On May 25th, 2019, a small but for Peterson fans significant event took place at the Latvian Embassy in Dublin: the book launch and celebration of Sandra Bondarevska’s Latvian-language Petersoni Īrijā, or Petersons in Ireland (Vesta LK, 2019). *
If you’ve had a chance to flip through The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, then you’ve seen photographs, documents and translations that wouldn’t be there had it not been for Sandra’s efforts and interest. A Latvian-Irish émigré journalist, Sandra came to Dublin, like many Latvians, after Ireland opened its job market to members of the EU in 2004.
For many years after her move to Dublin, Sandra worked on the Latvian-language newspaper Sveiks! Unsurprisingly, it was not too long after her arrival that she began to hear stories about a Latvian who stepped into a small Grafton street pipe shop and said that he’d made a revolutionary new design in tobacco pipes. And in what one might think of as Eliade’s “co-incidence” or Jung’s synchronicity, her office looked out on the old 56 O’Connell building (The Peterson Pipe, p. 141), with its wrap-around sign still proclaiming “KAPP AND PETERSON.”
In her journalist’s heart, Sandra felt more than a bit skeptical about the story, but that simply motivated her to want to know the facts: why did this Latvian boy leave his native country and come to Dublin? Did he have family in Ireland? Children? Who were his family in Latvia, and where was he born? Were any of his relatives still living in Latvia?
The more she found out, the more she wanted to know. Not just about Charles, but about his cousin Konrad, his daughter Isolde (“Soldie”), his first daughter Helen (who died in infancy), his son Conrad Henry (yes, his middle name honors Alfred Henry Kapp, Charles’s nephew and business partner), and Charles’s second wife, Annie.
The author explaining the Peterson genealogy at the Latvian Embassy, Dublin
By the time Gary Malmberg, Marie and I made it to Sallynoggin in the summer of 2013, Sandra had already been at work for a few years and had recently re-visited the factory’s archives. As she began to find out more about Charles and his family, further questions presented themselves so that a book documenting this most famous of Latvian immigrants to Ireland (of which there are in 2019 about 30,000) seemed the logical outcome.
Peterson in Ireland is a biographical triptych, moving from the life of Charles (75pp) to his cousin Konrad (60pp.) to Charles’s daughter Isolde (25pp.). As might be supposed, each section provides a framework to document what Sandra has discovered concerning the larger Peterson family, placing each member in the historical and political context of her or his time.
I asked Sandra recently what single thing she wished everyone knew about Charles Peterson, and she responded:
“That he wasn’t born in Riga, never even lived in Riga, although he made a couple of short visits Latvia’s capital. Charles was born and grew up in Zaļenieki, a small but very beautiful village. Zaļš in English means “green,” and it’s true: Zaļenieki and its neighboring country is covered by a beautiful green wood. And this connection between Latvia and Ireland is fascinating to me, because Ireland is after all the Emerald Isle!
“I also wish everyone knew that Peterson and his Irish family never broke their ties with Latvia. He visited his parents, sisters and brothers on a regular basis and even after his death, his wife Annie, daughter Isolde and son Conrad Henry went to see their family in Latvia on many occasions.”
The truth of her statement was brought home to me when we were in Ireland a few weeks ago to thank everyone at the factory for their help in our own project. At the end of the week we had lunch with the Brady family. It was by their graciousness, industry and stewardship that the Peterson family history in documents and photographs has been preserved, much of it now seen for the first time in Petersoni Īrijā as well as The Peterson Pipe.
On the dinner table among that wealth of artifacts was an invitation to a 50th wedding anniversary. As it was in Latvian, I picked it up and asked Sandra to translate. It turned out to be an invitation to the 50th wedding anniversary of Charles Peterson’s parents. Sandra told me Charles, in fact, made the trip home for their celebration.
*Sandra Bondarevska, Petersoni Īrijā (Peterson in Ireland) (Vesta LK, 2019, ISBN 9789934511578), is available online through Valters un Rapa, a Latvian bookseller, at https://www.valtersunrapa.lv/en/e-shop/gramata/62973/petersoni-irija, or leave a comment on this blog post and I’ll forward it to Sandra for you.
Photographs courtesy Sandra Bondarevksa
and Baltic-ireland.ie, http://baltic-ireland.ie/2019/05/44109/
banner photo by Chas Mundungus