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My mam’s letters might say, ‘Hold on, there’s someone at the door’

Writing letters to family back in Ireland over many years helped sustain Rosaleen Perry in the US and kept her connected to home

I come from Kildare town, but left Ireland along with throngs of people back in 1986. It was only supposed to be for six months.

Work hard, save and come back to Kildare. As the saying goes, we make a plan and God laughs.

My friends and I ended up in Red Bank, New Jersey, in the US. I moved into Manhattan for a few years, but ultimately ended up moving back to Red Bank. I loved the freedom of no one knowing me, loved being able to do what I wanted.

Although the homesickness was crippling at times, I wouldn’t give in.


I waitressed for a while, was a nanny for about nine years, and then found my way into the dental world, where I have been for the past 25 years.

The early days were tough – we didn’t have the phone at my home in Kildare, never mind the internet, so we had to write letters. That’s what Sundays were for! I knew that half a world away back in Ireland, mam was sitting at her kitchen table, tea (or brandy) in hand.

“My dear Rosaleen...”

I was heartbroken and lonely and homesick, but the stubborn Watson (my maiden name) streak in me wouldn’t let me go home

Her letters contained news of home and the inevitable death roster in the town. She wrote as though she was having a conversation with me. At times her letters said “hold on, there’s someone at the door”, and in my mind I could see her as she walked through the sittingroom to open the door, greeting whoever it was with “Ah c’mon, in I’m just writing a few lines to Rosaleen, would you like a cuppa? Or if it was Maura, Betty or Chrissie... a brandy.

Half a world away, I waited with bated breath for those letters.

Letters were our main form of communication, where, besides giving the news, we would make a date for her to be at a friend’s with a telephone. She would be there at the appointed hour, waiting for the call.

Oh how I loved those calls, just to hear her voice.

I sat at my table or on the bed here, read each letter, and formed my answers to her questions. Yes I was doing well, yeah I loved my job, yes I was happy, but truth be told, in those first few years my letters contained some lies. Actually, they contained a lot of lies. I was heartbroken and lonely and homesick, but the stubborn Watson (my maiden name) streak in me wouldn’t let me go home. I knew people at home would talk (and I was young enough then to care what people thought).

“Ah look, she couldn’t hack it, gave up and came home.”

“I knew she wouldn’t last.”

My mam saw right through it, and one of her letters to me started: “My darling homesick daughter.”

I remember opening that letter and sobbing my heart out. Should I just pack my bags and go home? Mam always said the door was never closed and I could come home any time I wanted, but again, the stubborn Watson streak made me stay. (I’m glad it did.)

My letter back was, “Don’t worry Beths (my mam’s name was Elizabeth Watson, but everyone called her Betty or Beths), I’ll be grand!”

With texting and WhatsApp and wanting instant gratification, letters have gone by the wayside

Even after she got the phone in, we continued our letter writing. The only difference now was, I didn’t have to set a time to phone her.

I told her things in those letters that I’m not sure I could have said face to face. I always knew I was loved, but it wasn’t a word that was used too much when I was growing up. I said it all the time in my letters though.

My mam passed in 1998 and my letters shifted to my uncle. They weren’t as frequent, and perhaps not as deep, but I did enjoy writing to him. Sadly, after he passed, my letter writing did too.

My cousins and I have tried to keep up the tradition, but with texting and WhatsApp and wanting instant gratification, letters have gone by the wayside.

Yet I wouldn’t give up that time of letter-writing with my mam for anything. The memories have sustained me over the years and gave me a connection to home that I’m not so sure would have been there without them.

Perhaps I’ll start it again.

  • Rosaleen Perry is from Kildare but now lives in Red Bank, New Jersey, where she is office manager for a dental office. She is the youngest of five siblings
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