Your Fondest Annie

Michael O'Sullivan reviews Your Fondest Annie: letters from Annie O' Donnell to James P. Phelan 1901-1904, Maureen Murphy (ed), UCD Classics of Irish History, ISBN 1-904558-37-2, £13.95, €18 pbk

Your Fondest Annie

THE TITLE of this book is a perfect indication of its content - a modest and pleasant collection of letters from a young Galway woman recently arrived in the US to her fellow emigrant sweetheart Jim Phelan.

Published here for the first time in the excellent 'UCD Classics of Irish History' series, they detail the working life of a children's nurse in early twentieth-century America.

To the countless number of Irish people forced to leave home Annie O' Donnell's story will be a familiar one, though as an emigrant she was not typical. Well educated, articulate and out-going, she entertained early hopes of becoming a schoolteacher and later a nurse, though if she ever felt that fate had dealt harshly with her it does not show from these letters, which are full of optimism and a joy to read.

Though covering only a three-year period, a good deal of Annie's life, her hopes, and aspirations are contained in these letters, not least the difficulties of adjusting to the ways of the 'New World' and the demands of her employment.

At work, very long hours and little time off were the norm, though as children's nurse Annie lived with the family and avoided most of the rigours endured by 'downstairs' staff. In between we have glimpses of churchgoing, outings, visits to the theatre and the zoo, Christmas celebrations, and always the memories of Ireland and the longing for home. Clearly Annie never forgot who she was.

Undoubtedly much more of Annie's life is concealed within these letters. What emerge are integrity, resilience and a remarkable generosity towards others, qualities sustained by resourcefulness and a lifelong devotion and loyalty to the Catholic Church.

These letters will be welcomed by the social historian as well as the general reader as a useful contribution to studies of the lives of Irish emigrants. Thoughtfully edited and introduced by Maureen Murphy, UCD Press are to be congratulated on making them available.

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