My mother’s autograph book tells the story of the early days of the State

Family Fortunes: The book is a treasure trove and a passion shared between mother and son

Charles E Kelly’s portrait of Éamon de Valera; and Pádraic Column’s autograph

Charles E Kelly’s portrait of Éamon de Valera; and Pádraic Column’s autograph

 

On New Year’s Day, 1941, my mother spotted political cartoonist Charles E Kelly on O’Connell Street in Dublin. She approached him with her autograph book and requested his autograph.

He signed his name and quickly penned a portrait of Éamon de Valera. The ink on the page was still so wet my mother had to wait some time before closing the book. The story of that cartoon is one of many my mother told me about the autograph book she carried everywhere as a teenager. She dared to ask Jim Larkin for his signature and, although he obliged, he also lectured her for allowing the ink to run low in her pen. She also wrote to many public figures of her time. Éamon de Valera, Seán Lemass, and Douglas Hyde were among the many politicians who replied. Gen Mannerheim of Finland sent his signature but Adolf Hitler did not – Herr Hempel replied on his behalf.

Poets and writers such as Pádraic Colum, Francis McManus and Temple Lane sent lovely letters, and actor Spencer Tracy supplied an autographed photograph. Elizabeth O’Farrell, one of the few women in the GPO in 1916, bemoaned in 1943: “The republic proclaimed in arms in 1916 and established by law in 1919 is now suppressed and a British Dominion. Usurps its functions.”

The book, however, is more than just a collection of signatures and pictures. It tells the tale of the characters in the story of the early days of the State. It also reveals the remarkable awareness of a girl with an insatiable appetite for writing letters and meeting people. As a child, I spent many wet Sundays listening to her stories of the people behind the signatures and of how the autographs were obtained.

Naturally, I started collecting autographs as well. She gave me tips on how to ensure you get something more than the standard response (a little flattery always helps). Between us, we have all the presidents of Ireland except Seán T O’Kelly. I must add Michael D to the collection. The book is a treasure trove of stories and memories, and a passion shared between mother and son.

We would love to receive your family anecdote. Email 400 words and a relevant photograph to familyfortunes@irishtimes.com. A fee will be paid

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