St Martin of Tours (France) was much venerated in Ireland, mainly on account of his connection with St Patrick. He was Patrick’s tutor, and according to some, he was his uncle and had a hand in sending him to Ireland.
St Martin was a Roman soldier who was baptised as an adult and became a bishop in a French town. The most famous legend concerning him was that he had once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the latter from the cold. That night, he dreamt of Jesus, wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels, ‘Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised; he has clothed me.’
In Ireland, on the eve of St Martin’s Day, it is tradition to sacrifice a cock or sheep. The blood was collected and sprinkled on the four corners of the house, in the belief that this protected the home from evil or ‘bad luck’. It was also collected and used to make a ‘Sign of the Cross’ on the residents foreheads, again as a protective talisman. After that … the animal was cooked!
A Co Wexford legend relates that a fishing fleet was out one St Martin’s Day, when the saint himself was observed walking on the waves towards the boats. He proceeded to tell them get into the harbour as fast as possible, despite the good weather and fishing conditions. All the fishermen who ignored the saint’s warning drowned during an afternoon storm. Traditionally, Wexford fishermen will not go out to sea on St Martin’s Day.
In Co Derry, the village and surrounding parish of Desertmartin owes its name to St Colmcille, who visited there in the sixth century. He erected a church there as a retreat and named it in honour of St Martin. Hence the name in Irish Díseart Mhartain or ‘Hermitage of Martin’.
Image | Window by Harry Clarke | St Barrahane’s Church, Castletownshend, Co Cork | Third Window on the South Side is in memory of Col Kendall Coghill, CB a veteran of the Indian Mutiny. On the left can be seen St Louis (Louis IX, King of France), an ancestor of Col Coghill. On the right is St Martin of Tours, patron of soldiers. He was met by a poor beggar asking for clothing. St Martin promptly cut his cloak in two with his sword, giving half to the beggar who kneels in the foreground. In the headlight can be seen the flaming sword of St Martin.