Mártan na Glóire

Far-Famed[1] Martin

Véarsa 1 Verse 1
A Mhártan na Glóire, ní phósfad-sa i mbliana tu[2], Far-famed Martin, I won’t marry you this year.
Bíonn tusa [ag] stróireacht[3] ar bhóithre is ag fiach amuigh. You are always wandering the roads and hunting out of doors.
Bheinn-se go brónach ‘s gan eolas id’ dhiaidh-se agam, I would be miserable, not knowing where you had gone,
Gan stocaí, gan bróga ná róidíní[4] thiar ná thoir. Without stockings, without shoes, and no road to follow in the west or the east.
Véarsa 2 Verse 2
Dá mbeadh ‘fhios agamsa gur tusa [a] bhí ‘réir amuigh If I had known last night that it was you outside,
D’osclóinn an doras is leigfinn[5] mo chéile isteach, I would have opened the door and let my spouse[6] come in.
Thabharfainn póg milis d’imeall do bhéilín tais, I would have placed a sweet kiss at the edge of your moist mouth,
Chóireoinn an leabuig[7] is luífinn im’ léinín leat. I would have made the bed and lain down with you, in my shift.
Véarsa 3 Verse 3
Mo chúig céad slán feasta don seachtain is oíche ‘réir My five hundred farewells forever to that night, a week ago last night,
Is chun an té [a] bhí im’ fhochair ar maidin ag innsinn scéil. And to the one who was with me in the morning, telling me a story.
Is dúbhach a d’fhág sí siúd m’aigne is m’intinn féin, She is the one who left my mind in misery and my thoughts in disarray,
Is tu[8] mo ghrá gan fhios ‘s cá b’áil liom dá n-innsinn é. You are my love, all unknowing, and what good would it do me to tell of it.
Véarsa 4 Verse 4
Is saighdiúirín singil me[9][a] briseadh as gárd’ an rí. I am a private soldier[10] who was dismissed from the king’s guard[11],
Níl pingin im’ phóca a chaithfinn ar cháirtín dí. I don’t have a penny in my pocket with which I could buy a quart to drink.
Do bhuailfinn ar Drum agus seinnfinn ar chláirsigh mín, I would beat the drum and I would play on gentle harps
Is síos i gCill Dara do scaras le grá mo chroí! And it was down in Kildare that I parted from the love of my heart.


I thought long and hard about how to translate the title of this lively song. I liked the insouciance of ‘Glorious Martin’ or ‘Martin the Glorious’ but felt it didn’t really convey the meaning of the title. Dinneen has ‘fame, renown; pride’ as possible meanings of glóir and these seemed to fit the character of Martin who liked to wander far afield and spend his time hunting.

Here again, as in some other songs in the amhrán tradition, the narrative is not altogether clear. There is a lack of continuity between the first verse in which the woman refuses to marry ‘Far-Famed Martin’ and the second in which she refers to him as ‘mo chéile.’

In the third verse it is the man who is left broken-hearted and in the fourth we hear that he is a soldier who has left, or lost, his love in Kildare.

The soldier in the final verse refers to himself as a ‘saighdiúrín singil,’ and a song of that name was certainly extant in west Kerry. Breandán ‘ac Gearailt has, in volume 1 of An Blas Muimhneach, a song called An Táilliúirín Magaidh and gives as its tune ‘Fonn: An Saighdiúirín Singil.’ I also learned An Táilliúirín Magaidh from Éilís Ní Chinnéide some years ago at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in Ballyferriter and she, too, gave An Saighdiúirín Singil as its tune. There is no similarity between the words of An Táilliúirín Magaidh and Goodman’s ‘Mártan.’

Seanachas Ó Chairbre (ed D. Ó Cróinín, Dublin, 1985) features the wealth of stories, folklore, songs etc. which were collected and written down from Seán Ó hAo (1861-1946) who lived near Glandore, Co. Cork. Seán Ó Cróinín, the folklorist, filled 1,500 pages with the lore he gathered from Ó hAo, including 2 verses of An Saighdiúirín Singil which, the editor notes, were found as two separate verses in different parts of the manuscript. Ó hAo’s first verse is almost identical to Goodman’s fourth but there the resemblance ends.

The late Eoghan Mór Ó Catháin of Baile an Teampaill, Dún Chaoin, Co. Kerry was recorded by RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta in 1972 singing 5 verses of An Saighdiúirín Singil of which 2 verses correspond to Goodman’s text (verses 1 and 5 Ó Catháin – verses 4 and 2 Goodman). Ó Catháin can be heard singing this song on an album of west Kerry singers from the archive of Raidió na Gaeltachta called Dúthaigh Dhuibhneach which was released in 2014. Ó Catháin’s melody is recognisably close to Goodman’s but is sung slowly and sadly. Goodman’s song, on the other hand, is much livelier.

