My dearest Jack: Rescued letters from Urlingford

A SET of letters that give an insight into an Urlingford couple’s life in the 1920s will go under the hammer at a sale by Durrow-based Sheppard’s Irish Auction House next week.

A SET of letters that give an insight into an Urlingford couple’s life in the 1920s will go under the hammer at a sale by Durrow-based Sheppard’s Irish Auction House next week.

Molli’s letters to her dearest Jack were found six years ago scattered and discarded in front of an Urlingford fish and chip shop. The letters are plain spoken, lively and full of detail.

All eight were written to 27-year-old Urlingford shopkeeper Jack D’Arcy (her husband?) while he was interned in Kilkenny Jail by the British authorities. These 91-year-old historical texts seem to emerge from the writer in a fresh and intimate way that makes them both familiar and compelling to read.

Molli is important because she is both historical observer and actor. Her hopes and worries are captured with a particular sharpness that is both immediate and homely and, as a result, are pleasant to read. Daily activities centred on ‘The Corner House,’ a shop in Urlingford, are peppered with news of relatives and friends as Molli keeps the home fires burning.

Though not dated, references contained in the correspondence clearly suggest that they were written in the run-up to St Patrick’s Day 1921. For example, there is mention of a police District Inspector being wounded near Callan. District Inspector Hubert Leslie Baynham of the Royal Irish Constabulary was severely wounded in the neck when the West Kilkenny Flying Column ambushed him and others at Garryricken House on March 12, 1921.

The personal correspondence of Molli is a valuable primary source for historical researchers and particularly so for micro-historians. It provides an alternative historical view of the more mainstream representation of the Irish revolutionary period, a historical narrative that, like most histories, ­invariably excludes women and children.

What makes these letters historically valuable is that they provide, and contribute to, a personal and more candid account of the period. The daily habits of so-called ordinary people are glimpsed at. Details that often go unrecorded are brought to light, as for example, the friendly and helpful warder at Kilkenny Jail whose kindness is appreciated by Molli.

And while local Catholic priest Fr William O’Farrell gave her comfort and hope, he also advised her on legal representation, recommending to her a solicitor in Kilkenny. What is significantly evident from the correspondence is that even in their absence, women continued to look after their men. Molli worried that Jack might be cold in his prison cell: more than once she offered to send him a rug. While he was incarcerated in Kilkenny, she provided him with clothing and with a laundry service. She sent him writing pads, stamps and food. Chicken, if not Jack D’Arcy’s ration of choice, was certainly Molli’s choice of ration.

American poet Emily Dickinson wrote: “A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is in the mind alone without the corporeal friend.” There is an almost palpable timeless quality about the rescued Urlingford letters.

Molli writes to her dearest Jack that “there is nothing in this world that would give me more pleasure than to see you home again” and urges him “to pray hard” for his return while she promises to do the same.

Molli, anxious of news of his release, tells Jack that she was “on the look out of a wire” every day. In another letter she writes movingly to him that “I am simply longing to have you home.” And in yet another she sadly notes that “Urlingford is just the same as ever, but very lonely.”

It may be reasonable and pleasing to conclude that one-time Dublin Castle terrorist suspect Jack D’Arcy undoubtedly reciprocated Molli’s love and affection. Otherwise, why did he collect and save her letters?

Molli’s letters have been consigned to Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, Durrow where they are will be offered as one lot. They are estimated to make between €200 and €300. They will be auctioned on November 28.

In the same sale, a Carlow family is expected to make a welcome profit on a piece of inherited Chinese porcelain. The family made some €110,000 from the sale of a similar vase two years ago, despite the object having been initially valued at €100. The latest porcelain piece is expected to make €200,000.

Details of the three-day ‘Dublin and Provincial’ sale are at