A Letter to my Irish Ancestor

The following letter from one of our readers - Jack Coffey from Canada - won a readers competition in 2014. In the letter, Jack imagines what a letter would have looked like from his ancestor who emigrated from County Cork - Padrick Coffey - and then pens his own reply.

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A Letter to my Irish Ancestor

Todays letter is a little different – it features an imagined ancestral letter written by one of our readers as well as their imagined response. We start with a letter received in Ireland back in the mid 1800s from Nova Scotia in what was to become Canada:

“Hello, My name is Lawrence Cavanagh and I am a friend of Padric Coffey who has asked me to write this letter for him as he can not read nor write. His Irish Gaelic is very strong and I might miss a few words but here is what he asked me to write for him.”

August 25, 1816,

To my descendants whom ever they be,

I have decided to leave my home in County Cork Ireland and have sailed to Canada this past season. Things are not good back home, and I do not believe they will improve. The Napoleonic wars have ceased and there is less demand for goods that we produce. I know that I would never be able to own any land, as most of it is under control of rich Englishmen who tax us to death on what we occupy. We can never seem to get ahead.

My dear wife, Judith and I got married last September in her church in Kilbrittain. Father John Foley married us. Judith and I met a while back one Saturday when she was helping her father with his cows at the Shambles market up on Kilbrogan Hill in Bandon. She is a very pretty girl and very kind. I spent a lot of time courting her down along the river, and we often meet on the Bandon bridge in the evenings.


A Bandon Streetscape

“The rain this year was terrible, crops not doing well, and the muck is up to our knees. When we told our parents that we were thinking about crossing the ocean to a new land where the government is gloving land away for free, her mother cried, but her father understood that I would not be able to get much cobbler work, and never have a farm so he told us to go. Both our parents are sad, they know they will probably never see us again. I promised them I would take good care of her.

Now that we have arrived in our new country we will look for a land grant and start our family. Judith and I want to farm and I can find work in my trade, I can use my musket to hunt deer and rabbit for food, I will fish in the nearby lakes for trout , cod, salmon, smelt, oysters and mussels. The winters are long and cold here, but the summers can be hot enough to have good crops, and the vast forest’s have enough timber to last forever. I feel in my heart I have made a good decision.

X. Padrick Coffey.”

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An Old MacCarthy Castle on the Bandon River, County Cork.

April 15, 2010. Bandon, Ireland.

Dear Great great grandfather;
Where are you? I am your great, great, grandson from Canada. I have just arrived in County Cork on Air Lingus. I know you spent a month on a ship to get to Canada and I was here in five hours. I am looking for your and my roots. My, my – your family is hard to find. I have searched the internet for hours trying to find something you may have left behind to show that you were here. I have visited the church in Kilbrittain where you and Great Great Grandmother were married. I have talked to many people in my efforts to find your trail. I know you have left something or someone behind and I will keep searching.

Love, your great, great grandson, John.

Many thanks to Coffey for sharing that beautiful letter and response.

Slán for now, Mike.

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