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In Praise of Letters and Cards


In the years when I was young and growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, we were all used to sending and receiving letters on a fairly regular basis. I even had a pen pal in England whom I corresponded with diligently for a few years.

When I was in my twenties a friend of mine went to work in Chile for three years and we stayed in touch.  It was lovely to receive mail from a totally different part of the world and indeed I used to look forward to her letters.  There was a faint feeling of the exotic about the airmail paper with the strange stamps and news from a place so many thousands of miles away.

I still have those letters and when I look at them again they immediately transport me back to that time. They also recall to mind events and people in the past that I have forgotten and sometimes those memories make me smile.  What happened many years ago comes alive again.

Snail Mail

These days of course other forms of communication are to the fore and emails probably make up the bulk of our correspondence. Together with texts, they have taken the place of what is rather mockingly referred to as ‘snail mail’.  We now have two-way messages in the form of tweets and direct messages on Social Media.   There is no need to wonder about other people’s lives as the answer usually comes back in seconds and why would you write down in words descriptions about people and what they do when rapid-fire pictures can be sent on Instagram.

Sitting down with a  pen, spending time and effort putting your thoughts on paper, sealing the envelope,  heading out to find a post office,  buying a stamp, and making your way to the post box is just not something young people do anymore.  It probably appears to be irrelevant and too much trouble when you can simply tap out your message on a keyboard or screen, press send, and in less than a moment, it has arrived at its destination.  This is all done in an efficient manner with no fuss plus it costs nothing   And yet it remains a truth that a well-written letter or card can be one of the least expensive and most meaningful ‘gifts’ that you will ever give.

Making it Special

When you take the time to write a letter or card it shows you care enough about that person to make the effort to communicate with them in a very personal manner.  Immediately it gives them a sense of being ‘special’.  It makes a welcome change from bills, circulars, and junk mail as well as showing that you cherish the relationship and want to invest in it.

Emails can get lost and buried in our inboxes and texts be deleted once read.  However, letters can be kept for years and years as treasured keepsakes, reminding us of loved ones who have died, old loves, significant experiences, and places we spent happy hours visiting.   While texts and emails are mostly reactionary writing letters is much more deliberate.  You write because there is something you want to say, not something you need to know.  Writing our thoughts down gives them more clarity; if we could speak to a person in a really meaningful manner what would we say? With just a few strokes of the pen, we have the power to encourage a loved one, inspire a friend or kindle a romance!

Everyone’s handwriting is unique of course and this adds to the intimate dimension of the whole exercise.  The sight of a person’s writing brings them immediately into the presence of another.  There is an abundance of beautiful stationery and cards with pictures of flowers and fauna and other images which add colour to what we send and give it an extra personal stamp.


The art of letter writing has a long history and the first one to have been recorded was written by Persian Queen Atossa circa 500 BC.   The stamped letter we are familiar with today came into being in the reign of Queen Victoria in 1840.

Pigeons were one of the first letter carriers because of their good sense of direction and the system came to be known as the pigeon post.  Horses and other animals were also deployed before the specific individual whom we know as the postman came into being.

Letters are responsible for a great deal of what we know about history and are excellent and invaluable primary sources.  For example, if anyone doubted the love Henny VIII had for Ann Boleyn they need only refer to his letters.  In the earliest, written in May 1572, he tells her he has “ been for above a whole year stricken with the dart of love”, while in a later letter he writes, “my heart and I surrender ourselves into your hands”, signing himself “your loyal servant. H.R.”  He tells Anne that, “wherever I am I am yours”, while another note is decorated with hearts containing his love’s initials interspersed with his own name.


In this time of pandemic when Covid-19 has made so many people isolated and alone wouldn’t it be a lovely idea to get in touch with someone by letter or card (they count too!) and brighten up their day.  Not only will it give then a warm glow but it will make you feel good as well!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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