The grave of James Martin, Moylagh, County Meath

From The Schools’ Folklore Collection, vol. 0716, pp 46-47.

How James Martin became a Poet
Mrs K. Monahan
Summerbank, Oldcastle
May, 1938.

“This happened in a fort. The fort that I am telling about is owned by Mr. Harman. There is a ring of trees around a hill and a big tree in the middle. One night when it was dark, a man named Martin was sleeping under a tree when he heard a fiddle playing around him. He opened his eyes and looked up and he saw a crowd of people round him. They had stars in their caps which showed a lot of light. They asked him which would he prefer – a book or a fiddle, and they said ‘we will have to get something in return from you’.

Martin said ‘give me the book’ and they gave it, and they told him to see if he would like it.

He opened it and immediately lost the sight of one eye. They said altogether then ‘we have our swap now.’

This Martin never went to school. Later on he was known as James Martin the poet, so it is thought he learned all he knew from the book given him by the ‘good people.'”

Note: James Martin (1783-1860) was a self-taught antiquarian, poet and ‘unconquered controversialist of his day’ who farmed near Oldcastle, Co. Meath in the early 19th century. ‘Well read in Irish, Hebrew and continental languages’ according to Cogan’s History of the Diocese of Meath, Martin was the author of over twenty verse satires on national and religious topics. Now largely forgotten, except perhaps for the strange tale of how he acquired his gift for poetry. See the entry at Ricorso.ie and also ‘James Martin of Millbrook’, Riocht Na Midhe; Vol II, no. 1; pp 64-68; 1959.

Some lines on the ancient remains at Loughcrew, Co. Meath, by James Martin from ‘The Dublin Penny Journal’ vol. IV, no. 199; 1834.


On this high mountain now in ruins, stands
A pagan altar, rear’d by Druids’ hands—
To Baal erected, who, as authors say,
Was once here worshipp’d as the god of day,
When superstition held her gloomy throne,
Before the Gospel in Hibernia shone,
The Druids here the people would convene,
That god to worship at their lofty fane —
Soon as bright Sol appeared to mortal view,
Or ting’d the mountain with a golden hue,
The priests, arrayed in robes of vivid white,
Consumed sweet incense to the orb of light;
Then offered praise, and hymns unhallow’d sung,
And in the flames the destined victim flung;