PHOTO DETAILS, above – This is a part of a letter written at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, Ireland by the late Martin J. Walsh Jr. of Murdock, Minnesota, to his family at home in Minnesota, 1953.
Letters home to Minnesota from Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel, and Paris
Jannet L. Walsh
September 14, 2022
It’s May 13, 1953, and my dad is staying at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, room 414, according to the hotel register. He’s having trouble booking a hotel room in England before traveling to France, and heading back to the United States. The big snag for his travel is in London, with Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation just a few weeks away, June 2, 1958.
My late father Martin J. Walsh Jr., age 28, (1924-2008), from Murdock, Minnesota, was on a trip of a lifetime in 1953. His nickname was Marty to avoid confusion with his Martin J. Walsh Sr., (1886-1985), with the nickname of Mart. My father spent his entire career working as a telegrapher and station manager for the Great Northern and Burlington Northern Railroad, 1943 to December 31, 1984. He was working for the same railroad, but the name changed. Learn more about my dad’s vintage Kodachrome images from Ireland at my website, and featured at IrishCentral, Seeing Ireland through my father’s vintage Kodachrome images.
During my father’s trip in 1953, his mother, Mary Jannet “Jennie” Walsh, was writing him at American Express offices in Belfast, Dublin, and Paris, about news from home, Dublin Township, Swift County, Minnesota. The family was living in the village of Murdock, the same location I live today. The 1950 US Census lists my father living at home with his parents and was likely saving his money from the railroad to finance his travels. I only have a handful of remaining letters and postcards, all with postage stamps have been removed from the envelopes as he was a stamp collector.
Today 69 years have passed since my father’s trip to Europe. It’s now September 12, 2022, about 9:30 am, CST, and I’m at home in Murdock, watching BBC.com coverage of the late Queen Elizabeth II as her coffin is carried on the shoulders of the Royal Regiment of Scotland into St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland for a service of reflection. I find myself crying as the coffin draped with the Royal Standard enters the ancient cathedral dating to 1124.
I’ve walked the street known as the Royal Mile, past St. Giles’ in the late 1990s, visiting the Camera Obscura, the Esplanade, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and Edinburgh Castle. The world watches as Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, the 16th Duke of Hamilton, places the Crown of Scotland on the coffin of the Queen. During my trip to Edinburgh, I heard the 105mm field gun fire at 1 pm, and visited the Crown Room where the Crown of Scotland is kept, the very same crown resting on the Queen’s coffin at St. Giles’. See video from St. Giles’ at the DailyMail.com.
Why am I am I crying? Did my father travel to England in 1953? On the way to Belfast, Northern Ireland, my father stopped at Gander International Airport, located in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, one of the busiest airports in the world in the 1950s, helping refuel airplanes for transoceanic travel, according to history at Gander International Airport.
Edinburgh and my family
My great grandmother Mary McGinty Walsh (1859-1952) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to an Irish family. In the mid-nineteenth century in Ireland the majority of McGinty households were located in County Donegal, 114, and more were dispersed around Ireland, according to John Grenham’s Irish surname website. Mary married Michael John Walsh Jr., (1858-1929) born in Ontario, Canada, my great grandfather. The couple lived next door to my Martin and Jennie Walsh Sr., my grandparents, in Murdock, the house that’s next door to me today. Folklore about my great grandmother Mary includes her being born on a ship in the harbor of Edinburgh when the family was arriving from Ireland or departing Scotland, but the facts are unknown. Learn more about my Canadian Irish family at my website.
My family severed ties to Great Britain, 1888
It was September 18, 1888, 124 years ago this week, my great great-grandfather Michael J. Walsh Sr., (born County Kilkenny, Ireland) and great grandfather Michael J. Walsh Jr.,(born Kingston, Ontario, Canada), appeared in the Swift County District Court, Benson, Minnesota, to solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States, and renounce specifically Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, reigning from 1837-1901. They were joined by J. C. Collins and M. J. Comerford as witnesses sworn to give personal knowledge of five years knowing my family to become citizens of the United States. When my family left Ireland under British Rule in the mid 1800s, moving to Ontario and New Brunswick, Canada, they did not escape from Britain governance. Canada today is still part of the British Commonwealth. King Charles III, as of Aug. 8, 2022, is now King of Canada after the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth, according to CBC Canada news.
I never met Queen Elizabeth in person and have no allegiance to the United Kingdom, yet my thoughts on why I cried while watching the late Queen Elizabeth’s coffin rest in St. Giles’ in Edinburgh is simple to explain. I’m human, and many people around the world are mourning the loss of this royal woman, spending 70 years in the public spotlight. Photographs and videos were shown around the world of the Queen and her new prime minister Liz Truss at Balmoral Castle in Scotland taken by Jane Barlow, photographer with PA Media, Sept. 6, 2022, two days before the death of the Queen. The last public photo session shows the Queen wearing a cardigan, blouse, plaid skirt, and her classic black handbag draped over her left arm. It was apparent the Queen was frail as she holds in her left hand a cane. The cane had my attention thinking of my own family members no longer living. Royal or not, we are human, entering and departing all with uncertainty.
Daily Mail, video: Queen was ‘frail’ says photographer who took last picture of her | Queen Elizabeth death reaction
The late Queen’s life differs in one certain area from most of the world as she inherited a troubled history of British colonization she did not start. This topic is of great interest in countries wanting to cut ties with the United Kingdom. “Some critics of the royal family see last week’s death of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch as an opportunity to re-envision the monarchy’s role and to finally acknowledge the struggles of all those who were affected by British imperialism around the world and in Britain itself,” writes Anisha Kohli of Time, Queen Elizabeth II’s Death Is a Chance to Examine the Present-Day Effects of Britain’s Colonial Past, Sept. 13, 2022.
