Thursday 14 November 2019

The letter I wish I'd sent

The Letter I Wish I'd Sent series
The Letter I Wish I'd Sent series

Dear Brendan, If only I'd known what you were going through at the time... but you must remember I had just started in that job and the role of community welfare officer was difficult.

Each day was different - each day bringing new challenges. When I got your letter, to be honest I didn't give it much thought: another weirdo - if I'm to be really honest! Wanting to meet me for 10 minutes after work - in the town car park.

Even if I did know you at any level, meeting in a car park would not have been an option. Plus I had ethical and data protection issues to contend with. I was but a wet week in the job, still on my probation, so it was imperative that I dot my 'i's' and cross my 't's'. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I probably would have gotten a colleague to come with me. If it were today, the mobile phone, texting or other social media would have made it easier. But that was 1980 and I was on a learning curve in my job. It was long before I had studied adult guidance or counselling. I never even checked to see what supports you had through that black period. But in 1980, we had no internet, no Facebook, no Twitter - I had only met you once at my clinic and, to my lifelong regret, I couldn't even remember what we talked about.

I think that is really what riddled me with guilt for a long time afterwards - what was it about me that made you feel that I would understand? We will never know as that night you took the ferry to Holyhead and jumped overboard - no suitcase, no note, no personal items left. You brought your secret to the grave and I will always feel I let you down. I'm so sorry, Brendan, and I hope you are reading this letter in a nice sunny room in the sky. Someday we'll have that chat, and this time I will hear you.

Aine Kelly

Ardrahan, Co Galway

Gruezi Edel Moran,

How can I ever thank you? In the past we enquired with Aer Lingus as to your whereabouts but to no avail - they said you were probably working for some agency in Zurich. We also tried the Joe Duffy show, however no joy there either!

It was back in 1993 when I took my son Eoin to visit Switzerland where I had worked in my late teens and early 20s. I was eager to show him the beautiful village of Baden on the river Limmat, where from a depth of 3,000m around a million litres of water a day bubble to the surface at a temperature of 47 degrees. With 19 thermal springs, the town has an international reputation as a spa resort and is within easy reach of Zurich and the airport. The first railway in Switzerland started a service between Baden and Zurich in 1847, delivering a puff pastry called Spanish Brotli.

In the early 1990s Superquinn Shopping had a special deal, whereby if you saved enough stamps you paid only for one airline ticket and the second person travelled free. Stamps were diligently collected and finally the day arrived for our big adventure. What excitement!

My friend, Mary Rose Molloy, kindly drove us to the airport and enquired when we would be returning. I told her the day and time and she apologised and said she was not available to collect us on our return.

We based ourselves in Zurich in a clean hostel in the centre of town and got up very early and made our way by train each day to Davos. Eoin enjoyed the days in the Ski Schule learning to snowboard and ski. On the last day of the trip (or so I thought), we boarded a brightly coloured, double-decker train from Zurich to Winterthur and made our way to the Kunstmuseum on the outskirts of the woods. We enjoyed French masterpieces from the impressionist period alongside Van Gogh, Picasso and Kandinsky. In the afternoon we strolled down the Bahnhoffstrasse in Zurich and spent time in the Watch and Clock Museum. The following morning we got up early and made our way to Kloten Airport. When we got to the check-in desk the woman there enquired 'Madam have you changed your reservation?' 'No,' I replied - is there a problem? In a very unfriendly manner she replied 'Well, yes, your flight left yesterday'. I stared at this woman in disbelief, my mind went blank and my stomach fell into my boots! What to do?

I asked where the Aer Lingus office was. There wasn't one she barked back so I said I would speak to a member of the ground crew, all the while feeling faint and deeply traumatised. I was then informed that there were no Aer Lingus ground crew. After some time and the minutes ticking away I was finally put in touch with Edel and I explained the situation to her. She listened to our sad state of affairs and said she would call us back, which she did. With only 10 minutes to departure this Angel of Mercy said "it's strange but there are two empty seats at the back of the plane and I am going to let you on". I will never forget those words. With only seconds to spare and with a heart beating too fast we raced across that tarmac and fell into those seats. What a relief!

Edel, you were truly an Angel of Mercy that day. Sincere and heartfelt thanks und merci vielmal. We will never forget you or that trip!


Cecilia M Garrigan, Blackrock, Co Dublin

Dear Edward,

My friend, the happiest times of my second year at school was knowing you. After school if I saw you at the bus stop my world would fill with joy. I know you must have seen it in my grin. I know sometimes I was awkward around you; it was only because I liked you so much and was afraid to express my feelings. When I went to see you in Carrick-on-Shannon was the best time in my life.

You are my best friend. That is why I don't understand why you're not my friend any more, you blocked me on Snapchat. I miss you more than you'll ever know. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I live in hope that one day you'll knock on my door. I want you to know whatever happened I don't blame you; I miss you in the three weeks after coming back from seeing you. I could not stop crying. I'm mad at you right now. I wish you felt like you could talk to me if you were in any kind of pain. I want you to know you're so sweet and I'm grateful for every single happy moment you give me. No matter what you will always be my friend.

