The letters of Henry Stratford Persse, whose great-niece Augusta was to achieve literary celebrity as Lady Gregory of Coole Park, provide a striking account of Galway life, Irish misgovernment and American democracy by a lively and unconventional observer. Persse was a Customs official and distiller in the town of Galway, with three sons who had emigrated to Boston and thence to New York in 1821.
In a series of letters to his 'darling boys', Persse expressed his prescient distrust of the potato as a staple food, abhorrence of the sectarianism of many fellow-Protestants, dissatisfaction with economic exploitation in Ireland under the Union and admiration for liberty as practised in America. The editors skilfully reconstruct Persse's milieu in Galway, and also the dynamic development of New York and the Erie Canal in the era of Governor De Witt Clinton, with whom Persse corresponded. The publication of these unfamiliar letters is a major contribution to the history of Irish emigration, graphically depicting poverty and stagnation in the West of Ireland before the Great Famine.
James Pethica teaches English Literature at the University of Richmond, Virginia, and recently edited Lady Gregory's Diaries 1892-1902. James Roy's books include The Road Wet, the Wind Close: Celtic Ireland (1986) and Islands of Storm (1991).