The history of poetry in Meath can be traced to the oral tradition of the Irish language which was passed on through the generations. Lesa Ní Mhungaile has written that the Irish language was spoken in Meath until the mid 19th century. Seosamh Laoide collected songs and poems in Irish from Meath in Duanaire na Midhe published in 1914.
The timeline above shows a chronology of English language poets associated with the Meath area, the first being Jonathan Swift who lived for a time at Laracor in Trim. The only woman to make the list is J.S. Anna Liddiard who was born and died in Meath, living for a time in Culmullen. Famously the short story writer, Mary Lavin, lived at Bective, Co. Meath. James Clarence Mangan who wrote Dark Rosaleen had ties with Kiltale through his mother Catherine Smith.
John Boyle O’Reilly was born at Dowth, not far from the birthplace of Meath’s most famous poet, and Slane native, Francis Ledwidge. F.R. Higgins who was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo, spent a lot of his childhood in Ballivor, descriptions of which appear in his poem “Father and Son”.
Father and Son
by F.R. Higgins
Only last week, walking the hushed fields
Of our most lovely Meath, now thinned by November,
I came to where the road from Laracor leads
To the Boyne river–that seems more lake than river,
Stretched in uneasy light and stript of reeds.
And walking longside an old weir
Of my people’s, where nothing stirs–only the shadowed
Leaden flight of a heron up the lean air–
I went unmanly with grief, knowing how my father,
Happy though captive in years, walked last with me there.
Yes, happy in Meath with me for a day
He walked, taking stock of herds hid in their own breathing;
And naming colts, gusty as wind, once steered by his hand,
Lightnings winked in the eyes that were half shy in greeting
Old friends–the wild blades, when he gallivanted the land.
For that proud, wayward man now my heart breaks–
Breaks for that man whose mind was a secret eyrie,
Whose kind hand was sole signet of his race,
Who curbed me, scorned my green ways, yet increasingly loved me
Till Death drew its grey blind down his face.
And yet I am pleased that even my reckless ways
Are living shades of his rich calms and passions–
Witnesses for him and for those faint namesakes
With whom now he is one, under yew branches,
Yes, one in a graven silence no bird breaks.
Trim poet Tommy Murray, a founding member of The Meath Writers Circle published Counting Stained Glass Windows and Swimming with Dolphins with Lapwing. Boyne Writers Group founder Michael Farry has published Asking for Directions and The Age of Glass. Dublin poet and journalist Gerard Smyth has written about Meath where he spent his summer holidays as a child and teenager.
Co. Meath is home to the world renowned Gallery Press, founded by Peter Fallon, a native of the Kells and Oldcastle area. Published by The Gallery Press, Kilkenny born Tom French lives and works in Meath.