Judy Malloy
From Ireland With Letters

From Ireland With Letters has been featured in the exhibition Les littératures numériques d'hier á demain at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, (Labo BNF) Paris, France, September 24 thru December 1, 2013; FILE 2012, Electronic Language International Festival, Sao Paulo, Brazil, July 16 - August 19, 2012; and Hold The Light, the 2014 Electronic Literature Organization Conference, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, June 18-21, 2014, among other places.

Intertwining Irish history and generations of Irish American family memories in a work of polyphonic literature based on the rhythms of ancient Irish Poetry, the imagined lost Irish Sonata, the madrigal, streams and fountains, and Irish song, From Ireland with Letters is an epic electronic manuscript told in the public space of the Internet. It could also be considered playable text or generative hyperfiction.

The role of displacement and disrupted tradition in the work of contemporary Irish authors [1] is paralleled in this polyphonic Irish American electronic manuscript, which interweaves the stories of Walter Power -- who came to America as an Irish slave on The Goodfellow in 1654, stolen from his family by Cromwell's soldiers and sold in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when he was 14 years old -- and his descendant, 19th century Irish American sculptor Hiram Powers, who grew up on a Vermont farm and moved to Florence, Italy, where his work played a symbolic role in the fight against African American slavery in America.

How to Read From Ireland with Letters

Each part of From Ireland with Letters is separate and written in a different structure and tempo, but the whole is integrated by themes introduced in the opening Prologue. Although the workings of each section are different, as a general rule, the work can be read either by waiting for the text to change on its own (as if watching a film or listening to a piece of music) or by clicking on any lexia, in which case the reader takes control of how the story is explored in the manner of hypertext fiction. The authoring system varies from the unmeasured notation in parts I-III, to the measured notation (malloy: fiddlers_passage) in parts IV and V. (set forth in the score for fiddler's passage and the score for the "Sinfornia" to Junction of Several Trails)

Each part of this work of polyphonic/polychoral literature is created with three or four moving columns of poetic text that -- like a piece of music -- work together in counterpoint. And it should be noted that just as a listener needs to listen to a complex work of Baroque music more than once to understand how it works, each part of From Ireland with Letters benefits from several readings. (or "replays")


The sound of the fiddle
brought the forests of ancient Ireland
into the imagination of the audience,
for the pub was situated in a part of New Hampshire,
where pine and deciduous forests still crowded onto the hillsides;
the lakes were clear; and they knew by the music what she meant.

The story is true, but the characters who tell it in From Ireland with Letters are fictional. Walter Power's story is told by his descendant Máire Powers, an Irish American fiddler who is writing a lay about 17th century Ireland and Irish slavery in America; Hiram Powers' story is told by 19th century art historian Liam O'Brien, who is researching the sculptor's life and work.

Boston, Massachusetts: My Grandmother, Ethel Powers
and my Grandfather, Walter Powers, who first told me the story of Hiram Powers

The sculptor Hiram Powers, whose work The Greek Slave was influential in the fight against slavery was the descendent of Irish slave Walter Power's fourth child Thomas. The writer of this work, Judy Malloy, is the descendent of his first child, William.

The pursuit of this story began years ago, when her grandfather, Walter Powers, told her the story of Hiram Powers.

..."And, of course, there, in a vision of the night,
I saw a man whose name was Victoricus
coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters,
and he gave me one of them,
and I read the beginning of the letter:
'The Voice of the Irish'..."

Saint Patrick, Confessio

The title of this work is taken from Saint Patrick's Confessio, where the words are "from Ireland with innumerable letters". Having escaped from slavery in Ireland, Saint Patrick, had a vision of a man from Ireland asking him -- with many letters -- to return to Erin.

In his "Letter To Coroticus", Patrick was also one of the first people whose words against slavery are recorded.

The Literature of the Gaelic Revival

The documentation of what happened in Ireland from 1649-1654 has been acquired with research and reading, particularly in books written during the Gaelic Revival in Ireland. These books are a treasure of Irish history, and the discovery and reading of such texts are an integral part of this work. This trail of library discovery and the parallel trail of the influence of early music, fiddle music and Irish poetry on the interface of a poetic electronic manuscript are documented in the From Ireland with Letters writer's notebooks at:

Notes on the Creation of the Prologue to From Ireland with Letters
March 17, 2010 - December 8, 2010

Notebook for Begin with the Arrival and passage
January 14, 2011 - June 29, 2012

Notebook for fiddler's passage and Junction of Several Trails
July 4, 2012 - April 12, 2013

Notebook for "Gone with our Wanderers
May 2013 - January, 2014

Notation in Electronic Literature

Resonant of the ancient Irish lay and the tradition of the ceilidh, From Ireland with Letters is a continuing work of polyphonic electronic literature, told in the public space of the Internet.

Influenced by the public literature aspects of the creation of my pioneering hypertext, Uncle Roger -- which was first created on Art Com Electronic Network on The WELL in 1986 -- my telling of epic works of electronic literature continued in 1988 with the writing and programming of its name was Penelope, which was first exhibited at the Richmond Art Center in 1989 and published by Eastgate in 1993.

The authoring system for much of From Ireland with Letters uses the text-based musical composition structure that I began in 1991 with the three-column Wasting Time (After the Book, Perforations 3, Summer, 1992) and resumed in Berkeley in 2009, influenced by early music at the University of California at Berkeley and in particular by Davitt Moroney's writing and performance, by visiting professor Pedro Memelsdorff's lectures on theory composers in late medieval Italy, and by books including Willi Apel, The Notation of Polyphonic Music 900-1600, 4th edition, Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1949 and Carl Parrish, Notation of Medieval Music, NY: Norton, 1957.

The final two parts, the post-colonial The Not Yet Named Jig and the Irish American song, when we return again, are written in variations of the generative hypertext authoring system, which I created in 1988 with both the third file of Uncle Roger and its name was Penelope.


1. Séan Crosson, "The Given Note": Traditional Music and Modern Irish Poetry, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008

From Ireland with Letters is copyright 2010-2015 Judy Malloy