A 105-year-old Santa letter written by a Dublin brother and sister came to light in 2011, offering a fascinating glimpse into the Christmas spirit of old and life in Ireland's capital city in the early 20th century, just five years before the 1916 Easter Rising.
The letter, written by the Howard family siblings to Father Christmas in 1911, was found in a Terenure house when builder John Byrne came across the handwritten note on a shelf behind a fireplace. It has been slightly scorched over the years but the majority of the contents of the letter could still be read.
The brother and sister penned the letter in their Dublin home on Christmas Eve 1911 when they requested gifts and offered a ‘good luck’ message to Santa Claus.
The message to Santa was warm but explicit. “I want a baby doll and a waterproof with a hood and a pair of gloves and a toffee apple and a gold penny and a silver sixpence and a long toffee,” wrote Hannah Howard, known as Annie, then aged ten years old, who would celebrate her eleventh birthday that Christmas Day.
The letter was placed in the chimney of the fireplace in the front bedroom so that Father Christmas would see it as he made his way into the house in the early hours of the morning.
“At that time, the fireplaces were made of brick with a shelf on either side,” said John Byrne. “The letter was found on one of the shelves.”
The Irish Times reports that, as well as the requests for gifts from Santa, the letter also contains drawings and the ‘good luck’ message.
The 1911 census states there were three children living at the address. Hannah, who was 10 at the time, and Fred, who was seven, fit in with the initials on the letter. A third child, a 13-year-old called Lily, is also listed. The Howard family, including dad Fred and mom Mary, were all born in England and listed their religion as Church of Ireland.
On reading an article about the letter in the Irish Times, a man living in Bangor, Co. Down, quickly recognized the young girl writing the letter as his mother and his uncle Alfred. not even when his wife referred to the address of his former family home in Dublin.
Victor Bartlem didn’t realize the significance of the tale at first as his wife read out the details in the Irish Times. He didn’t make the connection with his late mother Annie at first, not even when his wife referred to the address of his former family home in Dublin. It was only when Hannah’s name was mentioned that Victor realized his mother’s role in the fascinating story.
“I simply couldn’t believe it. I never knew about this letter. I never even knew it existed,” Victor told the Irish Times.
“My mother attended the Zion Church of Ireland school in Rathgar before going on to marry Alfred Bartlem in 1931, with whom she had two sons, Howard and Victor. She and Alfred moved to a house on Lomond Avenue, Fairview, shortly after they married, where she died in 1978,” reported Victor.
He added that his mother had been extremely creative, excelling at various forms of needlework and later at woodwork and was also an expert baker of cakes and other confectionery.
Her niece Iris Murphy, who lives in Dublin, also contacted the paper after she was alerted to her aunt’s story when her daughter in Tasmania read about it on IrishTimes.com.
“My aunt was a very happy-go-lucky person with a great sense of humor,” said Iris.
* Originally published in 2011.