Winifred Letts 1882-1972

Winifred Mabel Letts was born in Salford, near Manchester, the daughter of an English vicar and an Irish mother. She spent many holidays in Dublin with relatives during her childhood. After her father died in 1904 she moved with her mother to Dublin. Her education was firstly at a boarding school in Kent, then from the age of sixteen at Alexandra College in Dublin. She trained as a masseuse and when World War I broke out she joined the VADs as a nurse, working first in Ireland and then in England, treating casualties, many of whom had received serious injuries and amputations. A lot of her poems are based on her experiences during this period.

In 1926 she got married to a widower of 67, some 23 years her senior, and they lived together in Dublin until his death in 1943. He seems to have been rather controlling and objected to her attending the swimming baths and going to the theatre, but this did not stop her. During this period she became a member of the Irish Women’s Writers’ Club and was involved with various charities. After her husband’s death she moved to Faversham in Kent to live with her sisters for some years but she missed Ireland and returned there in 1950.

Winifred commenced her writing career with two plays, The Eyes of the Blind (1906) and The Challenge (1909), which were performed at the Abbey, Ireland’s National Theatre in Dublin. Thereafter she started to write children’s books and novels. Her first poetry collection, Songs from Leinster, was published in 1913. In 1916 during her time as a nurse she published Halloween and Other Poems of War, which included The Spires of Oxford and The Deserter. This was relaunched in 1929 as The Spires of Oxford and Other Poems. Her best prose work, written primarily for children, is considered to be Knochmaroon, an autobiographical reminiscence of her Dublin childhood.

Winifred Letts’s poems express her deep love of Ireland and speak directly to the heart, and her war poetry sensitively conveys the horrors of war. Some of her poetry, including the poem A Soft Day, was set to music by Sir Charles Villiers under the heading A Sheaf of Songs from Leinster. She moved into a nursing home in 1960 and died in 1972 at the age of ninety.

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