|Image courtesy Graduate Theological Union Library, Berkeley CA|
This was a turn of ill luck, though, as The Cheerful Letter turns out to be a very obscure publication. Begun by a group of Unitarian women during the time of the Spanish-American war, its original work was to send individual "cheerful letters" to soldiers in hospital. By the early twentieth century, it had evolved into a modest periodical, appearing monthly, with regular columns and features. And yet, though published in Boston, no Boston library had more than a few scattered issues; even the archivist of the Unitarian Universalist Association -- once I tracked him down -- had to admit that he had no idea where one could find a copy. The WorldCat system, indeed, listed only three libraries with the periodical: Harvard Divinity (when contacted, it turned out they had only a handful of issues), the New York Public Library, and the Graduate Theological Union Library in Berkeley, California.
This week, I was very glad to hear from a librarian there that they indeed had a substantial run of The Cheerful Letter, and that they'd located the poem, attributed once again to Levi Furbush. There, nestled above an inspirational quote from J.P. Morgan, and above the newsletter's masthead, was the long-sought "Irish" saying that, for a day or two, had intrigued and amused the world -- and here, with the library's permission, I give it to you.
UPDATE (June 5 2017): It turns out that the poem's appearance in The Cheerful Letter is not the earliest known -- this issue actually dates to July of 1937. I'm working again to see whether there may by any other earlier instances than that in the Gazette and Daily.