When he was aged ten, broadcaster and journalist Flor MacCarthy’s son James sent a letter to President Michael D Higgins, saying that while his grandfather was diagnosed with dementia, he still remembers the taste of “proper honey”. Noting that there are honey bees in the grounds of Áras an Uachtárain, James enquired if he could buy a jar of honey from the President.
President Higgins wrote back and said a jar of the nectar was waiting for collection from Dublin Castle.
A sweet tale from five years ago and one that stayed with Flor. It got her wondering if letters to Ireland’s presidents from the public were archived.
“It opened a curiosity in me,” says Flor, originally from Skibbereen, now living in Dublin.
When she approached the Áras with her idea of putting together a book on the presidents’ letters, a member of staff there said ‘why hadn’t we thought of the idea?’
The Presidents’ Letters: An Unexpected History of Ireland is the title of Flor’s handsome hardback book that features more than 350 letters, memos, cards, telegrams, drawings, notes and photographs. It “reveals a personal and unexpected history of Ireland since the inauguration of our first president, Douglas Hyde. Most have never been published before and many never seen by the public,” says the press release.
As well as letters of congratulations, of resignation and of sympathy, there is a handwritten note from a president to a queen, a message sent to the moon, and a fond farewell from a poet.
There are begging letters, threatening ones, correspondence sent from parliaments and prisons, from war zones, refugee camps and homeless shelters.
There is a letter from Princess Grace of Monaco thanking President Éamon de Valera for the gift of a pony to her young daughter, Princess Caroline. A groomsman brought the animal to the principality.