Breandán ‘ac Gearailt gives Maidhc ‘Mhárthain’ Mac Gearailt, An Bóthar Buí, Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry as one of his sources for An Táilliúirín Magaidh. He also cites An Lóchrann, February 1927 and says that the song was written by ‘Séamus Ó Súilleabháin, Lios Bán, paróiste na Faille Móire, Uíbh Ráthach’ (south Kerry). This, I believe, is a misunderstanding on ‘ac Gearailt’s part. Versions of An Táilliúirín Magaidh/ An Saighdiúirín Singil were published in An Lóchrann, in March 1926, February 1927, April 1927 and July/August 1927.

In March 1926 it is called An Saighdiúirín Briste and the melody given is An Táilliúirín Magaidh. It has just three verses and was submitted by Firdia Ó Dubhthaigh who got it in south Co. Clare.

An interesting note from Fionán Mac Coluim (aka ‘Finghin na Leamhna) follows the February 1927 version of this song in An Lóchrann: ‘Ó Sheán Ó Súilliobháin, Lios Bán, An Fhaill Mhór in Uíbh Ráthach do sgríobhas na véarsaí seo fiche blain ó shoin,’ [my own emphasis].This suggests to me that Ó Súilliobháin was the tradition-bearer but not, as ‘ac Gearailt believes, the composer, nor was the song composed as recently as the early years of the 20th century. Again, it is only Goodman’s fourth verse that matches a verse in An Lóchrann, Feb.1927: verse 2.

Mac Coluim goes on to say: ‘Tá a lán leagan eile de’n cheol le fághail agus a lán amhrán eile leis an bhfonn céadna: “An Saighdiúirín Briste,” “I am a young fellow who ran out of land and méans,” “Thíos cois na tuinne,” “Is mílse phóg Bhiddí srl.”

The final verse of Goodman’s Mártan na Glóire refers to the soldier leaving his sweetheart behind him in Kildare. The Curragh of Kildare, a plain of almost 5,000 acres, is nowadays associated with the Irish Army, with horse breeding and training and with horse racing but it has been a gathering place for many centuries. Aonach na Life, a formal gathering of all the people of Leinster at which laws were promulgated, marriages made, trade carried out and athletic contests held took place on the Curragh in early times. Stories about St. Brigid are associated with the area as well as legends about Fionn and the Fianna. It was mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters.

It became a mustering site for the armies of the Pale and, later, for the army of James II during the War of the Two Kings, 1688-91. The Volunteers were reviewed there in 1783 watched by a crowd, it is estimated, of 50,000 spectators. It was a muster point for the English army during the Rising of 1798 and an infamous massacre of several hundred United Irishmen who had thrown down their weapons and surrendered took place at Gibbet Rath on the Curragh on May 29th, 1798.

Numerous army training camps were organised on the Curragh in the early 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars but the first permanent military structures were not built there until 1855, during the Crimean War. By the end of the 19th century the Curragh Camp had become a divisional headquarters and soldiers were trained there for the Boer War.

All this points to a mid-19th century date for the composition of the song Mártan na Glóire. It is interesting to note that the Grenadier Guards, the most élite infantry regiment in the British army, was stationed at the Curragh in 1861. The narrator of the song says he was dismissed from ‘gárda an Rí,’ the king’s guard or regiment.

A very sad but fascinating story I encountered was the story of the ‘Wrens of the Curragh,’ a group of women on the margins of society who lived in makeshift shelters in the furze bushes on the Curragh, within yards of the army camp. Their shelters were called ‘nests.’ Many of these women had been displaced during the Great Famine, some had been abandoned, perhaps by soldiers, some worked as prostitutes, but all agreed that their rough lodgings were preferable to the workhouse. Their story was told by an English journalist called James Greenwood who wrote about the ‘wrens’ for the Pall Mall Gazette in 1867. He observed that the women pooled their resources, the older women looked after the children while the younger ones worked as prostitutes. In more recent times Dr. Maria Luddy has written about them in an article called An Outcast Community: the ‘Wrens’ of the Curragh, (in Women’s History Review, 1992).

The lives of the ‘wrens’ is vividly depicted in a modern song, beautifully sung by Jane Mc Namee, called ‘The Wrens of the Curragh,’ which I happened upon on Youtube.

The Cork military historian, Lt. Col. Dan Harvey has written a history of the Curragh Camp from its foundation in 1855 called Soldiers of the Short Grass – A History of the Curragh Camp (2016).

[1] As well as its usual meanings of ‘glory’ and ‘heaven,’ glóir can also mean ‘fame,’ renown,’ ‘pride.’ I translated the song title as ‘Far-Famed Martin’ because of the references in the text to his wanderings.

[2] Tu is a variant of

[3] Straeireacht is more usual but stróireacht fits the rhyme-scheme with its repeated ó sounds in verse 1.

[4] The usual diminutive of ród (road) is ródán, a little road or a path. This poet has róidín(í) as a diminutive of ród.

[5] ligfinn

[6] Céile – usually ‘spouse’ but also ‘companion,’ ‘mate,’ ‘consort.’

[7] I have kept leabuig, rather than the standard form leaba, both for the sake of the metre and to preserve the dialect form.

[8] See note 1, above.

[9] Me = Mé

[10] Meaning ‘an enlisted man,’ one of the rank-and-file.

[11] Or ‘the king’s garrison.’