Monday, June 6, 2011

Searching for John Martin

Please forgive any mistakes in the following post as it is translated by my Granddaughter in the sun room of our B&B in Northern Ireland and she finds my handwriting quite mysterious. 

Ireland is at its best when spring turns to summer, and for the first time, I am here to see the seasonal transformation. The fields are a youthful green still, rose buds will soon be fragrant blossoms, the fields which John Martin managed and loved are brightened by a warm sun and scented by gentle winds.

Actually, the secrets of John's life cannot be found in this tranquil place. They are to be found in the libraries of Irish cities. So I went first to the National Library in Dublin to search for information on miles of microfilm for John's public letters, and folders of private letters he wrote to friends, and out of print books written by contemporaries.

This time I found Dublin agog over other visitors: the Queen of England and the President of the United States. Security concerns made actual spotting of the visitors difficult, but I could tell they were nearby when helicopters hovered overhead or streets were closed to traffic. But research went on pretty much undisturbed.

I held no expectation for major discoveries, after all I had read most Irish newspapers published during John's years of political leadership and had finished the last folio of John's letters at the end of the last trip. 

However, on Friday May 20th, I learned I had set my expectations far too low. A new search program revealed references that I had not yet read. When I arrived at the manuscript library that morning, I found several documents ready for me to explore. The young woman at the desk asked me which one I wanted to work with first. 'It doesn't matter at all,' I replied.

So she handed me the thin green book that topped the pile and I carried it to my favorite desk by the window. This unfamiliar source was titled Letters of Thomas F Meahger. It contained letters from a number of Irish leaders including John Martin. According to a newspaper article from 1948 attached to the front of the book, the letters had been discovered in Australia and given to Eamon Devalara to return to Ireland. 

I settled in to read the letters John had written. He always wrote in clear but very small handwriting so there was much information per page. One of the first letters in the collection was one that John wrote from Paris on December 5th, 1854. It contained a stunning surprise about John's life that made clear how much he had sacrificed to serve his country. A routine research trip had suddenly become a very special adventure instead.

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