A mother's diary reveals hope in the midst of war

Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 01:00

Nearly a century after they were written, a mother’s poignant letters to her soldier son, missing in the Balkans during the first World War, have been published online

A DIARY written as a series of letters from a mother to her son missing in action in the Balkans in 1916 has been digitised and launched online.

Postgraduate students from Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork (UCC) have transcribed and annotated 132 diary entries written by Mary Martin, a wealthy Catholic widow and mother of 12 from Monkstown in south Dublin.

Ms Martin began writing the diary in January 1916 shortly after she was told that her son Charlie, a soldier with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was missing on the Salonika front.

Believing her son had been taken prisoner, she chronicled the daily activities of her family and friends against the backdrop of the Easter Rising and the first World War in the hope that the document would bring him up to date on events he missed when he returned.

“Since I heard you were missing as well as wounded, it has occurred to me to write the diary in the form of a letter. We hope to hear from you soon,” she wrote in her first entry.

The diary ended on May 25th, shortly before Ms Martin was told her 20-year-old son had been captured and killed the previous December.

“It is a very poignant collection, written by a woman whose experiences were similar to many mothers of the time,” says Prof Susan Schreibman, director of the M Phil in digital humanities at Trinity College.

“The diary was never meant for public consumption, so it is very candid. These were ordinary people going through extraordinary times,” she said, adding that the project “provides a model of how we can bring alive historical treasures too infrequently seen by the public”.

The online database was launched in Trinity College yesterday by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan.

“This online edition is a rich source for anyone interested in Irish history, military history, women’s history and genealogy and takes its place within a collection of other publicly available online resources that shed light on Ireland’s complicated past,” he said.

Sr Isabelle Smyth of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, an order founded by Charlie’s sister Marie, helped to provide biographical background on the family. The database features photographs and historical context in addition to the diary entries.

Sr Maura O’Donohue, who nursed Ms Martin in the year before her death in 1955, described her yesterday as a “very gracious, serene and quiet lady, who had great love for her children”.

Larry and Clive C Martin, two of Mary Martin’s surviving relatives, were also at yesterday’s launch.

The diary can be viewed at dh.tcd.ie/martindiary