Digging deeper, letter home to Minnesota from Dublin and Paris, 1953
My thoughts returned to my father about this 1953 trip to Europe as I remember him writing his folks back home in Minnesota about wanting to travel to England. I needed to find out if my father travelled to England.
Letter, May 13, 1953, Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
Pulling out a letter from Wednesday, May 13, 1953, written on Shelbourne Hotel stationary, I start searching for answers to my father’s travel plans. This Dublin hotel is located next to St. Stephen’s Green, dating back to 1824, and is the location the Constitution of the Irish Free State was drafted with Michael Collins a chairman, February to May 1922, according to the Shelbourne. I was able to search in the Shelbourne’s Museum for my father’s hotel registration in May 1953 with I visited in June 2018.
He writes his mother, known by her nickname Jennie, and notes he was receiving her letters just fine at American Express offices in Belfast and Dublin.
“I took the train from Belfast to Dublin yesterday and I am at Dublin at present. It is a very nice place, and I am taking a tour today. It goes to Glendalough and Avoca, and I am writing this on the bus while waiting for it to go out. They have the most wonderful flowers in Dublin that I have never seen, peonies and tulips. I went to Mass today.”Martin J. Walsh Jr., May 13, 1953, Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
Getting to the point about travel to England, he writes, “I plan to stay here [Dublin] about a week and then go to England and France. In England I may not stay hardly at all because the people are starting to come in for the coronation and it makes rooms etc. hard to get. I am planning on going to Lourdes while in France.”
My father writes about preparations for the coronation he saw in Northern Ireland before traveling to Dublin, and a list of gifts for the family back in Minnesota. “The people over here are very friendly, and the weather has been quite good. Northern Ireland is making ready for the coronation, and they have flags up with bunting etc. I have a pair of gloves for you, two pipes for Dad, a sweater for Agnes and Margaret. The train was very nice from Belfast to Dublin.” Agnes and Margaret are my father’s sisters, my aunts.
On the third page of this letter, my father makes a comment about British Rule and touring, “The south of Ireland is very nice as they don’t have the British Rule. . . . The bus driver on the tour is very interesting, and I know you would have liked him. I hope you are fine. Cordially, Martin.”
Letter, May 15, 1953, Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
The next letter my father talks about spotting royalty and a film star during his travels, and puts clarity to his travel plans.
“Dear Mother, . . . I have been in Dublin five days and it is a very beautiful city. . . . I saw Prince Aly Khan and Gene Tierney riding horseback in County Kildare during a bus trip I took on Friday. They have some very beautiful horses down there and all of Ireland is very beautiful. I was to Galway Bay, and I plan on taking the Killarney tour on Tuesday as it goes out only once a week.”
He mentions in his letter about taking some pictures, Kodachromes, and having them developed in Dublin, and they turned out good. I didn’t find any photos of the Khan and Tierney in my father’s photographs, but he did write about the famous couple to his mother, so it must be as he wrote as fact. View my father’s 1953 Kodachromes online from Ireland.
Prince Aly Khan was a socialite, diplomat from Pakistan, racehorse owner and jockey, and son of Aga Khan, a prominent religious leader to more than 15 million Ismaili Muslims, according to Anne Edwards, of Vanity Fair. Gene Tierney was a film star and actress dating Prince Khan in 1953. The couple attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in London with a location offering a bird’s-eye view of the Queen’s coronation route, according to Glamour of the Silver Screen.
My father’s Kodachromes give two possible locations in County Kildare where he viewed the prince and actress in Ireland. One of the photos from May 1953, no date given, was taken at the Curragh Race Track, located in County Kildare. The slide is labeled, “Curragh Race Track, note sheep. May 1953, between towns of Newbridge and Kildare.” The sheep were busy eating and trimming the grass at the same time.
The other likely location my father spotted Khan and Tierney was at the farms of the Irish National Stud and Gardens, County Kildare. He captured a photo of a mare and foal grazing in a green paddock. The slide is labeled, “View taken from the Japanese Gardens. This was taken on a cloudy day. The National Stud is kept in this farm field. May 15, 1953.”
Letter, May 23, 1953, Le Grand Hotel Du Louvre, Paris
In Paris, France, my father stayed at Le Grand Hotel Du Louvre according to his letter home to his mother. On May 23, 1953, he writes he’s been in the Paris for three days, and already toured the Palace of Versailles where the peace treaty was signed after World War I, 1919, and also mentions people getting suntans along the river Seine.
“I flew down from Dublin on Wednesday as I wanted to bypass England as the coronation would make this too crowded. I could see England from the air, and it looks very nice.”Martin J. Walsh Jr., May 23, 1953, Le Grand Hotel Du Lourve, Paris
My father took a short trip to Lourdes, France, and bought a panoramic print of the city that still is displayed above the upright piano today at my home. He departed Le Harve, France, May 28, 1953, for New York City on the S. S. United States.
My father had one chance in his life to visit England, but changed his travels due to preparations for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. I was delighted to read in his letters he viewed England, the island of Great Britain, from the air, flying from Dublin to Paris. He received an unexpected gift and memory he carried for a lifetime back home to Minnesota. I might call this the Queen’s coronation gift to my father for a journey disturbed.
Jannet L. Walsh of Murdock, Minnesota is a photographer, writer, and educator. She is the author of the forthcoming creative nonfiction quest narrative “Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota,” scheduled for publication in 2023 by Shanti Arts Publishing. You can follow Walsh on Facebook and Twitter, and on her other social media channels, with the hashtag #IrishFamilyHistoryDetective.