When You Go Will You Send Back A Letter From America

In the late 1980’s the Scottish band, The Proclaimers had a big hit with their song “Letter from America.”  I love this song, and listen to it regularly.  Here are two of its most memorable lines:

When you go will you send back a letter from America?

Take a look up the rail track from Miami to Canada


When the song was written e-mail, skype and texting were merely dreams forming and developing in the minds of geniuses.  Letters were still the primary means of communication between families separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

I remember when I first came to America in the late 1980’s, I phoned home once a week.  My phone bills were astronomical, so talking for an hour or two was out of the question.  Instead I wrote letters regularly.


Old Aerogramme Letter With Checkered Border

Image Credit

I loved reaching into my mail box each evening.  A wave of sheer joy came over me, when I found a checker-bordered aerogramme with my name lovingly imprinted on the cover.

Nowadays, trips to the mail box reveal no such treasures – just bills and junk mail.  Sometimes I miss those days of old, when letters from Ireland were regularly delivered.

I often think of those who left Ireland over a century ago.  They never knew the luxury of a weekly phone call, or daily in my case, now that we have an internet phone connection with unlimited calls to the Emerald Isle.

http://www.vintagerio.com/vintage_clip_art_g52-black_white_clipart_p2972.htmlImage Credit

For our ancestors, connection to family left behind was limited to letters, sometimes taking weeks or months between deliveries.  Even for those who left in the 1950’s, like six of my father’s brothers and sisters, telephone calls were unheard of.   For starters my grandmother never owned a phone.  In an emergency a kind neighbor or the priest might agree to let her use their phone.

No, truth be told, even until the 1970’s my granny only heard from her children in America through letters.  I still remember the expression on her face when the postman arrived with a “letter from America.”  She smiled all day long.  I watched eagerly as her eyes devoured precious words.  She stuffed the sheets into a pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt.  I knew she examined them frequently throughout the day.  Loving words eased the pain of her aching heart.

http://www.vintagerio.com/details.php?gid=72&pid=9641Image Credit

So whenever I listen to The Proclaimers, I think of my granny and her treasured letters from America.  My children will probably never understand the role letters played in our lives.  I must remember to tell them about their great-grandmother’s skirt pockets, stuffed with handwritten pages filled with loving words from her children far away.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom




  1. It is so different now, people forget how important handwritten letters were for communication.
    Thanks for this post from someone who married her pen-friend from England! (And I loved the British stamps. Still do.)

    • Kay – Checking the mail, or post as we say in Ireland and England, was one of the most exciting parts of the day. I really miss all the letters I used to get and send in years gone by. The great thing about letters is they can be read over and over again, providing days, even weeks of enjoyment. Lovely to hear that through letters you met the man of your dreams.
      I too loved stamps – as a kid I even had a stamp collection. My mom may still have it in a box in her attic. Best wishes!

  2. I still think there’s something very special about a card or handwritten note. It’s something of the other person that we can hold in our hands. I especially like to send little notes to my girls when they were in college, exactly for that reason — something of mom they could hold in their hands and look at again and again.

    Here’s wishing you a letter today, Mairead!

    • Cheryl – How sweet of you to send your girls little notes when they were in college. What a wonderful idea. I must remember to do so too, when my four leave the nest for college. Thanks for sending me nice wishes for a letter – reading loving words, again and again, brings such joy to life.

  3. It is sad how little we physically write to each other these days – there may have been a huge increase in communication via email et al in recent years, but as technology moves on I can’t help but think that the vast majority of that will be lost, leaving little for our grandchildren to read.

    I remember my Czech grandmother (Babi to us) getting those striped envelopes in the mail, and my fighting to be the one to mail the ones she sent. Such flimsy paper keeping such important connections alive.

    I also remember our sending care packages to the family in Prague in the early 1970s – sitting at the kitchen table stripping teabags out of their wrappings to minimize the shipping weight. To this day whenever I open a box of tea I think of Babi.


    • John – You are so lucky to have found your grandmother Babi’s letters, and hopefully you will be able to pass them on to her great-grandchildren. I too worry that our instantaneous messaging of today will leave little of substance for our children and their children to learn about us and our lives. Thanks also for sharing the link for your blog – I love the photo of Babi on the life boat – such treasures. Thanks for stopping by.


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