

Uncle is going to drive us back to Molyneaux’s today. Your Aunt Susan just sits by the fire. She can talk away quite cheerful.

It is not much of a life for young Susan. She does everything. She milks 5 cows. Your uncle goes to Belfast every Friday with the butter and butter milk. They churn all the milk.

When we leave here I will think we have got our face turned home. I am not sorry we came. I think we have earned one trip in our life. Your father has not been very well, had pains in his stomach last Monday and your Uncle Archie drove us to Crumlin for Dad to see the Doctor. He gave him a bottle medicine, It has done him good.

It rained heavy yesterday. It cleared up after tea. We went to look at your father’s old home. On our way home we called to see some old friends of your fathers, Sarah and Martha. They were a pair of old skitchis, but kind. We have visited a few about here. Nothing could exceed their kindness. I will leave the rest until I see you. I think I am a “Home ruler now”.

One day we went to see the Colemans. They were very nice and had a nice house. Susan says Willie Coleman was an admirer of Francis. He seems such a good hearted fellow. Just after we left them, as we were walking up the road, we were overtaken by a youngish man in a gig. He said he was your father’s cousin Tom McComb. He is like your fathers photo in the family group. He is going to bring his wife and family over to Molyneaux to see us, then we have to go there. His mother is living. Your father did not know he had an aunt living. His father was his Uncle Archie, the one our Archie is named after.

Dad has just gone over to see Sammy Coleman, he was here one evening. He was a great friend of James Barron. I thought him rather nice.

We are going to see Francies sisters when we go to Belfast next week. We saw in the papers a Miss Spiers had got married.

We have got to Molyneaux’s. Dad and your Uncle have gone to Crumlin Market so I am going to have a day writing letters. We have been thinking of going to Portrush and taking Annie with us for a week. She does not look very strong. Her knee is not quite right yet.

August 1st

I thought of several things I wanted to say. Now they seem to have fled.

You would get my letters soon after you wrote the last letter I got. Then you would be getting letters all the time. I expect you would know when to stop writing.

We went to tea to a brother of James Graham one afternoon. It rained a bit too. Mr Graham had been out in NZ one year. He had been a tutor on a Station in Marlborough. He was very intelligent and spoke very wisely about the troubles in Ireland and said there were faults on both sides which I think is right. His wife is something like Auntie Marion and so kind. Mr Graham was educated for a minister but makes a very successful farmer.

There has been a truce ever since we came to Ireland so we have felt quite safe.

We got the papers and Observer and observed the happy bridegroom. He does look happy.

I expect Mabel and the others will soon make up.

Bessie must have been ill to lose ten pounds in a week. You didn't say, but I thought from your letters Bessie had gone home with Jean. If the daughter is like her father she must be like her granny a bit too.

We are going back by Glasgow and Edinburgh.

August 2 & 3rd

I must finish off this letter and get it posted. We are going over to Molyneaux’s this afternoon. Aunt Susan hardly ever goes out, but she is going today. She has given us a glass sugar basin and cream jug that belonged to her mother and a set of linen pillow cases and bolster of her own work. Very nice.

On Sunday Dad and I went to tea to some old friends of Dad named Wallace. Last night Mr & Mrs. W Graham came down to see us and say good bye. Dad had seen them during the day. I like out here, the country is pretty. There is good roads and nice walks; not near the traffic past here there is at home. Everybody seems pleased to see Dad and very kind to me too. I will go into more details when I get home.

I have not been to church since I came to Ireland as there has been a row with the local parson for (they say) siding with the Sein Feiner’s. Your Aunt Annie is a great fighter.

There is a young man (well off) wants to marry Susan but they dare not tell the Lock people as they seem to think she shouldn't get married before them and they would raise up all sorts of trouble and opposition. If they knew they would go all round the county to find out things if they had any idea. So Dad and I are not to say anything.

The Wallace’s showed us some paintings a cousin, Jenny McComb has given them, her own work. They say she never had any lessons, only a lady showed her how to mix the paints. They looked very good to me. They are going to see her mother and she this week. It is her stepmother but everybody says she is as good as a mother to her.

I guess Jimmy will be pleased with his little sister. I think the girls were glad not to have the fuss in the house. You did not say where you had gone to but I guess the other place, as Francie was not satisfied with nurse Nolan. I will write to Francie next. I expect the last month will fly. We have so many places to go to yet.

I do hope Alban is keeping well. They will be in the thick of the milking by you get this. I hope no more ribs broken and such like. I wonder if you left off writing at the right time. Will be very glad to get home again but I am not sorry we came so far. We are both in the best of health.

With love to all.
Your loving mother
E S McLaren