Belfast Telegraph

Monday 30 May 2016

1800s love letters that reveal transatlantic tug-of-war for heart of Fermanagh beauty

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 13/02/2016

Immigrants leaving Ireland for the US in the 1800s
Immigrants leaving Ireland for the US in the 1800s

A forgotten love story involving a young woman from Fermanagh has emerged after more than a century.

Romantic letters sent to Anne Weir - one containing a proposal of marriage - were unearthed by staff at the Public Record Office (PRONI) in Belfast.

Miss Weir had a series of American suitors after emigrating to the United States in the 1800s.

One admirer became so enamoured with her that he wrote asking her to marry him.

But she later returned to Ireland and married a local man.

The tale is detailed in papers held by the Weir family, now in the care of PRONI.

The family were farmers in the townland of Edenclaw, near Ederney.

The two eldest daughters, Isabella and Anne, emigrated to Michigan in America's midwest in 1885, where they worked for their uncle

Around 350 letters and family documents - dating from 1885 to 1933 - are held in PRONI's archives.

Some are letters addressed to Anne from friends and family at home, and from her sister and other acquaintances in America.

The correspondence includes the story of two men's quest to win her affections.

Janet Hancock from PRONI explained: "One is from a Caleb Jackson who lived in Birmingham, Michigan, to Anne and it shows how their feelings towards one another changed over the years.

"In this letter, Caleb states '... I think I know nearly what your feelings were towards me in the past, whether they have changed or not I do not know.

"'But I do know that mine have towards you, for I have learned to appreciate sense and sincerity better than I used to'.

"He goes on to ask for permission to correspond with Anne 'if you have no other gentleman friend of whom you think more highly'."

But Caleb had competition for Anne's affections from William J Weir, another American who refers to her as 'Dear Cousin'.

Janet added: "William J Weir's romantic intentions become increasingly pronounced in his writings, and eventually lead to a proposition of marriage.

"This proposal was clearly taken seriously, as a draft response is the sole item of correspondence written by Anne in the archive. However, she declined."

Undeterred, William continued to write to Anne until she returned to Fermanagh in the summer of 1892.

Anne remained in Ireland after this visit and, in the end, chose neither of her admirers in America.

She went on to marry a local man by the name of John Weir, who despite sharing a surname was no relation.

Her elder sister Isabella married and made a home in America.

Janet said: "While it might seem old-fashioned in the days of the internet and dating apps, love letters were one of the few ways of wooing a potential partner in the late 1800s.

"Relationships took place across continents, and over weeks and months.

"Carefully written letters, rather than texts or instant messages, were the main form of communication.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing, and those which survive in the PRONI archives provide a valuable and personal insight into people's lives."

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