staying in contact

Updated: Jul 4, 2020

In the early nineteenth century a woman called Ellen Hutchins lived and worked in Bantry. This small town, overlooking a beautiful bay surrounded by majestic mountains, was remote and hard to reach.

Ellen was a botanist. She corresponded with noted botanists of her day sending them samples of the plants she discovered. What began as professional relationships developed into friendships. As well as writing about plants, Ellen shared news of her family, her health, thoughts on the books she had read, her highs, her lows.

These letters have survived and are now an important primary source for those researching Ellen's life. What sources will historians use when researching life 200 years from now. Will emails, facebook posts and instagram images yield their stories?

I'm a late convert to social media. Emailing I get, but the rest of it leaves me slightly confused. There seems to be a lot of sharing going on.

However, I am slowly finding my place in this new world of information. I am following and friending and I have discovered something interesting. I am now in contact with many people with whom I had lost touch: people I have worked with; friends I have shared wild nights with; sisters of ex-boyfriends; cousins in Australia; cousins in Holland; cousins in Wicklow; women I knew from college; women I knew from school and a very dear friend whom I first met at six years old when she rudely ran over my foot while on her tricycle. And while I don't communicate daily with all these people I am conscious that they are back in my life. I feel a sense of groundedness. All the dangling threads of my life have been picked up and re-woven back into the pattern that is Jenny Dempsey.

For the past few weeks I've been working on a small biography about Ellen Hutchins. The book is written by her great-great-grandniece who lives in the UK. All our communication has been carried out email. Like Ellen before us, we are writing letters to each other. And, like Ellen, as well as all the professional correspondence, we have shared snippets of our lives and ourselves.

In early twenty-first century I live and work in Bantry. This small town, overlooking a beautiful bay surrounded by majestic mountains, is still remote and hard to reach. Yet I find that I am able to be in touch with whole of the world.

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