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Title: McIlrath, James L to McIlrath, William, 1891
CollectionThe McIlrath Letters: A family history in letters from New Zealand to Ireland (1860-1915) [Bassett, McKee et al.]
SenderMcIlrath, James L
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationfarmer
Sender Religionunknown
OriginLakeside, Canterbury, New Zealand
DestinationKillinchy, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
RecipientMcIlrath, William
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count1167
Genrefamily, illness, decease, weather, harvesting
Canterbury N.Z.
February 24th 1891

Dear Brother William
I received your welcome and kind letter by last mail. It is refreshing
to get news from (Home) I still call it Home yet although I have lived
longer here than in old Ireland, but I believe if we lived here for a
century we would still call the place of our birth Home.
It is refreshing to hear that you are all well and our Dear Mother
is honoured with such a ripe old age. For the loss of your daughter I
can easily know how you would all feel having experience. I think I
may say there is not a pang that rends the heart of which I have not
had a part. But we are told that the Lord loveth whom he chasteneth
and that he will in no wise lay upon us more than we can bear, but
still I have been constrained to say with Him who spake as never man
spake. Father if it is possible let this cup pass from me but not my
will but thine be done. My cup was overflowing and I had to drink it
to the very dregs and a bitter drink it was that night my dear partner
breathed her last. I like not to recount tales of woe but I cannot help
giving you an outline of what I have come through for nearly the past
two years.
On the 22nd of May 1889 my dear Wife left home to visit her
brothers William and Robert (Robert you will know). Her sister
Mrs Anthony formerly Harriett was to accompany her. She lives in
Christchurch. They spent the first day in Christchurch seeing the
Museum, Domain and gardens and was going to wait until after
the 24th as I had advised her not to travel by train on the Queen's Birthday as the train would be crowded and they had a distance of 80
miles to go by rail. But alas for human hopes and plans, she went to
bed feeling tired and unwell and was not up for three months.
I received a telegram to go to see her at once and for those three
months I was going a distance of 32 miles by train and 3 miles to train
by trap, once and twice a week to see her. I took a Doctor with me
that had attended her before, one Doctor was with her and a third was
called in to hold a consultation and the case was pronounced hopeless.
Still she recovered and got home very weak but gradually got almost as
well as ever.
Before she left I felt my left knee a bit stiff but, it being our winter
that I was so much by train, I got gradually worse and as she recovered
my knee got worse and on the 28th of this month last year I was
compelled to keep to bed out of which - not even on the bedroom
floor. For seven months I could not turn to the right side or to the
left. Weeks without sleep, lanced three times, and the skin came
off my back with being so much lying on it. It was thought I would
never be out of that bed alive but God ordered it otherwise. Well
all this time my Dear Wife was nursing me tenderly as only Wife or
Mother can, and when at last a faint gleam of hope broke through of
my recovery, wearied with anxiety and sleepless nights she was forced
to take to bed and never rallied. The Doctors would not allow us in
the one bedroom so that all mutual communication ceased and I never saw her again only the evening before she died I was carried through
to see her but could not sit but a few minutes and had to be carried
back to bed. That was the last look I should see of one who had been
a faithful partner for over 21 years. The cup was nearly full now but
when a few hours after I was told she was dead, it overflowed. The
decree had gone forth and partake I must. Doubts
and fears had to yield to stern reality and Oh the
bitterness of that cup, it may be faintly imagined
but words is inadequate to describe its effects. Time
may modify but not wholly eradicate until the great
physician prescribes the cure that relieves us from all
infirmities. Friends and Neighbours in abundance
came to sympathise and attend the funeral but among
all I felt alone. There was a gap, a void, a chasm
that all combined could not fill. Brother Hamilton
and his oldest son stopped about a week and did all
in their power to assist and alleviate our misery. It
was doubted that shock would be fatal to me in my weak state but
the Almighty who moves in most mysterious ways saw fit to sustain
and gradually to lead to my recovery for which I feel most devoutly
thankful. I can now go about a little and drive out by myself but I
never get out of the trap away from home. I feel really sick of this
subject and would rather have wrote sooner only I believe we should
let, like a sick patient, sorrow sleep. I should write to brother John and will soon but I do not like to recapitulate this woeful tale at present.
Do show him this and tell him and family I will write and that I am
truly sorry about not being able to reply to their several kind letters,
and my two oldest boys Johnie and William was on a visit to their
Uncle Hamilton's and brought home the portraits of three of as fine
young ladies as we have seen for a long time and asked me to guess
who they were but I could never have guessed if they had not told me.
When you write again let me know how our old friends
and playmates the Messrs Jellies and sisters are, I many times think
of them.
We have had one of the driest summers here this one that I
remember, it puts me in mind of hearing the old people talk of the
year of short corn, it is short enough here this year. We have just
finished stacking, Johnie can manage the reaper and binder very well.
It is nice to see the sheafs come off bound, but still I think the old
harvest with the hook looked merry.
Wishing you all health and happiness and that when I write again
it will not be such a gloomy subject. I may say all the family is well,
there are four boys Johnie 21, William 18, Robert 16, and James
Hamilton 15 and three girls Matilda 14, Agnes 13, and Eva 11.
The oldest 21 and the youngest 11 years.
I remain your affectionate brother, James L. McIlrath