Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Martin, Mary Letitia

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MARTIN, MARY LETITIA (1815–1850), novelist, generally called Mrs. Bell Martin, and known also as the ‘Princess of Connemara,’ was the only child of Thomas Barnewall Martin of Ballinahinch Castle, co. Galway, M.P. for the county, and was born there on 28 Aug. 1815. Richard Martin (1754–1834) [q. v.] was her grandfather. For her sake her father, in an ill-advised moment, broke the entail, mortgaged his large estates to the extent of 200,000l. to the Law Life Assurance Society, and further burdened himself with the debts of his father and grandfather, liabilities dating as far back as 1775. He died 23 April 1847, and the heavily charged estates passed on his death to Mary. She had always devoted her energies to improving the condition of her father's tenantry, hence her popular title of the ‘Princess of Connemara.’ During the great famine, when the tenants ceased to pay rent, the Martins had spent large sums on food and clothing for the people, and had given continuous work to some hundreds of labourers. On 14 Sept. 1847 she married a poor man, Arthur Gonne Bell of Brookside, co. Mayo, who assumed by royal license the surname and arms of Martin. About the time of her marriage Mary borrowed further large sums of money, with which to relieve her tenantry, both from private sources and from the Law Life Assurance Company, and when she was unable to pay the instalments of her father's mortgages, the society insisted on the observance of the bond. The property was among the first brought into the Encumbered Estates Court. Out of an estate of nearly two hundred thousand acres not a single rood remained to Mrs. Martin, who became comparatively a pauper. She retired to Fontaine L'Evêque in Belgium, and there helped to support herself by her pen. Determined to seek a better fortune in the New World, she was prematurely confined on board ship, and died 7 Nov. 1850, only ten days after reaching New York. Her husband lived until 1883.

Her chief literary work is ‘Julia Howard, a Romance,’ 1850, which gives something of her own experience. The scene is partly laid in the west of Ireland, and the hero, through no fault of his own, loses his estates, and becomes a soldier of fortune. Although the tale has little merit, the descriptions of the wild scenery of Connemara and the characters of the Irish peasants are truthful and picturesque. Another fair novel is entitled ‘St. Etienne, a Tale of the Vendean War.’ She contributed largely to the ‘Encyclopédie des Gens du Monde’ and other French periodicals.

[Burke's Vicissitudes of Families, i. 322–9; Gent. Mag. 1851, pt. i. p. 100; Mrs. Hale's Woman's Record, p. 882; New York Internat. Mag. ii. 142; Genealogy of the Family of Martin, by Archer E. S. Martin, Winnipeg, 1890; see also art. Martin, Richard (1754–1834).]

E. L.