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The lost art of writing a love letter (and how it used to be done by some of our most famous historical names)

IS THE day of love letters over, now that we communicate by email or text, or by poking people on Facebook? Bridget Hourican, literary editor of The Dubliner magazine, reminds us of the heady days of love missives, when the sight of her beloved's handwriting could send a woman into a tizzy, in her new book, Straight From The Heart, Irish Love Letters.

The collection includes letters from James Joyce to Nora Barnacle, from Charles Stewart Parnell to Katherine O'Shea and Michael Collins to Kitty Kiernan.

The 40-year-old poet is writing to the great unrequited love of his life to tell her that he no longer loves her. Hilda Moriarty was a stunning 22-year-old medical student when Kavanagh developed an obsession with her, stalking her around Dublin and even to her family home in Dingle.

62 Pembroke Road.

31 May 1945.

My dearest Hilda,

Please do not take exception to the address of 'dearest' or think it a presumption on my part. I am no longer mad about you although I do like you very very much. I like you because of your enchanting selfishness and I really am your friend - if you will let me.

I should not, perhaps, write this letter to you without you replying to my other, but I am in such a good humour regarding you that I want you to know it. Remembering you is like remembering some dear one who has died. There has never been - and never will be - another woman who can be the same to me as you have been. Your friendship and love or whatever it was, was so curious, so different.

Write to me a friendly letter even if I cannot see you. I met Cyril in the Country Shop and he was looking well,

Believe me, Hilda,

Yours fondly,


George Bernard Shaw to Alice Lockett

Twenty-seven year-old George Bernard Shaw uses his considerable wit to impress Alice Lockett, younger by a few years. He has no money or fame - theatrical success is still two decades away - yet the middle-class, English, conventionally-educated Alice is intrigued by the Irish bohemian. Throughout his long life Shaw carried out intense flirtations with numerous women whom he bombarded with letters, but generally didn't seek to sleep with.

36 Osnaburgh Street NW

9th September 1883.

Forgive me. I don't know why, on my honor (sic); but in playing on my own thoughts for the entertainment of the most charming of companions last night, I unskillfully struck a note that pained her -- unless she greatly deceived me. I have felt remorseful ever since, and she has been reproaching herself all day for wilfully missing a train. Heavens! to regret having dared at last to be frank and kind! Did you not see at that moment a set of leading strings fall from you and hang themselves upon me in the form of golden chains? The heart of any other man would have stopped during those seconds after you had slowly turned your back upon the barrier and yet were still in doubt. Mine is a machine and did not stop; but it did something strange.

It put me in suspense, which is the essence of woman's power over man, and which you had never made me feel before -- I was always certain of what you would do until the question of the train arose. And I repaid you for the luxury by paining you. I did not intend to do so any more than you intended to please me, so forgive forgive forgive forgive forgive me.


Straight From The Heart, Irish Love Letters, by Bridget Hourican, published by Gill & Macmillan, price €19.99.