Document of the Day: By Audrey Kinch, Maynooth University Library.
It was a pleasure to sit back and read a letter sent in 1977 by Irish writer, Seán Ó Faoláin, on behalf of himself and his wife Eileen in Ireland, to their friends Munira Hamud Mutran and her husband Marcello in Brazil. At the time, Ó Faoláin was seventy-seven and still active in his career. Mutran was a young academic in Brazil. She had completed her PhD thesis on Ó Faoláin’s short stories the previous year in 1976, and would go on to become Professor of Literatures in English in the University of São Paulo in 2000. They enjoyed a correspondence over fourteen years and an enduring friendship for many more. Mutran received an honorary doctorate from Maynooth University in 2008, and she donated the letters to the University Library.
Seán Ó Faoláin was born in Cork in 1900. He attended the Lancasterian School and the Presentation Brother’s College. In 1918, he began studying in University College Cork. He completed an MA in Irish in 1924 and an MA in English 1925. Ó Faoláin was a nationalist and a member of the Irish Volunteers. Throughout his life, he travelled widely within his career and also for leisure. He taught Anglo-Irish literature at Boston College in Massachusetts and English language and literature at St. Mary’s Training College in South West London. He was married to children’s writer Eileen Gould, they had two children, Julia and Stephen, and they lived in Killiney, County Dublin. Ó Faoláin published works in fiction and non-fiction. His first novel, A Nest of Simple Folk was published in 1934 and he continued writing throughout his life. He was granted the freedom of Cork city in 1988, and passed away at the age of 91 in 1991.
The letter that I have selected from the archive reads as follows:
“Dear Marcello, Munira,
Lovely to hear from you both and thanks for the elegant desk diary. We have often thought of you. My publisher insists on producing a selection of my best? stories in 1978 and so does his American counterpart. Our lives are as quiet as a mouse when the cat is around. It rains and blows but we reck not. One of the regrets of age is non-participation i.e. not being part of the busy world outside; but this is also one of the charms of retirement.
Pardon this ‘used’ envelope – Eileen is sending out her Christmas cards in my envelopes and it is too wild and wet to go out for replacements! We do live like hibernating squirrels once December comes. This, it has been said, is why Scandinavian longships were so finely carved – in the days of short light they carved by the firelight. I like this wintry enclosure. It is a good time for writing, tho’ at my age I ‘potter’ rather than compose. We send you all our warmest affections.
Seán Ó Faoláin”
The letter exudes the warmth of the friendship and displays an ease of exchange in communication. At the top of the letter is a loop drawing of both Marcello and Munira’s names entwined at the letter “M”. The letter is also signed off warmly and fondly “Sempre”.
Dr Munira Mutran is Associate Professor of Literatures in English at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. In 2015-16, she attended Trinity College Dublin at the Long Room Hub as a Visiting Research Fellow.
Letters to Brazil: The Sean O’Faolain Archive can be consulted by appointment in the Special Collections and Archives Department at Maynooth University Library. For further details: firstname.lastname@example.org