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Copyright 1989 Green Linnet Records, Inc. This version of the lyrics thanks to Paddy Waldron. Washington, D.C. songwriter Peter Jones based this song on a series of letters, spanning over half a century in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, from members of a family in the village of Kilkelly in County Mayo to two sons in the United States.


    by Peter Jones
    [Em] Kilkelly, Ireland, [G] eighteen and sixty,
    My [D] dear and loving son [Em] John,
    [Em] Your good friend the schoolmaster [G] Pat McNamara
    [D] so good as to write these words [Em] down.
    [G] Your brothers have all gone to [D] find work in England,
    [C] the house is so empty and [D] sad.
    [Em] The crop of potatoes is [G] sorely infected,
    [D] a third to a half of them [Em] bad.
    [G] And your sister Brigid and [D] Patrick O’Donnell
    [C] are going to be married in [D] June.
    [Em] Your mother says not to [G] work on the railroad
    [D] and be sure to come on home [Em] soon.

    Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen and seventy,
    My dear and loving son John,
    Hello to your missus and to your four children,
    may they grow healthy and strong.
    Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble,
    I suppose he never will learn.
    Because of the dampness, there’s no turf to speak of,
    and now we have nothing to burn.
    and Bridget is happy you named a child for her,
    although she’s got six of her own.
    You say you found work, but you don’t say what kind,
    or when you’ll be coming home.

    Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen and eighty,
    Dear Michael and John, my sons,
    I’m sorry to give you the very sad news
    that your dear old mother has gone.
    We buried her down at the church in Kilkelly,
    your brothers and Brigid were there.
    You don’t have to worry, she died very quickly,
    remember her in your prayers.
    And it’s so good to hear that Michael’s returning,
    with money he’s sure to buy land,
    for the crop has been poor,
    and the people are selling at any price that they can.

    Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen and ninety,
    My dear and loving son John,
    I suppose that I must be close on 80,
    it’s 30 years since you’ve gone.
    Because of all of the money you sent me,
    I’m still living out on my own.
    Michael has built himself a fine house,
    and Brigid’s daughters are grown.
    Thank you for sending your family picture,
    they’re lovely young women and men.
    You say that you might even come for a visit,
    what joy to see you again.

    Kilkelly, Ireland, eighteen and ninety-two,
    My dear brother John,
    I’m sorry I didn’t write sooner to tell you
    that Father passed on.
    He was living with Brigid,
    she says he was cheerful and healthy right down to the end.
    And you should have seen him playing with the grandchildren
    of Pat McNamara your friend.
    And we buried him alongside of Mother,
    down at the Kilkelly churchyard.
    He was a strong and a feisty old man,
    considering his life was so hard.
    And it’s funny the way he kept talking about you,
    he called for you at the end.
    Why don’t you think about coming to visit,
    we’d all love to see you again.