I am so sad that you didn't trust me, whatever you were going through. You know the saying "A problem shared..." I would forgive you for anything that's how much you mean to me. I believe you though, being mean to me was your only option. I wish things were different. I miss you; you were my rock, my BFF.


Co Monaghan

Dear St Luke's Hospital

I have waited over 30 years to write and ask you this question. My sister spent four months in your hospital many years ago and one night a knock came to my door in the early hours of the morning to say she had passed away just a couple of weeks after our beloved mother.

How many nights I lay in bed tears flowing down my face and all I wanted to know was there anyone with her on that night to hold her hand like we were with Mama - and her in Dublin so many miles away that time from the West of Ireland.

No mobile phone to ring or send a text, and I was so heartbroken and had rung the same hospital so many times from a coin box to ask how she was doing. I will always remember the evening I rang and a lovely nurse was telling me how ill she was when all my coins were used up and the phone went dead. I rang the operator and how many times have I thought of this male voice answering. I explained in my distress that could he reconnect me to the hospital and that he did.

How I wish I had known your name, so maybe if you read this letter you will remember. Maybe you were that young man in the phone exchange that night. Maybe a nurse might read this and she might remember a young mother not being left on her own to die. If only back than I wasn't so heartbroken I might have written this letter and asked the question.


Co Roscommon

Dear Ma,

I am now in my 30s, so this letter is long overdue. Ta very much for protecting me from a big bad world when I was seven. I now understand your suspicion and uneasiness about some people. When the over-friendly couple moved in next door (man and wife pensioners) the old man was constantly inviting me next door to play dominoes with him as he was lonely at night time. Ma, as you made excuse after excuse, I did not realise that danger lurked next door.

So thank you, Ma, you always knew best. You are one in a million.



Full name and address with Editor

My darling Bill

I want you to realise what a tremendous difference you make to my life. Days are so much happier because of you and your love. Somehow I have felt it inadequate to take out a pad and write to you.

What is there new to say? Each day, the wonder of love and joy is renewed when I realise that the world has you in it.

It is Sunday and the fire is blazing in a Christmassy way. It reminds me of a night when we put out the light and sat by the fire. It was painful to be so close to you in those days, but then so wonderful to discover that we felt the same about each other.

I didn't really love you in those days like I do now. I was still a kid and didn't know what it was to love so much that it is tearing at one's insides to see the door shutting on one's dream man.

It was not long before you taught me not only love for you, but utter givingness to others. It radiates from you all the time. It sounds as though I found it tough falling in love.

It was so difficult not to, I suppose women don't usually blather like this to their men folk. But I can't bear your not knowing that you mean more to me than anything or anyone, more even than bananas! Rough seas and stormy skies, miles of land and water cannot cut us off from each other. One day the bells will ring again and it will be my happiest day. I belong to you.

All my love,


Dublin 11

Dear Mrs E

First, I want to express my gratitude for the inspiration and kindness you showed me when I was your pupil so many years ago. As a very shy four-year-old, I began my school years in that small village school in the heart of the Irish countryside. In those days parents and teachers alike believed in the old adage of "Spare the stick and spoil the child".

So from the age of four until I was eight years old, my teacher was very generous in her use of a gnarled rod she kept nearby to impart discipline.

One day while reciting my seven times table, I could not remember that seven times seven was forty nine, but I can still remember my humiliation when my teacher ordered me to the bottom of the class. And to make sure I got the message, she gave me seven smart slaps across my palm. From then on I hated school and used every excuse I could think of to avoid going.

Thankfully, fate intervened to give me some time off school as I fell prey to the measles, the chickenpox and, best of all, the whooping cough. One day as I was recovering, I overheard my mother telling my older sister that she felt I was well enough to go back to school. Alarm bells went off in my head and I faked several loud spasms of whooping and coughing.

But my attitude to school changed completely when I entered third class and you, Mrs E, became my teacher.

You also had a rod, but it remained in the corner and was only ever used to call our attention to something of importance you had written on the blackboard. With your tuning fork you always found the right key as you taught us how to sing and hit the high notes.

Poetry came alive for me as I heard you recite the lines:

'Under a spreading chestnut-tree, the village smithy stands,

The smith, a mighty man is he,

With large and sinewy hands'

Now I don't remember the title of the poem or the poet's name but it sparked my interest in the village forge.

On our way home from school my friend and I would watch Big Dan fire up the furnace with the bellows, then send sparks flying in the air as he hammered a red hot horseshoe on the anvil while the horse stood quietly by waiting to be shod.

Because of your patience, Mrs E, I developed a love of learning and even managed to come to grips with algebra and geometry. I went on to secondary and further education, then emigrated to the USA. When I returned home many years later, I visited your house to thank you, but sadly you had gone to meet your maker.

But I believe good energy never dies. So now across years and miles I send my heartfelt THANK YOU for being the best teacher I ever had.


Philomena McCloskey, Killybegs, Co Donegal

Sunday Independent

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