Tell the children it's okay: the Toyman is back. And he’s fine – honestly, absolutely fine! After what he described as a mild dose of "the thing", Ryan Tubridy returned to the airwaves on Tuesday morning.
Naturally, he had a lot of catching up to do, but his biggest challenge might just have been reading all the letters he’s received from children since he asked them to write to him as a way of relieving any potential boredom they might be feeling during the great shutdown.
Now he’s pondering what to do with the letters once he’s replied to them. Dr. Sandra Collins, director of the National Library of Ireland, had an idea about that.
"For future generations, this will be the record of this really momentous time in Irish history for us all."
The National Library, Sandra tells Ryan, collects all aspects of Irish life and keeps it safe forever in the library and people can view it at any time – pandemic permitting, of course. And the letters children sent to Ryan will be a great addition to the library’s collection:
"Children’s experience, young people’s experience – their voices, kept safe forever. That’s really important."
We were delighted that @RyanTubridyShow had @SandriCollins on earlier to talk about the National Library archiving the letters and pictures coming in to Ryan. We thought you might like to see the examples of children's voices already in the collection that she talked about 1/4— National Library of Ireland (@NLIreland) April 7, 2020
The library has extensive collections of the letters sent by children reacting to major events through the years and Sandra had some to hand for a delighted Ryan to listen to. Like the one from a 10-year-old girl who wrote to Bob Geldof to thank him for Live Aid:
"I think you're great. And if you brushed your hair, you could look quite handsome."
Sandra had another letter for Ryan, this time from a 16-year-old: Daly Clarke, son of 1916 leader Tom Clarke and Kathleen Clarke, one of the founders of Cumann na mBan. Daly is writing to his mother, who is in prison in Britain in 1918. The letter paints a little portrait of how Daly and his two little brothers, Emmet and Tom Jr, are getting on in their mother’s absence:
"I think Emmet is getting his picture taken to send to you to see how he looks. I am going to bed now, so goodbye."
This sort of personal correspondence that can be viewed in the library’s archive is such a good way for people to be brought directly into a moment in history. A more modern piece of correspondence comes from schoolchildren writing to Seamus Heaney, thanking him for visiting their class. It’s a short, hand-drawn card that simply says:
"Thank you for coming. We loved the story that you told us."
The letter Daly Clarke, son of Kathleen and Proclamation signatory Tom Clarke, wrote to his imprisoned mother in 1918 brings us right into those times: "The soldiers did not search the house afterwards. We are sending you a parcel today and hope you will get it soon" 3/4 pic.twitter.com/319wcS5bwr— National Library of Ireland (@NLIreland) April 7, 2020
The hand-drawn picture on the front of the card depicts a mermaid and a person – possibly a fisherman – in a yellow raincoat. Sandra doesn’t know what the drawing refers to, but it’s reasonable to presume it might be related to the story the poet told the class.
She also doesn’t know what school the card is from, just that it was found in a folder of paraphernalia from the 1970s. The card is in the library’s Seamus Heaney exhibition, so when something approaching normal life resumes, you might want to practise your detective skills and work out where they came from and what story the great poet told them.
Dr. Collins wants to get her hands on what Ryan calls his "Covid correspondence" because, she says, it should be kept for future generations:
"Some of the things that are just unique and irreplaceable are our social history and that’s the lived experience of people during this time. We think we won’t forget a moment of it, but we will and future generations won’t have lived what we’ve lived, so that’s just to capture this moment in time, ordinary voices, children’s experience, what they’re worried about, how they’re filling their time."
You can hear the full chat between Ryan and Dr. Sandra Collins here.
And you can visit the National Library of Ireland online at nli.ie.