The text below is from a letter found in my grandmother's house (Mary Patricia Hill Kornhauser) in Barrington, Rhode Island when she died. What is curious is that we have no idea for whom the letter might have been meant. So far as I can tell, it was not sent to my grandmother or any of her family members, nor was it sent to my grandfather or his family. The letter itself is hysterical, which is probably why it was saved. Its source, however, remains a mystery.
The plot thickens! I was recently contacted by Mark Warner who had viewed this web site and has a virtually identical letter that had been passed down from his grandfather. (Key differences are enumerated at the bottom of the page.) His grandfather, James McKay Farrell, was born in 1890 in San Francisco, CA and was as a Railroad Locomotive Engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. His parents were James Farrell born 1859 Ireland or Scotland (he apparently was an orphan, although he did immigrate from Queenstown/Cork) and Sarah Christina McKay born 1864, Tp Pilkington, Wellington, Ontario. Despite both of our efforts, no link between our families can be discovered.
Here is another interesting tidbit that requires more follow-up: In The Spirituality of Comedy: Comic Heroism in a Tragic World by M. Conrad Hyers (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1996; p. 15), the author notes that W.C. Fields received a letter from a Catholic niece in 1940. Fields is the noted American comedian featured in many old films. The book (including these references) can be seen on-line at Google Books.
The quoted Fields letter is virtually identical to the letter that I have. Differences in the quoted sections are that the Protestants are referred to as "Orangemen" in my letter and "Black and Tans" in Fields' letter. Also, his is apparently dated slightly later than mine - 1940 as opposed to 1939 - which seems to indicate that mine is not a copy of his. Fields' letter was posthumously published, so I wonder if it is, in fact, also a hoax letter that was misinterpreted by later descendants. If so, Fields may also have received another letter, which Hyers mentions only in passing" "'Your Aunt Maggie from Ireland, who has informed me that more Protestant churches have been burned to the ground, sends her love.'" Ironically, Hyers is using the letter to demonstrate the obliviousness of the letter author to the humor of the conflicts. However, if this was a hoax, it was probably created precisely BECAUSE of the humor of the letter.
Again, I am looking for more information, so if you have it, please contact me! My email is megabaker (at) gmail (dot) com
December 21, 1939
welcome letter was received, and me and your Aunt Bridget thank
you kindly for the money you sent. We had seven masses said for your
grandfather and grandmother. God rest their souls.
You have gone high places in America. God bless you. I hope you have
not forsaken your native land. Your cousin Hughie Doherty was hung in
Londonderry last Friday for killing a policeman. May God rest his
soul, and may God's curse be on Jimmy Rodgers, the informer. May his
soul burn in Hell, God forgive me.
Times are not as bad as they might be. The herring is back, and
nearly everyone, has a boat or an interest in one, and the price of
fish is good, thanks be to God. The Orangeman are terrible. They go
through the country in their lorries and shoot the poor people down
in the fields where they are working. God's curse on them.
Uncle Danny took a shot at one of them yesterday from the
hedge, but he had too much to drink and missed them. God's curse on
Well I hope this letter finds you and your family well and happy,
and we all join in sending you our best wishes. May God bless you
all. Am sorry you are not with us.
The Dohertys are a hundred strong men now since the best of them
stopped going to America. They will soon cover the whole countryside.
Father O'Flaherty, who baptized your distant cousin, and who is now
feeble-minded, sends his blessing. May God rest you and yours, and
keep you from sickness and sudden death.
Your cousin Honora.
P.S. Things might be worse than they are. Every police barrack and
every Protestant church in the country has been burned down. Thanks
be to God.
We are now wondering if the letters might be some type of hoax, although they appear to have been individually typed and there is no apparent motive for the hoax. Key differences between the letters exist: